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The statistics don’t lie: according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, around 1.2 billion tonnes of food produced for human consumption globally are wasted every year.

While food waste is a major issue for the F&B Industry all over the world, in this region we know it is a particular problem, due to the pressure to constantly offer your diners a huge variety of food and put on lavish spreads. In order to fulfil this demand, leftover food is inevitable; this is true not just during Ramadan for Iftar and Suhoor, but also for weekend brunches, breakfasts buffets and corporate events.

For those working in the industry this is very hard to see, particularly with global food shortages increasing and access to food becoming more difficult for many around the world. It seems wrong not to take action and work towards reducing the percentage of food waste, but the problem that many chefs face is a lack of information about the right way to approach the issue.

With that in mind, we’ve come up with some suggestions for controlling portion sizes and reducing leftovers, as well ideas for cutting down on food waste overall and operating in a more sustainable way. 

UFS chef Trishanna Persaud’s tips for managing leftovers

1.  Control portion sizes: Especially after fasting or at brunch, it is very easy for guests to eat with their eyes and overfill their plates – which means piles of uneaten food left on the table that ultimately ends up in the bin.

One way to avoid this, or reduce the problem, is to pre-portion items before they hit the buffet table. Presenting an array of smaller plates or bowls of mezze items such as hummus, mutabal and salads offers a trendy ‘tapas’ approach that also reduces cost and waste.

2.  Serve food family-style: Many restaurants offer a set sharing menu during Ramadan, which can help to minimize leftovers, reduce waste and allow you greater control over portions and food costs. But why not take this idea one step further and add an interactive buffet element to your set menu, with bread baskets, rice platters and condiments arranged on the buffet station and hot dishes served family-style at the tables. This means that guests won’t visit the buffet as often and, instead, will sit and socialise while your culinary team controls the quantity of food being served.

3.  Pay attention to eating habits: Following on from the idea above, if your culinary and front of house teams serve dishes to your guests, diners are likely to be more conscious of how much food they take. This approach also allows chefs to chat with guests, offering a friendly, interactive and festive experience. In addition, by serving guests yourself, you and your staff can observe their eating habits and take note of which dishes are particularly popular and which are ignored or leftover.

This then allows you to be adaptable. It sounds simple, but if a dish on your set menu, brunch or Iftar buffet is simply not proving popular, don’t be afraid to do something about it: you might find that simply adjusting the presentation, changing the menu description or adding another ingredient makes all the difference.

4.  Take action now: sustainable ideas for Ramadan and beyond:

-    Support the UAE Food Bank. This pioneering non-profit organization is committed to minimizing food waste by working with restaurants, hotels, supermarkets and food manufacturing companies and taking their excess fresh and canned food and redistributing it to those that need it. For more information, visit: www.foodbank.ae

-    The Winnow System (www.winnowsolutions.com) is increasingly being used in kitchens around the world– including the UAE – as a waste management tool. The device tracks, records and analyses the amount of waste being produced in the kitchen every day and can send a report of the findings straight to your inbox. Those that use the system have reported an increase in ROI, as well as a reduction in overall food waste.

-    Download the Keepeat App. This app encourages food outlets to upload details of their excess fresh food and allows diners to purchase it a discounted rate. Diners can collect the food and take it away or eat it at the restaurant. Not only does this benefit the environment it also means that you can potentially attract new customers and gain revenue from food that would otherwise have gone to waste.

-     Cut down on single-use plastic. Instead of relying on plastic straws, seek out other choices, such as those made from biodegradable paper, potato starch or pasta. Similarly, glass water bottles are a more eco-friendly alternative to plastic and a number of restaurants in the region have introduced in-house water filtration systems, so that jugs of drinking water can be placed on individual tables or at the service counter and diners can even fill up their own reusable water bottles.

-     It’s well worth thinking about banning plastic cutlery or at least providing a sustainable alternative, such as bamboo. If your outlet offers delivery, give customers the choice to opt out of being sent disposable cutlery and crockery with their food – you could even reward them for doing so.

-     While it is of course a tricky, complex issues, buying local ingredients where possible means a reduction in carbon foot print, and also supports local farmers and the regional economy and community.