Fresh & Local:Wasted Food When Dining Out

by Penny Cherubino

There are ways for you to cut down on wasted food when you dine out at your favorite restaurants. Too many of us don’t think about wasted food when we push away a restaurant plate with food remaining on it. You’re not only wasting food, you’re also not getting top value for your dining dollars.

Successful Chefs Notice

Wasted food is a problem in restaurants. In fact it is one of the reasons restaurants fail. If the owners don’t keep an eagle eye on the foodstuffs kitchen staff are putting in their garbage bins, they could find themselves closing shop.

I hope they also notice when food comes back from the dining room and ask, “Are we over serving our customers?” and “Why so much wasted food?” If a plate full of french fries returns to the kitchen, that’s wasted food. Many places pile on the fries as a way to make the plate look abundant. It might be smarter to ask the customer if they want a small, medium, or large portion of fries.

Ordering Better

If you don’t know the size of the meals a place serves, sip a beverage and watch as a few meals come out of the kitchen or ask your server about portion size before you order.

At a recent lunch at Tiger Mama in the Fenway, the bartender alerted the couple next to my husband and me that they were ordering a lot of food. He explained that portion size for their lunch menu is generous. He was right, even with that warning, we came up short of finishing both the bon mi sandwich and salmon salad we ordered. His care for his customers will have us coming back often, but for dinner, since they no longer seem to be open for lunch.

Order in sequence. If you are very hungry when you sit down, start with an item that will arrive quickly, hold onto your menu and order the next item a bit later. Once you’ve had something to eat, you may order less food than when you were starving and your brain wanted everything.

Sharing menu items is another way to try more of a chef’s work without over ordering. We often order an appetizer and an entrée. In many places, this is more than enough for two. You can also think about ordering an item that will travel home well in a take-out box.

Some Meals Should Be Shared

Clam shacks are part of New England summers, but while many of us enjoy the view of an occasional mountain of fried seafood, we are better off ordering smaller portions or sharing that mountain with friends.  Even if the people in our party are big eaters, we no longer order an item-per-person at clam shacks. Over the years, we’ve learned that sharing one fishermen’s platter and adding smaller orders of those items that we all like best, works out. If anyone is still hungry, we can place a second order or stop for ice cream.

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