Chefs and Techies Team Up to Fight Waste

Food waste is an immense issue with equally large implications, but it can be hard to wrap one’s head around. According to ReFED, a nonprofit dedicated to ending food loss and waste with data-driven solutions, uneaten food results in 4% of the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions. The first step toward preventing food waste is to make the abstract tangible and develop an understanding of how much food is being wasted, and what is causing that waste. This can be incredibly tough to track, especially in dynamic, cook-from-scratch kitchens like Bon Appetit’s that serve thousands every day. Enter Waste Not™: Bon Appétit’s very own kitchen-waste tracking app that makes it easier than ever for chefs to capture the cause, quantity, and destination of their food waste. (Read the press release)

We’ve long recognized the value in waste tracking, and for years we’ve informally tracked production counts and food donations with pen and paper. As technology improved, we trialed and tested the latest and greatest smart scales and tracking computers on the market. After trying a wide variety of programs without seeing notable reductions in waste and struggling to find a system that was financially sustainable year-round, we decided to develop our own.

Inspiring waste-fighting behavior change

In 2017, we set out to create a system that was easy-to-use, accessible for any size kitchen, and that focused predominantly on the causes of food waste. Although many systems had impressive technology, they weren’t easily adopted by the staff in an action-packed kitchen environment. So, we undertook a different quest: identifying the essential information we needed to track waste that would ensure full participation in day-in and day-out reporting and would lead to actual waste-fighting behavior change.

This quest led us down the path of creating a patent-pending program that puts data-entry tablets back-of-house so that chefs can report their waste using words that are easily understood, like “whoops!” to capture real-time information about the quantity, cause, and destination of food waste conveniently, without using a scale. Waste Not™ has intuitive and thoughtful visual cues that help change behavior while simultaneously allowing kitchen staff to report their waste in as fast as 15 seconds. Waste that is considered unavoidable like trim, bones, and shells is color-coded green, whereas food that goes to waste because it was overproduced or expired (and thus may have been preventable) is color-coded red. When teams report the destination of their waste, they select the section of the EPA Food Recovery Hierarchy that is relevant, which offers a helpful reminder that it is always preferred to feed people and animals over composting.

Visualizing waste data with ReFED

All of the data captured through the app is rolled up to Bon Appetit’s Café Manager system, a proprietary menuing and data tracking program, which boasts its own Waste Not™ analytics page. There, waste data is presented in a way that helps chefs see opportunities to prevent and reduce waste and allows them to easily share reports with clients and guests. Chefs can pull stats on how much excess food has been donated and how their numbers have changed over time. We recently expanded the data visualizations available on the analytics page by incorporating ReFED calculations on the water and carbon footprint of that waste, providing relative stats to help contextualize the impacts of waste such as vehicles on the road per year and swimming pools of water.

The program is being rolled out rapidly across the country and has been welcomed by our teams and clients alike. In fact, the program was so successful that our parent-company, Compass Group, asked us to build a version for them, which was released in early 2020. Compass is now in the process of translating the system into French and Spanish.