Caterers and Food Waste – what can a caterer do?

How caterers can help people suffering from food poverty and help save the environment.

Caterers tend to be very busy this time of year – ordering and preparing food to serve to their customers who are celebrating the advent of Christmas. But how much of this food will be wasted? How much will end up in landfills? Could some of the food be given to the homeless or others suffering from food poverty? I’m writing this blog because there are caterers who divert food destined for the landfill and make it available to those people in need, and I thought it might be of interest to you.

The Facts

  • There is enough food produced in the world to feed everyone (2016 World Hunger & Poverty Facts & Statistics)
  • One third of all food produced is lost or wasted (Save Food Global Food Waste & Loss Initiative)
  • An estimated 20% to 40% of UK fruit & vegetables is rejected before they reach the shops (Stuart Tristram ‘Food Waste Facts)
  • Annual food waste arising within UK households, hospitality & food service, food manufacture, retail & wholesale sectors is around 10 million tonnes, 60% of which could have been avoided (Waste Arisings in the UK)
  • WRAP estimates that 8.3 million tonnes of food waste comes from consumers, 1.6 million tonnes from retailers, 4.1 million tonnes from food manufacturers, 3 million tonnes from restaurants, and 3 million tonnes from other groups (Food 2030 DEFRA, London )
  • An estimated 8.4 million people were living in households reporting having insufficient food in the UK in 2014 (Food Foundation ‘Too Poor to Eat’)
  • 6% of people aged 15 or over in the UK reported struggling to get enough food to eat & a further 4.5% reported that, at least once, they went a full day without anything to eat (Food Foundation ‘Too Poor to Eat’)
  • The amount of food wasted each year in the UK is the equivalent of throwing away 1 in every 6 of the 8 billion meals served each year (Wrap ‘Hospitality & Food Service’)
  • Reliance on food banks is forecast to surge this Christmas (The Trussell Trust)

The majority of these facts were obtained from

Caterers & food Waste Banner

Obviously caterers alone cannot solve this problem. The responsibility to do so lies with the food industry – the supermarkets, the food manufacturers and us. Marcus Gover (Chief Executive, WRAP) pointed out that 70% of food waste actually comes from our homes. But an estimated 3 million tonnes does come from the hospitality industry.

Why do caterers waste so much food?

I can think of several reasons why:

Running out of food
Understandably, caterers cannot afford to run out of food as this would result in customer dissatisfaction. 

  • Buffets invariably consist of more food than is required as you have to estimate how many items each customer will take and from which platter, and the tendency is make the estimations based on everyone taking a larger number of items than they actually will.
  • Caterers often over order in fear of running out of food. This is of particular concern to those chefs cooking meals at the end of the day.
  • Display cabinets undoubtedly look more appealing when they are full.

Portion Size
Portion sizes have increased over the years in both the home and in eating establishments. Plate sizes have also increased. There is a tendency for customers to expect a plate full of food and caterers oblige. There is also the fear that customers will see a reduction in portion size as a reduction in value.

Cancelled Orders
When a customer fails to collect an order, or when a large party fails to turn up when they have booked tables, or even when a function is cancelled.

What can a caterer do?

Running out of food
Christy Cook (Sodexo) has written a number of interesting blogs on how caterers can help reduce food waste  A common theme in her posts is about asking customers to accept practices in the food experience that reduce waste. The following are some of her suggestions:

  • With buffets, display informational signs telling customers what it means to be attending a no-waste catering event e.g. invitations, event website, at the entrance.
  • At eating establishments, display awareness signs regarding food waste.
  • Prepare meals to order at the end of day.
  • Talk to the client about what you plan to do if food gets low or runs out at a buffet – agree that it’s acceptable for food to run low or run out in some cases, on the understanding that no one will leave hungry.
  • Discuss how much extra food will be prepared for a buffet over the guaranteed customer count.
  • For future events, make a note of eating habits for future use.
  • Coordinate with a local organisation to take surplus food to help those in the community that are hungry.

Portion Size

  • Discuss with the client how much buffet food will be prepared, including pieces per person or portion size, so that the client understands that the caterer is preparing an appropriate amount of food.
  • Reduce plate size.
  • Offer half portions.

