Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
They match uneaten restaurant portions with hungry bargain hunters.
If the thought of needless waste makes you see red, you should probably avoid hanging out by a restaurant kitchen’s backdoor. Every day, dining spots across the world throw out an incredible amount of food. In the U.K. alone, commercial kitchens junk an estimated 600,000 tons of food annually. Clearly, this sucks for the environment, with all the energy and resources that went into producing that food going to waste when it’s chucked. It’s also unsustainable in a basic way, attacking restaurants’ bottom line in a feast-and-famine industry where overspending on supplies can easily push a struggling place under.
The obvious answer to this waste is for chefs to purchase and use supplies more carefully. Even in a well-run kitchen, however, it’s hard to eliminate waste altogether. Fluctuating numbers of daily diners mean that that even with careful planning, kitchens are often left with a few spare portions.
Thankfully, a new breed of apps are offering a way to reduce this restaurant over-supply, by matching excess portions with diners looking for affordable take-out.
Denmark’s Too Good to Go and Finland’s Lunchie launched in winter 2015 and spring 2016 respectively, and both work on the same principle. When lunch service is coming to a close, restaurants working with either of the apps log the dishes and servings they have left over. They also provide a time window when users can drop by to pick them up, typically in the lull between the lunch rush and beginning of dinner prep. App users then browse and buy the portions cheap (Lunchie’s portions typically cost around 50 to 60 percent of the restaurant price), with the app creaming off a small commission.
These apps have succeeded in building up large restaurant networks, and can thus start to make a real difference to the height of Europe’s waste food mountain. Lunchie currently has 250 participating restaurants in Finland and averages 300 meals sold daily. Too Good to Go is considerably larger—browse Central Copenhagen and you’ll find a forest of potential choices. What’s more, they’re expanding. Too Good to Go has already rolled out across Europe, with most of its international outposts located in in Norway, Switzerland, and the U.K., where 95 restaurants have already signed up in London. It has also begun to roll out in the U.S. Starting this fall, Lunchie will launch in Holland, Germany, Sweden, and Estonia.
If these services grow too large, could they start competing with restaurants’ regular business? So far, the market they tap into is a little different and thus avoids clash. With meal pick-up windows typically hovering around 5 p.m., the apps only suit people flexible enough to visit and eat outside regular restaurant serving times. And as Lunchie’s Ville Villema told CityLab, the founders believe their apps can actually boost the restaurants’ normal business. “We find one of the attractions for restaurants is that we can act as a form of advertising for their regular business,” Villema says.
If that regular business then sees fewer prepared meals ending up moldering away uneaten, then so much the better.