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Sign by a serving station reading "food waste is not cool"

Breaking Food Waste Traditions: Aramark's Initiative at Asilomar Conference Center

  • Date: 25 January 2024
  • Author: Tara McNerney, Pacific Coast Food Waste Commitment Manager, WWF

The oatmeal is steaming, and platters of fresh baked goods and cut fruit sit enticingly at each of the round tables. Asilomar State Park conference center, located on a beautiful nature preserve, has been serving visitors via a family style service that was as unchanged as the protected landscape around it. “We hadn’t changed our service model in over 100 years,” Head Chef David said. On this day, a group of hikers and a sorority alumni summit were the breakfast attendees.

Asilomar conference center food service is run by Aramark, who is a signatory to the Pacific Coast Food Waste Commitment (PCFWC). Under this commitment, Aramark signed on to work towards the region’s target to reduce food waste by 50% by 2030. In the United States, around 38% of food is lost or wasted, which represents 6% of our greenhouse gas emissions and lost potential revenue for businesses. In food service, the bulk of the waste is post-consumer, that is food left on people’s plates. In 2023, Aramark joined the PCFWC’s other two food service signatories, Compass and Sodexo, to launch a collaborative pilot focused on reducing post-consumer plate waste through intentional consumer messaging. Sites put up posters and table tents that called customer’s attention to the problem of food waste. This unprecedented project and collaboration between the food service companies speaks to the model of the PCFWC, which brings together food businesses to share information pre-competitively in order to accelerate the reduction of food waste. Together, these three companies make up nearly 50% of the food service market share in the United States, so the policies and strategies they choose to implement will have a big impact.

Much is already known about strategies for reducing post consumer plate waste: for instance it has been well tested that trayless dining, smaller plates, and pick-your-portion service leads to drastic reductions. However the impact of consumer messaging is less clear, and Aramark, Compass, and Sodexo were eager to explore the outcomes. From spring to fall 2023, several sites from all three companies have undertaken this pilot at corporate cafes, universities, and in Asilomar’s case, a conference center. 

Old Traditions Broken…for the Better!

This was Asilomar’s first time measuring their plate waste, so successfully collecting data for the two week baseline and two week pilot implementation period was a significant achievement. The measurable results did not show a change in consumer waste once the posters and table tents were put up; Asilomar’s post consumer plate waste stayed the same at 3 oz/meal, though there was a 7% increase on the administered consumer survey of customers reporting that they were motivated to reduce their plate waste. Chef David feels that some of the lack of a measurable change in waste per meal was due to the team getting used to weighing the waste or anomalies in customer behavior over the two week period, and he reports confidence that if they had measured their waste over a longer period of time they would have seen a measurable reduction. Asilomar and Aramark can also point to some changed practices that they are certain will lead to food waste savings over time.

Asilomar had always served food family style on each table. But customers, Asilomar has found, can often over serve themselves. The pilot - while not focused on back-of-house interventions - still led Chef David and his team to look at sources of waste more critically, and adjust the service model of certain items:

  • Rather than have pastries and cut fruit at each dining table, they now make one table for these items, which allows them to serve less. Chef David reported that on some days, this cuts their production time for preparing fruit and pastries in half.
  • Salads are now pre-portioned into single servings on demand. While this increased labor, it does cut down on the amount of salad waste, as they used to throw out whole family size bowls of untouched salad.
  • The oatmeal station is now often managed by a server who dresses it for guests, preventing overservice or contamination of the toppings, and allowing for more reasonable portioning. They are similarly exploring this same model of service for soup, rather than offering it as a big vat on each table.

Chef David observed, “through practices that reduce food waste, we’ve also enhanced the guest experience.” These new methods of service and the reduction of visible food waste at empty tables improves the hospitality experience for guests. 

The PCFWC will publish the final case study documenting the learnings from this collaborative pilot in early 2024 on the PCFWC website, where other pilot case studies can be found.


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