How hotels can manage and reduce food waste

By Andreas Mettler|May 4, 2023|11:54 am CDT

The hospitality and food service industry has long prioritized resource efficiency by cutting energy use and water waste. But only recently have hotel operators realized the many benefits of reducing food waste. For example, the problem of food waste in hospitality has gained momentum within the hotel sector, as shown by Accor Hotels’ ambitious goal to reduce food waste by 30%. This is further demonstrated by several food waste reduction initiatives by the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) and the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA). But food waste isn’t only harmful to the environment, it’s also a major financial cost for the hospitality sector—amounting to over $1tn every year. Luckily, actions are being taken around the globe to tackle and reduce food waste in hospitality:

“It’s still an uphill task, honestly,” Ng said. “I think it’s also the way the market has been mapped out for many, many years,” she said, noting that supply chains are not well set up to respond to today’s changing food demands.”— Nichol Ng, the co-founder of the charity organization, Food Bank Singapore, told CNBC.

Source: CNBC

According to World Economic Forum, the global population is predicted to reach 9.6 billion by 2050, and with this rapid growth comes more people suffering from food insecurity. Ironically, most of the food waste we produce today is coming from more economically developed countries (MEDCs) where the hospitality and food service industry is larger like North America and Europe. So, what should hotel operators know about food waste in hotels? Let’s look at food waste statistics in the hotel industry.

Which regions waste the most food?

Per capita food losses and waste, kg/year

Source: The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

Food waste in hotels statistics

According to the latest research, the hotel industry produces 289,000 tons of solid waste yearly, including 79000 tons of food waste—a total of 9% from the hotel sector. In the US, half a billion tons (equivalent to $376bn) of food waste in hospitality comes from hotels, restaurants, and supermarkets. In fact, the hotel industry spends over $35bn annually on banquets and catering—producing solid waste like bones, rinds and trimmings, and various other leftovers.

But with enormous challenges come huge opportunities. The Rockefeller Foundation teamed up with World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and AHLA to launch a series of projects that aims to reduce food waste in the hotel industry:

“Reducing food waste not only decreases the industry’s environmental footprint and helps fight world hunger, but directly impacts our hotels’ bottom line, engages staff, and strengthens relationships with our customers,” said Chip Rogers, President, and CEO of AHLA in a press release.


It’s estimated that around 5% of the budget used to buy food is often written off as unavoidable food waste. But research suggests that kitchen waste can be as high as 20%. Not to mention the additional 5% of waste coming from food loss due to poor storage and other improper kitchen practices, resulting in food spoilage. With that said, let’s look deeper into the many causes of food waste in hospitality that hotel operators like you must know about.

Causes of food waste in the hospitality industry

Many of the causes for food waste in hospitality are echoed within the entire hotel, restaurant, and food service sectors. In fact, the same could somewhat be said for food waste generated at home. In hotels, however, the causes of food waste could be generally related to the management of the kitchen(s), including the level of experience of your kitchen staff, and the line of communication between the kitchen, suppliers, customers, and service staff. Furthermore, factors, such as the number of hotel guests can also contribute to an increase in food waste in hotels, albeit difficult to control.

For example, food waste increases dramatically when a significant number of guests miss the breakfast service, an event, and many other forms of large banquets.

On the other hand, food waste in restaurants are often coming from leftovers, food returned to the kitchen, expired food, and/or food that has gone bad. It’s estimated that around over 84% of food in restaurants is thrown away and very little is recycled and donated. Some of the reasons for the increase in food waste in restaurants include oversize portions—as food portions today have increased tremendously, overly extensive menus, poor management, over-preparation, improper storage, and failure to use food scraps and trimmings. Moreover, certain restaurants like buffets are particularly wasteful due to their need to keep food fully stocked and the legal restrictions on giving and reusing or donating leftover food.

Tackling the ever-increasing problem of food waste in hospitality can start with simple steps like menu planning, for example. But accurate forecasting and estimation of food demand require both product inventory and a precise arrangement of ingredients necessary for food preparation. Choosing a technology partner with the right inventory management solution can provide the hotel and restaurant sector the means to accurately forecast demand, manage menu creation and supplier relationships, and plan and prep smarter—helping hotel and restaurant operators automate and streamline the entire inventory lifecycle and ultimately reduce food waste. So how could hotel operators reduce food waste in hotels and cut costs?

