Students at Misericordia University weigh the food waste of a lunch period to determine effectiveness of the campaign.
Rewards programs continue to grow throughout the food and beverage industry, as companies look to incentivize customers to return again and again. Reduction in food waste continues to emerge as an important topic as more foodservice operators strive to be more efficient and less wasteful.
Metz Culinary Management, Misericordia University’s foodservice provider, adopted a program that solves both of these issues in a very clever way. In just one year of operating “Mom’s Clean Plate Program,” the school has reduced its dining room food waste by almost 53 percent. Moreover, the program provides students with a reward and, most importantly, a valid reason to care about food waste reduction.
As part of the company’s T.A.S.T.E. (Taking Action for a Sustainable Tomorrow Everywhere) initiative, Mom’s Clean Plate Program aims to teach students the importance of food waste reduction. The program, meant to reflect a mother’s insistence that their child finish everything on their plate, encourages students on the university meal plan to do the same. To become a member of Mom’s Clean Plate Club, students show the Metz employee at the exit to the cafeteria their clean plate, devoid of all food matter. For doing so, students receive a punch on a card reflecting the promotion. Students who accumulate ten punches, receive a T.A.S.T.E. token, which they can turn in for prizes.
For example, one token earns a student a free fountain drink from the campus retail outlet. With two tokens the student can choose a novelty ice cream item from the retail operation. Three tokens earns the student a $5 gift card to any Metz-run outlet at the university. Four, five and six tokens earn students $10, $15 and $25 gift cards for use at Metz-run campus locations.
Metz uses several methods to determine the effectiveness of the program. Weighing the food waste for a given meal period represents the most dependable and accurate method. Lunch was chosen as the designated meal period for the weigh-ins, as it serves more students than any other daypart, with an average of around 600 people. Students at the university volunteer to scrape off all food waste into containers to be weighed. The program’s very first weigh-in netted a total of 131 pounds of food waste. Just two months into the program, the second weigh-in had dropped to just 75 pounds. This past fall semester, the third weigh-in came in even better at only 69 pounds, or slightly less than 2 ounces per student.
Reduction in food waste remains the number one accomplishment of the program. Mom’s Clean Plate Club continues to have a positive impact on other areas as well. For one, the student/staff relationships have grown immensely. Students often talk about the excitement of gathering coins and how they plan to use them with the Metz staff. Relationship-building between the team and the students is important to any university food vendor, and this program only helps to grow these relationships.
Another positive to emerge from the program is the lightened workload on the dishwashing team. Students making a concerted effort to eat what they take translates into less food waste for the team to discard. The dishwashing team has noticed a difference from years past, when whole sandwiches and wraps would be left almost entirely uneaten on plates. “It’s definitely enabled us to process more plates in a quicker amount of time,” says one Metz team member at the university.
Student satisfaction with dining services has grown as well. With rewards programs of all kinds continuing to grow in popularity, Misericordia University students are happy to earn gift cards to the other outlets on campus. “The ability to earn rewards is great; it matches what a lot of local restaurants are doing,” says one student. A senior comments, “My friends and I save up our coins and do a big pizza party with the gift cards we’ve earned.”
And there’s a certain level of satisfaction on the part of the staff, too. “We’re happy to help kids learn the importance of managing food waste, while rewarding them for doing so at the same time,” says Executive Chef Dale Lent.
Metz plans to continue its Mom’s Clean Plate Program as part of the company’s ongoing commitment to sustainability. There are also preliminary plans to establish an herb garden at Misericordia University as the education market pushes toward local sources and vendors. “Being able to go directly outside of the building to get our spices — it doesn’t get any more local than that,” says General Manager Bruce Deeble. “As long as they don’t throw it away.”