While I was researching the presenters and exhibitions at Expo Milano a couple of weeks ago, one article title immediately piqued my interest: “Ugo Alciati: Limiting food waste with set menus and reservations-only restaurants.” Sure enough, the interview with Alciati revealed that his restaurant, Guido, focuses on providing the freshest food and avoiding waste by only offering a fixed menu and, more uniquely, requiring reservations. I say ‘more uniquely’ because fixed menus aren’t actually that uncommon in the gourmet food world; many chefs design their menus monthly, weekly, or even daily to take advantage of market-fresh, seasonal ingredients. The idea of using reservations as a means of waste prevention, though, was something I had never heard of. Alciati has reinvented the phrase ‘reservations only’ from pretentiously implying, ‘Our restaurant is so popular, you can’t possibly get a table as a walk-in,’ to, ‘We’ll only prepare enough food for the people we know are coming.’
Needless to say, I am absolutely delighted by Alciati’s innovation. As he describes in the article, restaurants all over the world could cut their waste in half by adopting this approach, which would not only be a huge environmental win but would translate into lower prices for diners. After all, the restaurant wouldn’t have to compensate for buying and making tons of food that gets thrown away at the end of the day. Plus, the food would taste much better day-of than reheated from the freezer (although, admittedly, freezing leftovers is a great waste-fighting technique).
However, I also realize how impractical it would be if, indeed, every eating establishment employed this rule. There would be no such thing as convenience or fast food, no last-minute decisions to eat out because you don’t have time to cook. If you were walking around and hunger suddenly struck, you’d be out of luck unless a vending machine or grocery store was nearby. Furthermore, the strategy only works if the restaurant knows what the patrons are going to eat, which would require fixed menus or including food orders in the reservations. Frankly, that degree of planning would take a lot of the fun out of eating.
That being said, the ‘reservations only’ tactic is not to be dismissed. Our society is too obsessed with convenience for it to become mainstream, but I think it is completely feasible for other higher-end restaurants to follow Alciati’s lead. The central approach can also be adapted to be slightly more accommodating, such as setting aside a few walk-in tables that incur an additional charge on the diner’s bill. With gourmet food prices already being the way they are, it honestly isn’t that outrageous.
Always happy to hear about innovators in the fight against waste,
PS. I recommend reading the rest of the (short) interview with Alciati, in which he talks about how much he loves cooking with milk.