Marriott's Fight Against Food Waste
F&B leaders detail food waste initiatives aimed at 6,000+ branded properties.
Is 2018 the year hotels collectively become serious about reducing food waste? An industry-wide program combining the resources of the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA), the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and many major lodging brands (see sidebar) is just getting started, and results have been positive in the beta stages.
Meanwhile, one of those major brands, Marriott, has conducted its own research and best practices on reducing food waste and improving sustainability since 2015, and here, Brad Nelson, VP, global discipline leader, culinary, Marriott International; and Denise Naguib, VP, sustainability and supplier diversity, Marriott International, detail the lodging giant’s early results and long-term goals.
Hotel F&B: Why is food waste suddenly an actionable topic across the hotel industry?
Nelson: In a broader sense, waste from the overproduction and under-consumption of food has always been an issue in the industry, but it was perceived as a food cost issue. We didn’t really think of it in terms of affecting landfills, we thought of portion costs and per-person costs. There was a time where if you ever ran short of food on buffets that was a serious negative.
I think the shift in perspective from that to seeing this as a pure waste of resources happened around the same time chefs became more ingredient-focused. They were visiting farms and jumping on boats to see how fish were brought in and looking at the amount of bycatch waste on trawls, for example, and it connected with them—to view food as a finite resource.
I remember having a conversation at the Marriott global meeting in 2013 when we all acknowledged the amount of production that comes back from buffets, catering, and restaurants, and we’ve always had a big focus on donating leftovers to food banks and other places, but what can we do before it gets to that point? So about two years ago we took it from those conversations to real on-property testing and looking at different ideas tactically.
Naguib: I lead the sustainability team at Marriott and our research shows that food waste is a significant element within our company’s overall waste. We needed to make some positive adjustments to move the needle. That’s when the sustainability team and the culinary team partnered on testing three different proof-of-concept pillars for hotels to make an impact: donation of leftovers, technology tools to identify waste areas, and logging everything that gets thrown away—literally dumping out the trash bins, separating and weighing the items, and writing down everything in there. While we’ve Marriotized this initiative to fit our hotels, we’ve pulled some of these ideas through to the AHLA/WWF initiative.
Nelson: We started proof-of-concept testing in about 13 hotels, and our goal is to use those results to expand to 6,000-plus hotels in the future. Breaking down the trash bins in particular is a proof-of-concept that works no matter what level F&B program or tier of service a hotel has. What you’re wasting is right in front of you.
Hotel F&B: What results have you seen using these proof-of-concept pillars?
Nelson: We’ve significantly increased the amount of food going to those in need at food banks and ultimately keeping that food out of landfills. But we’re trying to ensure we don’t just skip to the donation solution, because we need to understand how to reduce food waste being produced in the first place.
That’s where the technology platform comes in. The one we’re using shows where the most common elements of food waste are through weighing leftovers and creating categories. For example, our hotels all have some kind of bread production, and our data shows that’s an area that’s continually overproduced by as much as 30% to 40%. It goes back to what I mentioned earlier about the illusion of abundance. So out of habit we might put a basket of 12 rolls on an eight-top table for a luncheon, when we can almost always get by with nine.
Another bit of useful data was one hotel prepared 30 portions of fish every day no matter what, and they typically only sold 18. So they cut production down to 22 portions daily.
Naguib: That impacts waste at an earlier stage, and there’s significant environmental impact for seafood when that practice is multiplied, because it goes back to conscious, responsible sourcing, like Brad mentioned earlier.
Hotel F&B: What about composting and other organic waste solutions?
Nelson: When you automatically try to solve the issue by saying, "Hey, don’t worry about it. We compost our scraps and have an enzyme digester on the back dock," or even view food donations as entirely erasing the problem, you suddenly have more waste because there’s a lack of concern with how food waste is created in the first place.
Naguib: The EPA’s upside-down food waste pyramid has composting second from the bottom, right above landfills, so to Brad’s point, we’re focused on getting to the root of the issue.
Nelson: Our overall focus is to not overproduce for the customer. That includes pre-consumer waste, like vegetable peelings, and post-consumer waste, which is the finished dish. Not overproducing is where we can achieve significant results, because once food is in front of the customer, especially at a buffet, that’s when it becomes wasteful.
Hotel F&B: What are the costs associated with reducing food waste in hotels?
Naguib: All our research has shown there’s a net positive impact financially when you reduce disposal costs and reduce the amount of food you’re purchasing. There are up-front costs to implementing a food waste reduction program, like technology tools, the physical trash bins for separating waste, and even donating food has costs, since you need containers to transport the food, and those containers stay at the donation center. Surprisingly though, our results so far show that labor costs were not significantly impacted by the proof-of-concept program.
