The COVID-19 pandemic has posed a variety of challenges for the hospitality industry. With shelter-in-place orders in effect in many states and the population effectively grounded for the foreseeable future, vacations, business trips, and most other travel plans are put on hold as the country tries to slow the spread of the virus.
In a wave of cancellations, hotel occupancy rates dropped drastically, and properties opted to save money by closing their doors temporarily, allowing them to furlough workers instead of attempting to maintain a skeleton crew of staff. Nearly 3.9 million total hotel-supported jobs have been lost since the crisis began, according to Oxford Economics.
These are big challenges for hotel operators, but at the same time, these temporary closures offer a rare opportunity to review operations in a way that has never before presented itself. With hotels temporarily closing or adjusting their occupancy limits, many owners can now review all aspects of their operations to look for cost savings, efficiencies, and the ability to emerge stronger than ever for future guests.
Food waste is a big problem in the hotel industry. In the United States, an estimated one-third of all food is lost annually, according to the USDA, adding up to more than $161 billion in 2010. With guest satisfaction and hospitality top of mind, operators have long thought of food waste—particularly from conventions, catered events, and breakfast buffets—as a necessary evil. Now could be the time to review internal hotel operations to look for ways to reduce waste. Preventing, repurposing, or diverting food waste can lower expenses, reduce trash service costs, and contribute to marketing that will help attract future business.
The single best weapon against food waste is to prevent it from happening in the first place. While this is a complicated task to review during a busy shift, this great pause could provide a unique opportunity to review data on ordering, consumption, and overall waste volumes historically in an effort to identify trends. Identify key metrics such as the amount of food ordered per guest or the correlation between waste volumes and occupancy numbers. Each property will likely have a different set of key metrics, whether select service or full service with in-house restaurants and convention business. In all cases, developing a strategy to adjust the ordering process to order fewer ingredients in the first place will yield less waste and expense.
If food waste can’t be prevented, the next best thing is to repurpose it. Operators can use this time to conduct a thorough review of scratch-made items and most waste ingredients. For instance, perhaps potato skins are wasted in large quantities due to the volume of mashed potatoes served in a hotel’s restaurant. Instead of throwing these out, consider frying the skins and creating a new appetizer for the menu. It takes a lot of time, effort, and thought to come up with new ways to repurpose wasted ingredients or byproducts of scratch-made items. However, the mitigated impact on the environment and a hotel’s bottom line could be substantial.
Lastly, when food waste cannot be prevented or repurposed, it should be diverted. Plan a food donation program for unused ingredients, prepared foods, or convention meals. Perhaps even distribute leftovers in the staff breakroom to provide free lunch to hotel employees, or chill and package excess food to allow staff to take it home. Feeding hungry people is always better than paying by the ton at the landfill. For rotten, spoiled, or inedible items, a property could start a composting program. Adjusting back-of-house operations—including training, signage, and services—may be simpler during a pause in operations.
With the current state of the hospitality industry, many properties are looking for ways to survive so that they can thrive in the future. Now could be a good time to review internal operations, looking for efficiency and cost savings. Properties already spend significant money on food—don’t spend more throwing it away.