Feb 21, 2023

Unexpected ways to reduce food waste in contract catering

Did you know that the shape of the plate or the lighting in your restaurants can affect how much your guests eat? An essential part of the future of contract catering, and the food service industry as a whole, is reducing food waste. And by making some minor adjustments, you can limit food waste and, at the same time, increase profits. 

The importance of reducing food waste

Reducing food waste is a vital topic in contract catering. Have you taken any precautions to contribute to a more sustainable future? Working in the food catering industry, you know there will always be food waste to some degree. But to avoid cooking too much food, serving proper amounts, and trying to make use of leftovers are critical.

One action to take is to better account for the number of people visiting your restaurant. Better planning will lead to less food waste and a better catering operation. Another smart option is to find new ways of taking care of leftovers. You can repackage leftovers from lunch and, in connected fridges, let employees pick up a dish and take it home for dinner. That is just one option of many to reduce food waste and increase profitability in contract catering.

The effect of color and size according to the Delboeuf illusion

Are you familiar with the Delboeuf illusion? It was the Belgian philosopher Franz Joseph Delboeuf that in 1865 discovered an optical illusion of relative size perception. When comparing two circles of identical size next to each other, where one is surrounded by a large ring far from the circle, and the other circle is surrounded by a much smaller ring closer to the circle, the circle with the ring closer to it appears larger.

An American study examined the Delboeuf illusion and if a plate’s rim width and coloring influence perceptual bias to affect perceived food portion size. The study showed that when the participants got plates with wider rims, they experienced the food portions being larger, and the same conclusion was drawn regarding rim coloring.

A study from Cornell also examined what effect color has on our food intake. People who used plates with colors that highly contrasted the color of their food (for example, red pasta on a white plate) took 22% more food. That means that serving a green pesto pasta dish on a white plate might result in people filling up their plates, but if you used a green plate for that same dish – people would tend to take less food.

Other examples showing the impact of plate size

Many other studies show how food portions are influenced by the plates they’re served on. When examining Chinese buffet diners, the results showed that using large plates meant that the servings were 52% larger, people ate 45% more, and food waste was 135% more than when using smaller plates. A similar conclusion was drawn in a study from Cornell University, as they saw the same relationship between larger plates and portions.

Portion sizes have increased in recent years, making calorie intakes too high. You want to make sure customers are full but never over-eating. A study published in the Nutrition Journal examined the effect of reducing the portion of French fries for university students and employees at a Belgian on-campus restaurant. The study showed that by reducing the portion size of French fries by 20%, they reduced food waste by 66.4%. Their customers still felt just as full. The study concluded that it’s possible to reduce portion sizes and thereby lessen your consumer’s calorie intake without risking that they aren’t full.

What about the shape of the plate?

In the U.S., food waste is around 31%, and young adults are especially wasteful. It’s common for young adults aged 18-24 to study at colleges or universities where the institution provides housing and meals. Hence, a study examined how plate size and shape could affect this age group to reduce food waste.

They used larger round and smaller oval-sized plates in a buffé restaurant, offering the students to take as much food as they liked. The results showed that changing the size and shape is a great way to reduce food waste, as the smaller, oval-shaped plates resulted in less food waste.

How restaurant atmosphere contributes

Besides recognizing plate variations, the actual surroundings of a canteen or restaurant also impact portion sizes. Research shows that people tend to overeat when listening to up-tempo music. The same goes for noisy establishments and bright lighting.

So, what can we learn from all this? There are many pieces to the puzzle when it comes to food waste. By reducing portion size, you can contribute to lowering people’s general calorie intake to a healthier level and minimize food waste by only serving as much food as your customers need. Use size, shape, and color to better adjust to your customers, and be sure to waste less food and save money as you go.

Are you a contract caterer looking to decrease food waste? Pej Guest Management enables new ways to optimise and sell food so that you can reduce waste while activating new revenue streams.