Restaurant food waste due to ‘too large’ portions

Research launched today (4 June) by WRAP has found that pubs, hotels, restaurants and quick-service restaurants could save an estimated £722 million a year by preventing food waste through reducing portion sizes.

The ‘Understanding out of home consumer food waste’ report was commissioned by WRAP following the launch of its voluntary Hospitality and Food Service Agreement (HaFSA), which aims to reduce food and associated packaging waste by five per cent and increase recycling to 70 per cent.

According to WRAP,  in 2011 the industry produced 3.4 million tonnes of waste, of which 43 per cent was disposed of, mainly to landfill.

The new report aims to ‘identify consumer barriers to and opportunities for preventing food waste when eating out’ and develop research suggestions for how the hospitality and food service sector could support consumers in reducing food waste out of home.

Specifically, the research surveyed 5,000 restaurant customers to explore ‘why they leave food when eating out’, and aimed to provide solutions to what could be done to address food waste generation.

Portion sizes are too big

The research showed that two-fifths of customers left food uneaten because portion sizes were ‘too large’, with one in ten stating that they had ordered or served themselves too much food. Eleven per cent of those who left food said that they had done so because it had not met their expectations (such as being cold or not properly cooked). Further, 44 per cent said that large portions of food offered at restaurants were actually ‘off-putting’.

The most wasted food was found to be side dishes or main-dish accompaniments, such as chips, vegetables and salad. WRAP has recommended that in order to reduce food waste and save money, businesses should ask customers whether these side portions are actually wanted.

When asked to suggest ideas about what could be done to help waste less food, almost two-fifths of respondents stated that a potential solution to reducing plate waste was by addressing portion sizes in terms of choice, size and price.

Over half of customers not concerned by food waste

However, close to three-fifths of respondents said they were not concerned by leaving food at the end of their meal.

When asked directly only 11 per cent of meal leavers gave reasons for leaving food that were related to social norms; namely that they thought it was normal to leave a bit of food and that they left food because they did not want to appear greedy. However, when respondents were asked to what extent they agreed or disagreed with the statement ‘When eating out, how much I eat depends on who I’m with’, nearly a quarter of all respondents agreed.

WRAP also found that customers viewed doggy bags with ‘ambivalence’, with two-fifths of respondents agreeing with the statement ‘asking for a container to take leftovers home is embarrassing’.


In order to help businesses reduce food waste and save a potential £722 million in disposal costs, WRAP suggests that restaurant and food service providers should be offering customers a greater range of portion sizes.

The report reads: ‘From a technical point of view, signatories and partners to the H&FSA could prevent food waste by promoting and offering more choice of portion sizes in their outlets especially restaurants, pubs and hotels. Venues could offer different sized main courses as well as different sized side dishes which would give customers more choice and empower them to order ‘the right amount’ thereby reducing plate waste.’

Further suggestions include training staff to talk to customers about portion sizes and communicating on menus and boards that ‘certain requests are encouraged’.

The report concludes: ‘By addressing the provision and communication of different portion sizes, both technically with industry and behaviourally with staff and customers, a decline in the amount of plate waste can be expected.’

Richard Swannell, Director at WRAP, said: “By highlighting consumer attitudes there is an opportunity for industry to create practical solutions to the problem. WRAP is working with industry to tackle food waste through the Hospitality and Food Service Agreement, the on-line resource pack and a recently established industry working group to look at menu planning and portioning.”

Read WRAP’s ‘Understanding out of home consumer food waste’ report.

Hospitality and Food Service Agreement

Over 150 companies have so far signed up to WRAP’s voluntary Hospitality and Food Service Agreement (HaFSA).

To help support the agreement, WRAP has produced an online resource pack for the sector which gives a summary of their research and practical solutions. These include menus that offer a variety of portion choices and messages.

WRAP is also promoting the use of mobile applications, such as Unilever’s ‘industry-first’ mobile app ‘Wise up on Waste’ (in partnership with the Sustainable Restaurant Association), which aims to help chefs and caterers identify and reduce avoidable food waste.

Find out more about the Hospitality and Food Service Agreement.