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Restaurant Plate Waste Costs Consumers up to $700 a Year

Updated: Jul 17, 2023

In 2021 more than $1.17 trillion dollars was spent at America’s restaurants and foodservice facilities, accounting for 55% of the average American’s food budget. Since 2009, Americans have spent more money on food prepared away from home, than food prepared at home. It’s no wonder that restaurants account for 25% of all the food waste produced in America. Just like at home, that waste adds up, plate waste could cost consumers an extra $700 a year.

What is Plate Waste?

Plate waste is essentially leftovers that are not taken home and get thrown in the trash. When customers order a dish, they often leave uneaten food on the pate. According to the NRDC, an estimated 20% of all food waste produced in America is plate waste.

Why are Americans Eating Out?

A study from the USDA found that “Employment creates time constraints [which] shift consumer demand from grocery store foods to restaurant meals.” Additionally, “households with children purchase 19 percent more fast-food meals… single parents, who do not have a partner to help out with child care, purchase 14 percent more ready-to-eat foods than all other households.”

How can I Reduce Waste at Restaurants?

It starts with portion size. In a study from Brian Roe at Ohio State University, 50 participants’ plate waste was tracked at home and restaurants. Unlike most studies which focus on cafeterias, buffets, and school lunch programs, Roe’s study focused on consumers with free choice to prepare and select their meals. Choice helped reduce overall plate waste, but they also found “that when more than one serving [of an item] is selected the amount of plate waste is 3.5 times larger” when compared to those who selected one serving.

Ordering only what you can eat significantly reduces waste and saves money. If you have leftovers, don’t be afraid to ask for a take home container or bring your own reusable container for leftovers. Leftovers make a great lunch or snack later.

Leftover Rice Pudding

Looking to use up some leftovers? Use your leftover, unseasoned white rice to make some pudding.

Bowl of rice

When cooking with leftovers it is often difficult to use a standard recipe. In this recipe we use the term parts instead of cups and tablespoons. You can use whatever unit of measure makes sense for your needs. In our case it made sense to measure ingredients in tablespoons.


· 5 parts (Tbsp.) unflavored leftover white rice.

· 5 parts (Tbsp.) whole milk

· 1 part (Tbsp.) sugar

· Dash of salt

· Dash of Vanilla extract.


· In a saucepan combine rice, milk, sugar and salt.

· Cook uncovered over medium heat until thick.

· Stir often.

· Remove from heat after about 20 minutes.

· Add vanilla, serve.

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