If you’re visiting a hotel this holiday season for either work or pleasure, take a moment to observe the way food is prepared and served at the buffet or your holiday party dinner.
Is it presented in abundance? Are people taking more than they can eat? Is the hotel staff replenishing the buffet even as the party is winding down? How much food is going back to the kitchen? Can you tell if the hotel is donating edible food or composting its scraps?
The holidays are a great time for each of us to take a moment to reflect on food — and what’s wasted. This simple act can spark a shift in thinking about the need to protect the planet and minimize our footprint. It all starts with simple observations and small steps — perfect for a New Year’s resolution.
National US estimates show that the largest portion of waste occurs at home, in supermarkets, and at restaurants and hotels, which serve food to millions of guests each year — often at buffets, where a lot of food goes to waste. To conserve these resources, World Wildlife Fund has been working with Hilton to identify where food goes to waste and what steps can be taken to stop it.
The Hotel | Kitchen platform, developed with generous support from The Rockefeller Foundation and with the help of the American Hotel and Lodging Association, now gives every hotel on the planet the means to develop and execute a food waste-reduction strategy. Major hotel brands are taking this challenge seriously; and Hilton has set the ambitious goal to reduce food waste to landfill by 50 percent by 2030, as part of its Travel with Purpose campaign to redefine sustainable travel and tourism. Hilton will also establish food donation programs at its hotels, where legal.
Hilton is already achieving impressive impacts through its food waste program. In a 10-week waste-reduction pilot project, nine Hilton hotels in the US and South America were able to donate over 6,000 pounds of prepared food leftover from meetings and events — enough to feed nearly 4,200 people. The hotels also implemented organics diversion programs that kept nearly 260,000 pounds of inedible food waste out of the landfill, preventing the equivalent of 200,000 pounds of carbon emissions. Hilton is now rolling out its food donation and waste diversion program across its 250 managed hotels in the Americas, with the goal of positively impacting local communities and the environment. If every hotel that serves food starts making these types of change, the environmental benefits will be monumental.
While Hilton and others are taking concrete steps to reduce food waste in their operations, there’s still a huge barrier to overcome: Customer expectation. In buffet lines, abundance sells and food is often wasted because it is over-ordered or because there is a belief that the buffet will be kept stocked even at the end of the event.
We, the customer, must recognize the influence we have and use it for good. This means only ordering the amount of food that is necessary for a meeting or event, and confirming any last-minute cancellations so that the chef can adjust orders accordingly. It also means asking the hotel or restaurant to ensure that any leftover food from your meeting or holiday party is donated to the needy in the local community. Each one of us can do our part by only taking the food that we will eat and coming back for seconds, rather than overloading a plate with food that will go to waste. And you can also make a difference by continuing to demand change from the companies that you patronize.
Hotel brands such as Hilton have properties in hundreds of countries around the world, which means that when they take on a challenge, it can quickly scale globally. Reducing food waste can become the new norm at every hotel around the world; imagine the impact of the hospitality industry and customers coming together to redefine the importance of food and showing how wasting food should be a cultural taboo.
And when the vacation is over, you can follow the hospitality industry’s lead and start taking steps in your own kitchen to curb waste. It won’t just be good for the planet, it’ll probably put a few hundred more dollars in your pocket — to save for your next trip.