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French Fries and Food Waste

French fries. In the last twenty years of my life as I’ve navigated the hectic world of the hospitality industry, I’ve eaten so many french fries. They are just so easy to quickly pop into your mouth and move onto the next thing. You don’t need a fork. The salt somehow gives you fuel, and the actual potato makes you feel like you’re carbo-loading for the seemingly unending marathon that is the rest of your shift.

When I was newer to the restaurant world, I would eat french fries from just about any source. Did they make it to a table and they barely touched them? Great, I’ll take them. Did I find them in the service hutch with no explanation of their source? I’ll eat those too. Did the kitchen make an extra order and they are sitting on the line? Don’t mind if I do. Is the order about to go out to a table? Well surely they won’t notice if I take a couple off the top.

Fries and bread are the items restaurant employees consume most regularly, because there is easy access and no one will notice. Yet, as I got older and started to think about germs and how gross it truly is to eat food off of a table, I also started to think about food waste.

Recently, I spent a few years managing a restaurant that prided itself on its french fries. Each burger order would come with a heaping portion of fries that no normal human being could ever consume. It’s a pretty picture, for sure, but it’s the epitome of food waste in American restaurants and it’s a huge problem. I remember once being yelled at by a guest who was appalled at how large the side of fries was. She had many other issues that showed me she was not so much concerned with food waste and was likely going through something that made her Cuckoo’s Nest crazy that day, but she had a point on this particular topic.

There is a ton of food wasted in restaurants on a daily basis. As a manager, I have had to reprimand my fair share of dishwashers and bus boys who would eat discarded food in the dish station. Even though I had committed the same sin in the past, I now could only see the potential harm they were causing themselves, so I made it my mission to stop this action. Not only were they exposing themselves to potential illness, but they would eat so quickly that I once had a busboy choke and stop breathing until another gave him the Heimlich.

I yearned for a better system- one that wouldn’t leave so much food thrown into the trash bins. A couple of times, I tried to set up an initiative to donate leftover food to food pantries, but they have specific guidelines that make it nearly impossible for a commercial restaurant to give. In fact, in most cases, food donations need to either be sealed, unopened containers or food that is specifically prepared for the donation. Even bread leftover at the end of the night can’t be donated because it likely wouldn’t meet the minimum donation requirement for pickup by charitable organizations.

I love to see guests take food home, but I have worked in places that specifically don’t allow their staff to ask people if they would like to take the leftovers. The packaging of food adds time to the service module and makes it so the table can’t turn as quickly. In many cases, it all goes back to the bottom line for the business. The food has been paid for the moment it hits the table. After that, the mission is solely to get more food on the table (while also providing the guest with a pleasurable dining experience, of course).

In the United States, we are used to giant portions. We want to see that our money is giving us exactly what we paid for. This leads to a lot of leftovers and a lot of garbage. I have never in twenty years worked in a restaurant that has a compost system, which is frustrating and disappointing.

Some of the largest food waste come