If you’re a chef who’s just spent hours preparing a lavish Iftar or Suhoor, throwing away vast quantities of food that diners haven’t eaten can be heart-breaking.
At Ramadan, your customers demand a huge variety of food and sumptuous spreads, and this inevitably leads to leftovers. Environmental-awareness group EcoMENA reports that up to a quarter of all food purchased in Middle Eastern countries during Ramadan goes in the bin. In Bahrain alone, food waste exceeds 400 tonnes a day during the holy month.All this means you’re spending money on ingredients and products that never reach your diners’ mouths and it contributes to increasing global food shortages worldwide. As chefs, we have a responsibility to our businesses and the environment to take action.
So here are some suggestions from USF chef Trishanna Persaud for reducing customer leftovers and running your kitchen in a more efficient, sustainable way.
It is very easy for guests to eat with their eyes and overfill their plates at a buffet, particularly after a day’s fasting. But this leaves piles of uneaten food, significantly increasing your restaurant costs for no good reason.
One way to reduce the problem is to pre-portion items before they reach the buffet table. This “tapas” approach of presenting an array of smaller plates or bowls of items, such as hummus, mutabal and salad, is trendy and appealing to customers, too.
Combine family style eating with limited buffets
One very effective way to control costs and minimise leftovers is to offer a set sharing menu during Ramadan. But if you want to add an interactive buffet element to this option, allow guests to serve themselves from bread baskets, rice platters and condiments arranged on a buffet station. This means that diners will have the flexibility and fun of using a buffet, but only to a limited extent, so you can still keep a firm grip on how much food you really need to produce.
Pay attention to eating habits
Making sure your front-of-house teams take time to chat to customers while they’re having their meal is a great way to make diners feel warm, welcome and festive during Ramadan. But it has the added bonus of giving staff the opportunity to observe diner’s eating habits and ask them what they did or didn’t like about the dishes on offer. Armed with this information, you can reduce waste by either discontinuing unpopular items or doing something about them. It might be that simply adjusting the presentation or adding another ingredient makes all the difference.
A high-tech solution
If you want to be ultra-precise about food waste in your restaurant, try the Winnow System. Used in more than 40 countries worldwide, the device records the amount and type of leftovers you put in the bin every day and what their value is. You can see exactly which ingredients and items aren’t being eaten, so you know what to cut down on. Chefs who’ve used the system say it can reduce waste by more than 50% and food costs by up to 8%.
Don’t let waste go to waste
No matter what you do, having some leftovers at the end of service is inevitable. But they don’t necessarily need to go in the bin – you can donate a surprising number of items them to a food bank. The Emirates Food Bank, for instance, redistributes excess fresh and canned products from hotels, supermarkets and manufacturers to those that need it. There are similar organisations in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and across our region.
Sell leftovers to new customers
As well as finding a good charitable use for your uneaten food, you can make extra income from it, too. Dubai-based company Keepeat provides an app that allows restaurants to upload details of their excess fresh food so that diners can buy it at a discounted rate and have it delivered. Not only does this benefit the environment and your bottom line, it also means you can potentially attract new customers, who’ve not tried your restaurant before.