Hotel F&B: What’s the next step for Marriott and this program?
Naguib: We just launched our new sustainability social impact platform called Serve 360 (serve360.marriott.com) where we call out for the first time a specific food waste reduction goal by 2025, as well as a responsible sourcing goal. The testing we’ve done the past few years on food waste has given us some great insight to be able to take our strategy to the next level in our hotels. It’s the first time in our company’s history we have accountability for these types of goals throughout our organization, and we have the potential to positively impact food waste on a significant scale because of the size of our company.
Industry-wide initiative to fight food waste empowers staff to take action.
In November, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA), with support from The Rockefeller Foundation, unveiled results from a set of projects demonstrating innovative strategies aimed at reducing food waste in the hotel industry.
“The hospitality industry serves approximately $35 billion worth of food and drinks annually, so it played a key role in our decision to partner with WWF and The Rockefeller Foundation,” says Brad Aldrich, senior VP, business development, at AHLA. “What we do in our own kitchens and at hotels affects our environment and how we go about our daily lives.”
Ten properties participated in the 12 weeks of demonstration projects, including a mix of full-service branded hotels and several independent operations across the country. They tested different waste reduction strategies, including low-waste menu planning, staff training, and education, and customer engagement. Overall, participating properties reduced food waste at least 10% and in some cases properties lowered food costs by 3% or more after increasing measurement and engagement.
“Some of the biggest revelations came when staff started to embrace the project’s goals and initiatives and began reflecting on the quantity and types of food waste they were generating or seeing each day,” says Monica McBride, senior program officer at WWF. “This led one group of chefs to tally up the total amount in pounds of food they were preparing for each person at a buffet. They realized they were preparing about two pounds of food per person, when an average person only consumes 1.2 pounds per sitting. As a result, the chefs realized they could shrink portion sizes. At a second property, waiters noticed that about half of the bread they were providing to diners was going to waste, so they asked management to review the complimentary bread policy. Management decided to add bread as a menu option and let the waiter decide whether to offer it for free. This small change resulted in a savings of 22.5 pounds of dough a week, 65 pound of butter a month, and the baker’s time, freeing him up to perform other important duties. The simple step of separating and measuring a kitchen’s food waste was enough to empower staff to take action. With additional support from management and training, these reductions can be even more significant.”
The momentum of the program is being seen, for example, at Kimpton Hotel Monaco Portland, one of the 10 properties, which recently rolled out a “Zero Waste” banquet at its Red Star Tavern, designed for cross-utilization of product, better estimates on serving size, and dishes/presentations that minimize food waste.
In line with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and Champions 12.3, WWF and AHLA recommend that U.S. hotels accomplish the following: (1) measure food waste and set reduction goals from a baseline year, (2) establish food donation strategies and community food recovery partnerships, and (3) set goals that ensure inedible food waste from hotels is diverted away from landfills.
As a culmination of their efforts, WWF, AHLA, and The Rockefeller Foundation developed a toolkit that shares key findings and guiding principles and provides next steps to tackle food waste in the hotel industry. The toolkit is an easy-to-use guide to help drive sector-wide participation in food waste reduction programs. It stresses the value of regular training programs, outlines a sequence of practices to develop food waste prevention strategies, and advises on how to collect and share data to adjust and improve performance.—TW
Observations for reducing food waste by Russ Blakeborough, senior consultant, Focus F&B Global Hotel & Restaurant Consultants.
Over-preparation: How much food is left over at the end of a large function? At the end of the night overall? What are we doing with these leftovers?
• Overcooked or burnt: Do we keep track of mistakes and misfires? How do we log these issues, and who is held accountable?
• Over-purchasing: How much lettuce do we throw away? What about bananas? Do we really need a whole case?
• Center-of-the-plate inventory: How is this purchased and stored? Do we count this daily and compare to sales?
• Theft: I know we don’t like to talk about this, but it does happen, and more often than you think. What are your checkpoints? Do you use cameras?
• Product freshness upon delivery: Does the produce company send you the old lemons because they know that you don’t check? Is your fish the freshest when it comes in, or is it already a week old? Fish that lasts two to three days after purchasing can cost you a lot of money if it sits in storage.
• Mise en place: How much prepped and chopped food is left over and tossed at the end of the night or shift? Are we filling the hotel pans to the top just because they are that size?
• Soups and sauces: How much are we heating up, chilling, and then reheating, while the quality is reduced each time?
• Creamer: Do we preset these? Is there really customer demand to preset these?
• Front of the house: Are servers ringing in food correctly with each order? Are we proactive in correcting the wrong items entered into the system, and in considering its effect on inventory?—MC
This feature originally appeared in January 2018. It is one of our Reader Favorites and is updated regularly.