Reservations: A Food Waste Game-Changer?

Chef Ugo Alciati, Guido Ristorante presso Tenuta di Fontanafredda - Serralunga d'Alba 12050
Chef Ugo Alciati, Guido Ristorante presso Tenuta di Fontanafredda

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.

seafoodThat 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,

Eva

PS. I recommend reading the rest of the (short) interview with Alciati, in which he talks about how much he loves cooking with milk.

Expo Milano 2015: You’ll Wish You Were There

When learning about the appalling levels of food insecurity and waste in our world, one can quickly become cynical about whether these problems will ever be resolved, especially when it seems like so few people in power are truly aware of, much less concerned with their consequences. The organizers of Expo Milano 2015, however, beg to differ. From May 1st through October 31st, the city of Milan is playing host to representatives from 145 nations and international organizations (including Oxfam, the WWF, and the UN) as they participate in a global showcase of food security presentations, proposing sustainable solutions to one of our world’s most dire crises. The theme of the expo, ‘Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life,’ emphasizes the importance of international coordination in addressing issues of nutrition while respecting our planet’s resources.

Expo2Of course, the expo isn’t all work and no play. In addition to sharing their insights on food security, participating countries share their food culture with visitors through exhibits on their gastronomic traditions and samples of their cuisines. Every participant (country or organization) has its own pavilion or a space within one of the nine Thematic Clusters where it can display its exhibits based on its chosen theme. For instance, the Afghan exhibition ‘Eating for Longevity, Afghanistan Amazingly Real’ can be found in the Spices cluster and aims to rectify cultural misconceptions by showcasing the country’s local foods as well as recent advancements in hospitality and women’s rights. Some of the thematic areas are based on globally-significant foods, such as Rice, Fruits and Legumes, and Coffee, while others, like the Bio-Mediterraneum, are more conceptual, described as providing “multi-sensorial and educational experiences” to educate visitors about the history and future of food through social, cultural (i.e. artistic), technological, and ecological lenses.

Courtesy of corelanguages.com
Courtesy of corelanguages.com

For those of us who can’t make it to Milan in the next 5 months, there is an online magazine that shares photos and highlights from the expo, articles on the central topics, and interviews with various speakers (‘Expo Ambassadors’). There is also a map that shows off the creative designs of the various pavilions, clusters, and thematic areas. I highly recommend checking the site out, although I must warn that it might fill you with a painful sense of sorrow for not being able to see the expo in person. Unfortunately, I had to decline an invitation to participate in a food waste event being held there in June, but I’m sure Expo Milano 2015 will be inspiring several more of my posts here on SayNotoFoodWaste over the next few months. After all, it’s wonderful to see so many people celebrating the value of food to our world and working to make a real, global impact.

Eva

PS: The US pavilion has its own website.