Zero-waste set menu tactics for UK restaurants during the cost of living crisis

With British diners forecasted to abandon à la carte norms in 2023, we look at ways of integrating otherwise-wasted foods as part of modern, affordable set menus
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The UK restaurant industry continues to battle bravely against the cost of living crisis, with spiralling operational costs and an absence of diners across the board translating to a bleak and challenging Christmas 2022 for the majority.

And with penny-pinching consumers sacrificing many weekly pleasures to bolster embattled bank accounts, the hospitality sector is in need of targeted tactics to ensure bums on seats, not only for the rest of the festive season, but well into 2023.

According to new forecasts from IGD’s Eating In Vs. Eating Out report (as reported by Big Hospitality), 89% of British diners will look to save money in 2023 by dining out differently, including skipping a starter (45%), choosing a cheaper main course (44%) and forgoing a dessert (43%).

While not the cost of living forecast UK restaurants will have wanted, taking the above stats together suggests an opportunity within competitively-priced menu development, namely for flexible, sustainability-orientated prix fixe menu offerings that:

1. Align with the clear consumer move towards affordability

2. Embody on-trend, zero waste values

3. Deliver cost-effective, multi-course dining experiences

Sustainable menus, in more ways than one

While it's true to say traditional ‘fixed-price’ menus in the casual dining space aren’t necessarily money-makers due to their price points, with the same said for higher-end restaurant versions; the emerging opportunity with affordable set menus across the UK restaurant industry lies with booming consumer desire for sustainability within food, specifically food waste strategies (otherwise known as upcycling).

An ever-rising trend not only in hospitality, but across every area of the food industry, upcycled foods can be creatively harnessed to not only create cost-effective, experience-led menus for cash-concious diners, but also improve restaurant sustainability credentials, increase the value of lead ingredients, and fundamentally streamline costs.

Inspiration can be easily found within the growing throng of zero waste operations making waves in the UK, such as London’s Silo and its Siloaf Ice Cream Sandwich, which comprises ice cream made from the buttermilk left over from its in-house butter production, a wafer made using surplus bran from its bread-making, and a salted caramel-esque syrup made from two day-soaked, otherwise-wasted bread.
The Siloaf Ice Cream Sandwich, @silolondon
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Fermentation is your friend

For the above zero waste ice cream sandwich, Silo chef Douglas McMaster says that the bread used to make the syrup naturally ferments while being soaked in the water, to a point where it starts to “turn into Marmite”, with the resulting syrup delivering a salty, umami, sweet flavour combination.

Fermentation was also integral to Manteca’s pig skin ragù – a zero-waste, small plate showstopper on its opening menu in London’s Shoreditch last year.

By fermenting otherwise-wasted Parmesan rinds with koji, the versatile rice-based mould, the team developed “an intense parmesan-and-soy-sauce-like seasoning”, elevating bite-sized bowls of rich, gelatinous pork skin ragù, eagerly devoured by diners via deep-fried pork skin puffs.
Manteca’s pig skin ragù, @manteca_london
Waste not, want not
Zero waste mantras can also be incredibly handy when re-engineering recipes to reduce cost, allowing restaurants to offer strong main courses as part of affordable prix fixe menus.

For example, at new zero waste London restaurant Apricity, Chantelle Nicholson recently incorporated carrot top pesto as part of a creative tasting menu dish – a transferable alternative for a classic pesto-led pasta main course.

Then there’s US restaurant Miller Union which regularly turns meat scraps into charcuterie, sausages and specials; Cúrate (US) and its vegetable paella stock made solely of ends and scraps of vegetables; and NYC eatery Reynard which ferments otherwise-wasted vegetable scraps for salads.

As the cost of living crisis continues, restaurants should look to wrap creative, food waste-centric starters and desserts around subtly re-engineered mains, delivering memorable prix fixe menus that deliver more, for less.
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