BuffetGo: An online ordering platform to reduce buffet restaurant food waste.
How an online company is enabling restaurants worldwide to easily sell leftover prepared foods and reduce overall food waste.
Picture this: Today, like any average day, a typical American restaurant produces roughly 411 pounds of waste1. Some is attributable to “food loss,” including shrink during preparation, defects, or molding. But a significant amount of loss is pure “food waste,” perfectly edible food that goes uneaten due to overproduction or consumer plate waste.
All told, grocery and restaurant food waste in America totals a staggering 43 billion pounds annually, representing roughly $80 billion in good food that goes to the trash. A 2010 USDA report reveals that this total makes food waste the largest single contributor to solid municipal waste after recycling.
Food production and distribution numbers can be downright frustrating:
- In 2010, 31% of the available U.S. food supply went uneaten
- To produce that supply, 300 million barrels of oil and approximately 25% of the total agricultural usage for fresh water went to food that was never eaten.
- Alongside this cycle of wasteful production, 13% of American households experience “food insecurity,” a lack of adequate access to affordable nutrition.2
Picture this: Today, a steadily growing number of restaurants in Chicago, New York, and other cities are reducing their food waste by selling discounted leftovers to consumers through an online marketplace, BuffetGo. BuffetGo, founded in 2014 in Finland, launched its U.S. operations this year.3 Its model creates value for four groups:
Restaurants – Restaurants sell quality food that would otherwise go to the trash at the end of shifts. Any revenue from this food presents an increase in profits.
Consumers – Value-driven food consumers purchase meals at up to a 90% discount. Meals that typically price at $20 are sold for ~$5 through BuffetGo.
Food Equality Groups – BuffetGo donates 20% of each purchase to the United Nations’ World Food Programme4
The Global Environment – Every purchase throught BuffetGo represents up to a full plate of food that gets consumed rather than sent to a landfill.
BuffetGo operates as a two-way online marketplace that connects restaurants with surplus food to consumers who wish to purchase those meals. BuffetGo partners exclusively with buffet restaurants, which are legally required to dispose of any prepared foods that are not eaten by the end of a shift.
On BuffetGo’s website, a customer searches for available “meals” from nearby restaurants through zip code or map search.5 Each restaurant has a limited supply of meals available each day for pick-up at a specified time (typically a 30-minute window at the end of a shift, after the restaurant has finished serving regular customers).
Customers pay anywhere from $2 to $6 online through BuffetGo for a meal, and must present proof of their order on a SmartPhone when they arrive at the restaurant. At the restaurant, customers fill up a container with food as they would at any traditional buffet, but these meals must be taken to-go.3
BuffetGo’s model is promising as more and more individual consumers and retailers look to reduce waste. Even staying concentrated on buffet restaurants alone still provides a huge opportunity for growth with a proposition that benefits all parties involved. Individual restaurants could also initiate their own efforts to reduce waste by donating/selling goods, but the time and capital required to develop programs and find consumers discourages that activity. BuffetGo’s service can allow restaurants and consumers nationwide to reduce waste through their internet platform.
BuffetGo has tremendous opportunity to aggregate and utilize data to further enhance their service. Customers are already required to use a smartphone to present proof of order, so I’d like to see a dedicated phone App soon. I’d especially like to see some marketing on the impact of BuffetGo purchases on the environment and food equality. BuffetGo is already responsible for the leftover meal transactions, so I could see them developing trackers in-App for individual users to see how many pounds of food waste they have saved, or how many dollars/meals they have provided to families in need through their purchases. Further, aggregating those types of statistics for restaurants or for whole cities could be very powerful.
Other ways BuffetGo could enhance their product would include an ability for customers to save favorite restaurants, to more easily track nearby BuffetGo partners using GPS, and to provide and access quick restaurant ratings. Features from leading food or logistics apps such as Caviar, Yelp, and Uber can apply to this service to make the overall experience one that customers want to repeat.
Overall, this space is unique and looks promising for BuffetGo. It will be important for BuffetGo to continue to provide benefits to both restaurants and customers to keep their presence necessary, and for BuffetGo to stay ahead of any competition that may enter by expanding to gain partnerships in more cities.