How to reduce food waste in hotels

Reducing food waste in hotels can be started by making small changes like using smaller serving spoons to a more elaborate approach, such as initiating company-wide staff training. You may also decide to conduct regular food waste audits like most zero-waste restaurants. But there’s of course no “one-size fits all approach” and the steps you decide to take will depend on your specific needs and the capabilities of your team and the technology you adopt—if you decide to do so. So, let’s look at the steps hotel operators can take to reduce food waste in hotels:

  1. Get your team onboard: Your kitchen staff and service staff will play a crucial role in reducing food waste in your hotels. Creating and running awareness programs for your team will help them understand how they can help and what steps to take to reduce food waste in your hotel. Equipping your kitchen staff with the right tools, such as recipe and menu engineering technologies can streamline your operations, have visibility on costs, and maintain consistent quality in recipes and menus—helping you get closer to making food waste in hotels a thing of the past.
  2. Conduct a food waste audit: Like restaurants, conducting a food waste audit can help hotel operators measure, manage, and reduce food waste in hotels. By doing so, you can have visibility on the amount of food waste you produce and the improvement you’re making. You can record this data in your waste management systems or any other method that could help you track food waste reduction in your hotel.
  3. Examine your operations: Food waste in hotels is produced at every stage of operations and that’s why hotel operators must analyze and review all delivery and storage processes, how food is prepared and served, and what you can do with leftovers. For example, IHG Group Hotel & Resorts in Australia partnered with their local NGO to reduce the food waste that goes to landfills by donating over 7000 meals to those in need in 2020. You can also improve your supplier management processes by investing in technologies that integrate purchasing, receiving, invoicing, and supplier relations management all in one holistic system.

“Leanne Harwood, Managing Director Australasia and Japan, IHG, commented: “As one of the world’s leading hotel companies with over 5,700 hotels globally, we have a responsibility and an important role to play in contributing to a sustainable future. We put sustainability at the forefront of all our thinking and have made some big commitments to energy, water, food, and plastic reduction – but we can’t do it alone.”

Source: IHG Hotel and Resorts

  1. Encourage others to join you in your mission: Reducing food waste in the hospitality industry is not a one-man band. It requires a concerted effort from both businesses and guests. Moreover, with the increased awareness of waste reduction strategies, although there’s much to do, hotel guests and restaurant diners are opting for hospitality providers that promote sustainability. For example, Park Hyatt has made sustainability a big part of its corporate responsibility. They have also started cooking less desirable parts of livestock and showing them in their restaurants to encourage others to follow suit.

From food waste to fertilisers: The hotel reducing food waste

Source: Mothership

Becoming a net-zero hotel

Reducing food waste in hospitality doesn’t only improve hotel operators’ margins but also reduces methane emissions. Although, hotels may have joined the sustainability bandwagon a little late, raising awareness of the impact of food waste on humans and our planet could encourage hospitality operators to act faster. For example, some hotel operators have already invested in giving kitchen staff training in waste reduction and management strategies. Small changes, such as putting signs in hotel rooms to encourage guests to reuse their towels are also being implemented by some hotels. But why is it taking so long?

“So why is the hotel industry lagging on sustainability? “I think it’s a lack of will, and that comes from a lack of knowledge,” says Robert Godwin, Owner of room2, whose epiphany came after a trip to South Africa in 2019 where he saw first-hand the effects of climate change in droughts and collapsing food chains. He is now seen as a trailblazer, with big hotel chains including Hilton coming to him for advice.”

Source: The Guardian

Moreover, the lack of access to technology is a huge deterrent for most hotel operators in the entire hospitality industry. Some hotels still use laborious and manual processes to manage supplier relations, recipe engineering, food preparation, and their overall hotel operations, for example. All of these can be streamlined with the help of technology, automating certain parts of the entire inventory lifecycle. It’s a fact that there’s a huge opportunity for hotel operators to significantly reduce food waste and cut inventory and labor costs by partnering with the right technology provider, helping them conquer the day, every day.

Food waste in hotels FAQ

  • What do hotels do with their food waste?
    • Sustainable hotels would usually give leftovers from the buffet to staff to eat or they may decide to use them for preparing other meals. Hotels like the Grand Hyatt have food waste management procedures in place which include, putting different waste in various containers and recycling biodegradable waste. Otherwise, hotels that don’t have certain practices in place will simply dispose of their food waste, leading to more waste in landfills.
  • How much food do hotels waste?
    • According to statistics, the hotel industry generates 289,000 tons of waste yearly, 79000 tons of which is food waste—a total of 9% coming from the hotel sector alone.

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