Blog Post

The US EPA Food Recovery Hierarchy ranks source reduction as the top priority for reducing the amount of food sent to landfills. Businesses and institutions with buffet service often face significant challenges in preventing food waste at the source. The struggle to meet demand and ensure buffets appear fully stocked often results in overproduction, and customers also typically claim more food than they consume, leading to excessive plate waste. Source reduction technology service provider, LeanPath, recently published a whitepaper outlining several strategies that chefs and managers can use to address these challenges in a buffet setting. The article suggests launching an ongoing food waste prevention program, utilizing staff engagement, food waste separation and measurement, and buffet service management to prevent wasted food.

Establish a Team of Engaged Employees

Food waste prevention requires strong employee engagement and integration into your organization’s culture to be truly effective. LeanPath recommends recruiting a champion who will lead and monitor the effort while also advocating for its importance to others. It can be particularly beneficial to also collaborate with an executive, HR professional, or a member of the event planning team to help shape the organization’s culture.

Engage employees in a conversation about why food waste prevention is so important. This discussion will establish buy-in and explain the need to alter their normal routines. Be sure to communicate the details of your food waste separation and measurement plan so that employees understand expectations. It is crucial to inform them that any food waste measurement data will not be used punitively; instead, it will be used to set goals and celebrate improvements.

Continue to incorporate food waste prevention into ongoing training and new employee onboarding. With relatively high turnover and myriad competing demands, it’s important to regularly conduct refresher trainings to ensure everyone fully understands the initiative. For businesses with staff whose primary language is not English, it’s critical to provide proper food waste prevention and reduction training and signage in their native language(s).

Separate and Measure Food Waste

Before evaluating specific solutions for preventing food waste, it can be helpful to develop a full understanding of the baseline by separating and measuring all food waste. To do so, start by diverting all food waste from the waste stream into clearly-labeled containers in one designated area. Ensure that all staff have been fully trained on how to use the containers, and then select a day to perform a full food waste audit. The US EPA provides tips for performing a waste audit, using a waste logbook to track pre and post-consumer food waste There are a number of different technologies that are available to assist with this measurement, including LeanPath, Phood, and Winnow Solutions.

After logging your measurements, calculate your weekly food waste amounts and establish goals for your restaurant. It can be helpful to start small, setting less aggressive goals that can be achieved quickly and encourage staff. For example, you may start with a goal to reduce vegetable overproduction by 25% in one week and later build to 50%.

Modify Your Buffet Service

Businesses with buffets can also modify their food service strategies to manage portion sizes and prevent plate waste. Here are a few examples of creative ways to reduce food waste and keep customers satisfied:

  • Use signage to communicate the importance of food waste prevention to customers and to celebrate your joint commitment to reducing unnecessary waste.
  • Consider preparing food as it is needed rather than prepping large quantities in advance.
  • Use smaller serving pans to help reduce food waste and maintain the look of a full buffet.
  • Reduce the number of buffet lines to avoid needing multiple containers with the same item.
  • Separate mixed items into several containers to provide customers with more choice, while also spreading the food volume across a larger surface area to give the appearance of a greater quantity.
  • Eliminate trays, use plates with less surface area, and provide smaller serving utensils to encourage customers to claim less food and reduce excessive plate waste.
  • Strategically place items on pre-portioned plates to prevent customers from inadvertently taking large portions that they will not finish.
  • If possible, buffets can incorporate Cook-to-Order and A La Minute Service, which help to control production.

RecyclingWorks in Massachusetts recommends restaurants also seek out additional food waste diversion strategies, such as composting food scraps and donating leftover food. Restaurants can review the RecyclingWorks Food Waste Guidance for additional information.

RecyclingWorks in Massachusetts assists businesses and institutions in maximizing recycling, reuse, and food waste diversion opportunities. RecyclingWorks provides direct technical assistance and guidance on the source reduction of food waste. To learn more about implementing or expanding a food waste diversion program, call our hotline: (888) 254-5525 or email us at