Understanding consumer food waste out of home

Start date:
February 2012
June 2013

In 2012 WRAP commissioned this research to help support the Hospitality and Food Service Agreement (H&FSA). The research aimed to:

  • Identify consumer barriers to and opportunities for preventing food waste when eating out; and
  • Develop research suggestions for how the Hospitality and Food Service sector could support consumers in reducing food waste out of home.

This research was designed to enhance the evidence base around why customers leave food when eating out at restaurants, pubs, quick service restaurants, hotels, staff canteens and leisure venues in the UK. It comprised an omnibus survey, a bespoke quantitative survey of over 5,000 customers and a series of discussion groups.

The sampling was informed by WRAP’s requirement to have equal size samples in each country (with a minimum of 1,100 in each of the nations with the exception of Northern Ireland) and the need to meet target samples of 500 for each of hotels, leisure venues and staff restaurants, 875 for QSR and pubs, and 950 for restaurants. To meet these target samples a hierarchical least-fill method was used in the online questionnaire.

Close to three in ten respondents left food at the end of their meal. These individuals were more likely to be women and to be younger. Hotels, pubs and restaurants had bigger proportions of meal leavers than other venues.

The main dish and the accompanying side dishes were the courses most likely to be left; while appetisers, starters and desserts were less likely to be left. The staple foods that tend to get left at the end of the meal are chips, vegetables and salad.

Food is mainly left because portions are too big. Two-fifths of meal leavers stated the portion being too big as the reason for leaving food. Diners who are eating out for the experience rather than simply to ‘re-fuel’ are more likely to leave food at the end of their meal.

The majority of diners do not want to think about food waste when they are enjoying a meal out. When eating out the issue of food waste is not something which is front of mind and customers do not want to engage with it. Three-fifths of respondents agreed with the statement ‘I don’t want to have to think about leaving food when I eat out’.

Conclusions and suggestions from research
The key opportunities for tackling plate waste suggested by the research are around ordering or getting too much food (of which portion size is a key aspect).

From a technical point of view, signatories and partners to the Hospitality and Food Service Agreement could better promote and offer more choice of portion sizes in their outlets - especially restaurants, pubs and hotels. Venues could offer different sized main courses as well as different sized side dishes, which would give customers more choice and empower them to order ‘the right amount’, thereby reducing plate waste.

From a behavioural point of view, WRAP’s continued work with signatories to develop suitable messages around portion sizes, and empowering customers to ask for more information will further help. Tools like an online resource pack where different messages tailored to the specific venue are trialled and tested, could offer additional insights into which types of message wording and on what channels (e.g. on menus with/without pictographic aids, on table cards, on special’s boards, communicated by staff) work best.

By addressing the provision and communication of different portion sizes, both technically with industry and behaviourally with staff and customers, a decline in the amount of plate waste can be expected.

For the executive summary and full set of reports, please visit: www.wrap.org.uk/outofhome

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