Fast thinking: how restaurants are avoiding festive food waste

By Ella Doyle

- Last updated on GMT

Christmas food waste restaurants

Related tags Food waste Fine dining Casual dining Chefs Sam Harrison Sra

Closed for eat-in with just one day’s notice, hospitality businesses across London and large swathes of the South East are facing an unprecedented festive food waste challenge.

Ahead of the busiest trading period of the year, chefs have spent the last few weeks ordering in supplies and getting ahead on prep, simmering huge batches or gravy, vac-packing stuffing and soaking fruit in booze for Christmas puddings and mince pies.

But on Monday (14 December), the Government announced new Tier restrictions for London and a large part of the South East. With cases spiking the move from Tier 2 to Tier 3 did not come as much as a surprise, but the timing certainly did. 

Based on previous changes to Coronavirus restrictions, most operators had expected to be able to trade until at least the weekend, but instead were given just one day’s notice and no hope of selling off a significant amount of festive stock.

“There’s a very real danger that there’ll be major social and environmental cost,” says the Sustainable Restaurant Association’s Tom Tanner. “Tonnes of food destined for diners’ plates is now headed for the bin.”

This year has seen hospitality adapt in a number of ways, from table service in pubs and contactless ordering to makeaways and ‘substantial’ meals. Restaurants and pubs must now get creative once more to avoid the financial and environmental cost of food waste. 

Delivering the goods 

Perhaps the most obvious route for surplus Christmas puddings and turkey dinners is takeaway, delivery and DIY meal kits, AKA makeaways. But Christmas dinner delivery is uncharted territory for most, as Sam’s Riverside owner Sam Harrison explains. 

“We’re going to try converting as many cancelled bookings into click and collect and deliveries. But dining at home isn’t the same experience, so not every customer will want that”.

Fortunately, Sam’s Larder – its adjoining shop that was born out of the first lockdown - allows the Hammersmith restaurant to reuse produce. “We’ll turn our fish into fish pies, and venison and steak can be used for meat pies and stews,” adds Harrison who, like many other operators, is positively fuming that he has not been given a fighting chance to recoup the swingeing losses that 2020 has incurred.

“To give restaurants 48 hours’ notice is disgraceful. Especially when we’re preparing for what should be the busiest time of the year.”

Subhead: Sharing is caring 

Parlour chef-patron Jesse Dunford Wood has spent the last few weeks prepping for a fully-booked festive period. 

“Making food from scratch is a long process and involves lots of people,” he says. “We’ve made lots of Christmas puddings that I don’t want to be stuck with in January, for example. 

“People don’t consider the cost of closing and re-opening. Monday and Tuesday are our big days to start getting lots of things in and prepping up. And then suddenly we don’t have anyone to sell it to.”

Though he suspects he won’t be allowed to open his dining room for Christmas Day itself, he is frustrated that the Government is yet to make its intentions known. Whatever happens, there will be a service at Parlour on Christmas Day, it’s just not clear whether it will be for eat-in or delivery. 

Any food that can’t be used for Christmas Day or Parlour’s popular takeaway Friday fish and chips and Sunday roast dinners will be made up into care packages for staff who are now going on furlough. 

Self preservation 

Yuma Hashemi, chef patron at The Drunken Butler, had foresight about the restrictions. “We learned from the first lockdown that there seems to be a distinct lack of understanding and consideration for the hospitality sector. We had to be smarter.” 

The Farringdon restaurant changed its ordering model in an attempt to curb how much produce was delivered to the restaurant and following the Tier 3 news has got creative to preserve food that might otherwise have gone in the bin. 

“With some of the veg ‘waste’ that we have, we’ve fermented and pickled them, and given other produce such as caviar, truffles and cheese to our staff.”  

The sudden shift into Tier 3 is remarkable, he says, and “is a continuation of the really poor approach taken to our sector throughout this whole pandemic period”. 

Charity begins at home

The first lockdown saw chefs cooking up meals for NHS staff and vulnerable members of society. And it looks like Christmas will be no different, with a number of restaurants looking to donate food to good causes to avoid waste.  

“The best we can do is donate as much as we can,” says Leonid Shutov, owner of restaurants Bob Bob Ricard in Soho and Bob Bob Cité in the City. “During the previous lockdowns, we donated perishables to chefs, including Larry Jayasekara, who were cooking meals for the NHS.”

“We’ll be doing the same this time,”” he continues. “So, the produce won’t be wasted, and will most importantly benefit someone else.” 

For venues that aren’t in a position to give away excess food, another possible route is food waste apps. Too Good to Go - for example - has introduced new features for struggling businesses. The app has 30,000 restaurants signed up across Europe and allows customers to purchase unsold food at a discount to stop it being thrown away at closing hours.

For more tips on reducing food waste head to

Related news

Follow us

Hospitality Guides

View more