- “Restaurants.” End Food Waste Now. http://www.endfoodwastenow.org/index.php/issues/issues-restaurants. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.
- Wells, Hodan F., Jean C. Buzby, and Jeffrey Hyman. “The Estimated Amount, Value, and Calories of Postharvest …” USDA. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.
- Garfield, Leanna. “The ‘Seamless for Food Waste’ Lets You Eat at Buffets for as Little as $2.” Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 05 Oct. 2016. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.Chicago Tribune
- Elahi, Amina. “BuffetGo Lets You Grab Restaurant Food Cheap at Closing Time.” Chicagotribune.com. 27 Sept. 2016. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.
- “BuffetGO – Up to 85% Closing Time Discount on Local Food!” BuffetGO. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.
Student comments on BuffetGo: An online ordering platform to reduce buffet restaurant food waste.
This is so cool! An amazing opportunity to reduce food waste, increase profits, and contribute to a social good. I can see a future for this type of service in areas with a lot of students, low income households, or a high cost of living. It seems as though buffet restaurants should actually be seeking out BuffetGo, as this service nets them additional revenue and perhaps an additional customer who may return to pay for a meal full price in the future. I wonder if BuffetGo could go a step further by (i) advertising directly in restaurants to promote the positive stats of reducing food waste (something like, ‘this restaurant is a certified BuffetGo partner’ or ‘participates in BuffetGo’); and (ii) donating any additional leftover food from the restaurants to homeless shelters or low income areas. This last suggestion would involve labor/capital investments, but may show a true dedication to making the food industry more sustainable long term. Hopefully this type of service can scale beyond buffets in the future!
This is a great example of a company that is adding value to the entire chain, while reducing food waste, which is remarkable. I believe that further “digitalizing” its operations will be extremely helpful not only for the customer experience, but also to scale the business.
However, I wonder if there is an additional way to make the service available to people who unfortunately do not have access to the internet or to a smartphone, especially as BuffetGo enters other countries (at this point it seems that the technology is segregating the ones who would benefit the most from it – maybe the 13% of Americans that still experience food insecurity?). Could they partner with governments, so that people in real need can also benefit from this initiative? What other solutions could they explore?
In any case, kudos for the company. They’ve already achieved something that is already extraordinary. Let’s wait and see what comes next!
This is a really interesting post. One potential concern that I have about this platform from the restaurant’s standpoint is that they may be cannibalizing their full-priced sales during normal hours if they sell deeply discounted food at the end of the day. I would imagine that many of the consumers that eat at buffet-style restaurants are already somewhat cost conscious, so they may be more inclined to take advantage of this service. As you mentioned, BuffetGo has access to large amounts of data, so this is one area that they should consider tracking for restaurants. For example, they could track the number of times that users purchase food from individual restaurants at full price and at discounted prices. From there, BuffetGo could price meals at varying levels depending on the frequency of discounted purchases to help restaurants make up for any lost full-priced sales.
This is such an awesome idea, thanks for posting! I share Merkel’s concern that this could cannibalize sales. I know there is also a huge problem in the US of food deserts, typically lower income or rural areas where there is limited access to healthy food. I wonder if there is an alternative distribution strategy that would avoid the risk of cannibalization as well as serving these food deserts. What if buffet restaurants could freeze leftover and get them to these food deserts in reasonable time? There would definitely be an impact on the price BuffetGo would be able to charge, but perhaps the benefits of serving food deserts would outweigh the additional costs.
I think that this is a fascinating topic, and one that really demonstrates how to add value across an entire supply chain. I disagree with a couple of the posts above that this model could result in a cannibalization of sales. I think that customers who choose to go out to dinner and those who would like a quick, late-night buffet are fundamentally different in terms of their preferences, and that this model attracts customers who would not have otherwise chosen to go out to eat. Furthermore, I think that this model definitely lends itself to expansion. I know that supermarkets have already made inroads into selling excess food at significant discounts, but I would expect a much wider use of this model across the food and beverage industry would be possible.