Cancelled Orders
There are a number of organisations that welcome surplus food that caterers can work with to reduce their food waste.  Here are some of them:

1  The Real Junk Food Project

This is a global, organic network of Pay As You Feel concepts. They divert surplus edible food destined for waste and make it accessible for human consumption. The concept is similar to the Pay As You Like one operated by The Empty Plate Cafe mentioned in my previous blog

Their cafes provide meals to everyone regardless of their financial situation; if they cannot afford to pay they do not have to. In return their customers may help out in a number of different ways in the cafe. They intercept surplus food from a range of places including supermarkets, restaurants, wholesalers, food banks, food photographers and use common sense and decades of experience to make a judgement on whether the food is fit for human consumption.

2  Community Fridge 

The Community Fridge Network aims to stop food being wasted. Community Fridges are run by local groups. In each area there will be three appliances – two industrial sized fridges and one industrial sized freezer. One of the fridges and the freezer takes perishable food that would have been wasted by local retailers and redistribute it to people struggling to pay bills through local community networks. The other fridge is an ‘honesty’ fridge open to all members from the community regardless of their personal circumstances.

I mentioned the Community Fridge in my previous blog

3   Waste Knot

Waste Knot helps make the connection between businesses with surplus food and those who can put it to good use. For more information click

4   Plan Zheroes

Plan Zheroes is a social network, where relationships are built between food businesses and charities, communication is quick and simple and food reaches those in need, safely and conveniently.  For more information click

5  FareShare
As a caterer you can donate surplus food to this non-profit charity. I mentioned this organisation in my previous blog here  and they can be contacted by telephoning the Food Team on 020 70648911 or email

6  Local Food Bank

These were also mentioned in my previous blog. To find your nearest food bank click

There are a number of companies that have technological systems that they state can help reduce food waste.  I have cited two examples.  I have no experience of these and would welcome any comments you may have.
(i)  Winnow Solutions
They claim that they have ‘cutting-edge’ technology that can halve food waste and reduce costs.  For more information click
(ii)  LeanPath
They claim that they can help organisations understand exactly how and why food is being wasted, then take decisive action to achieve real, measurable results.  To learn more click

Wrap have developed a tool kit entitled ‘Your Business is Food’ to help caterers reduce waste. Their video “Delivering Savings” shows how food businesses taking up ‘Your Business is Food’ are able to reduce food thrown away, increase profitability for their business, and help the environment.

The disparity between food waste and food poverty is so great that it has resulted in some caterers focusing on tackling the problem.  Here are some examples of caterers that are helping to reduce food waste:

1  Vood Bar

Vood Bar is a vegan street food van based in Cornwall. Currently they
donate left over foods to shelters and refuges and give food to people who are homeless when the opportunities arise.
2  Elysia

Elysia is a social enterprise and in 2017 has saved more than 4 tonnes of artisan British food.

caterers at Elysia catering social enterprise

They source food surplus from local independent producers and buy “naturally imperfect” food, and then prepare breakfasts and canapés and offer them at a discounted price. For more information click

3  Silo

Silo in Brighton has completely eliminated waste. They trade directly with farmers, use re-usable delivery vessels and choose local ingredients that themselves generated no waste.  They have a compost machine that turns any of their scraps and trimmings directly into a compost used to produce more food.  For more information click

Caterers at Silo in Brighton eliminating food waste

  • Bean and Wheat

Adam Handling, is the Chief Patron of The Frog restaurants in E1 and Covent Garden. He has recently opened Bean and Wheat, a deli and cafe in Liverpool Street.  Here he uses the surplus food from his restaurants to produce food-to-go. He has said “one of my priorities is to minimise food waste at my restaurants to the point that we hardly have any”.  They also make their own compost from vegetable peelings, etc.

Caterers at the Cafe and deli that use surplus food from restaurants

Admittedly it will take a lot of tact and an environmentally aware client to accept a no-waste event. But is this something we should be working towards?  We need customers to understand and support the need to reduce food waste.  Similarly, surplus food must surely be diverted to people suffering with food poverty?  What do you think? I’d love to hear from you.

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