Creative approach helps OXO feed community and take slice out of food waste

By Andrea Zick, PA to GM OXO Tower Restaurant & Bar and Brasserie

When we were invited to join the first Cohort of the SRA’s Food Waste Bad Taste programme in 2019, we fully acknowledged this would be an ongoing journey for our business. We learnt that if food waste were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gasses behind China and the US. On average 18% of food purchased by the UK Hospitality and Food Service sector is thrown away.

What we didn’t know was how much we were contributing to the problem. So, we committed to start measuring our food waste and set reduction targets. Since then, we’ve measured our food waste repeatedly, set a modest 8% reduction target in 2019 and started cutting our food waste with a multitude of small measures.

Measuring food waste is relatively easy to organise, however interpreting the data and adjusting our way of working was far more of a challenge. To give an example. Bread in restaurants, and in homes too, is one of the most wasted food items. A lot of bread in restaurants is lost through plate waste rather than in the kitchen, where we have more control over the wastage. In 2019 bread was given to guests complimentary in both restaurants. While we always asked guests how much bread they wanted, we did not charge for it as part of the dining experience.

After measuring food waste for the first time, we realised there was a huge amount of bread returned from the guest tables. So, we introduced bread as a sold item giving guests the opportunity to consciously decide whether they wanted it. We expected that guests would be more inclined to eat what they pay for, and thus help reduce the amount of bread that ended up in the bin.

When we measured food waste again in February 2020, we saw a significant drop. Along with alterations to the way we served butter and milk, fewer large-scale events and the switch to paid-for bread, together undoubtedly contributed to us comfortably exceeding our 8% reduction target.

In May 2020, we gained a further insight into the scale of the food surplus issue. On one side, people were struggling to find food and feed themselves, and on the other side hospitality businesses were closed which was leading to unexpected food surplus by the tonne. With two industrial kitchens and teams of professional chefs sitting at home, we made a decision to set up an entirely volunteer run OXO community kitchen as well as sign up to the Guardians of Grub Champion.

Now with our restaurants back open, we donate £1 of each bread sale to support StreetSmart. This means the bread at OXO is not only wasted less but also feeds those who may otherwise not be able to nourish themselves. Over 5,000 portions of bread has sold between October 2020 and May 2021, raising valuable funds to help the vulnerable, while reducing our food waste and helping raise customers awareness of the value of food and the related issues of food waste and food poverty.

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