The Leftover Dilemma

Thursday, 11 March, 2021

While you can significantly reduce the food waste your kitchen generates by auditing your waste and taking corrective measures, there’s always going to be a certain amount of leftover food in the form of plate waste (food customers didn’t eat). However, these leftovers don’t need to be thrown away.

The Leftover Dillemma

How to handle leftover food


Make it easy for customers to take leftovers home

The easiest way to deal with leftover food in your café or restaurant is to offer customers a way to take their leftovers home with them. Consider stocking some eco-friendly takeaway containers and get your wait staff to ask customers if they’d like their leftovers packed for travel.

While not every customer will want to take leftovers home, it’s still worth asking, even if only a fraction of your customers do it. When customers take their leftovers home, it will reduce the overall amount of waste you need to deal with when service ends.

Burger, chips, and salad in eco-friendly takeaway containers


Donate surplus food to those in need

Leftovers are an unwelcome end to a meal because we know that many in need don’t have the luxury of throwing away food, but what if there was a way to channel safe leftovers to them? According to the food recycling app Bring Me Home, over 100kg of edible food is thrown away by food businesses in Australia every week, so there’s certainly room for improvement.

Connecting with a local food donation charity and engaging in a proactive donation program will help you significantly reduce the waste of edible food. In the 2020 financial year, Foodbank Australia helped distribute 12,243,000 kilograms of food (23 million meals) across NSW and the ACT, thanks to a combination of donations and food rescue initiatives working with farms, retailers, schools, and more.

Nestlé has a partnership with Foodbank Australia to donate surplus food that is still safe and nutritious to eat, which you can learn more about here.

Masked volunteers working at local food donation charity


Sell your surplus food

Donating food isn’t the only way to repurpose surplus food for others to eat. Apps like Bring Me Home or YWaste connect individuals and foodservice operators with waste-conscious consumers willing to pay for and collect safe leftovers.

Think of it as a reverse of food-delivery apps. Instead of you preparing and sending out new food, people will travel to your restaurant to pick up leftovers from you at a low price (usually 50-80% off the purchase price).

Selling surplus food is a great way to reclaim some of the money you lose when food goes uneaten. While it will take some setting up to make it work with your business, it’s worth implementing if you’re serious about reducing your food waste as much as possible.


Start composting your leftovers

When all else fails, composting is the last chance your leftovers have to be repurposed before they are condemned to decomposition in a landfill. While you can compost otherwise edible leftovers, composting also gives you a way to recycle inedible organic scraps like fruit peelings and vegetable off-cuts.

Composting turns your excess food into a resource that gardeners can use to promote good soil structure, protect against drought, protect plants from disease, and feed microbial life like earthworms. You can choose to compost on-site or sell your compost to someone who will use it for purposes like landscaping or horticulture.

While composted food still decomposes and produces greenhouse gases, the method of composting means that more carbon is created than methane. Because methane has a more potent greenhouse effect than carbon, composting is worthwhile as a means of combatting climate change.

Collection of potato skin peelings ready for composting

What can you compost?

It’s important that you are aware of what you can and can’t compost.

You can compost materials like:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Cardboard
  • Bread
  • Pasta
  • Eggshells
  • Coffee grounds

Waste you can’t compost includes:

  • Meat
  • Dairy
  • Grease
  • Non-organic matter like plastics


Train your team

To make composting a success in your business, you need to get your staff invested in the process. Make sure that your team fully understands the concept of composting and why it’s beneficial.

Implement the composting process and record it in a document that all employees can access and reference. Ensure that you provide adequate employee compost training and delegate responsibilities for each stage of the process.

Both BOH and FOH staff can contribute to composting, and it can be an excellent opportunity to connect both teams with a shared task. FOH staff can also mention that you are composting to customers who might otherwise feel guilty about leaving leftover food.

Tip: Use signage to help remind both staff and customers what material is compostable and what isn’t.

Hands holding earthworm over black compost bin


Other ways to deal with surplus food

  • As long as the quality of the food won’t suffer and you have the storage space, you can always store it for future use. Be sure to label the storage container with the contents and date you prepared it.
  • After service ends, consider offering it to employees.
  • Where possible, make arrangements with your nearby farms (including your suppliers) to use your scraps for animal feed.