As a restaurant company that serves 380 million guests annually, Darden is in a unique position to help the 42 million Americans at risk of hunger — one in eight people (and one in six children) lack consistent access to food in the United States. We have focused our philanthropy on providing food to people who need it because we believe food is simply too important to waste.
Since 2008, Darden has not only doubled its recycling rate, it has reduced food loss in the kitchen by 30 percent — evidence that our more than 1,700 restaurants are managing their food inventories better than ever. However, our food that is not served to guests is not wasted. Every Darden restaurant across our eight brands donates its surplus, wholesome food to feed the hungry through our Harvest Food Donation Program. About 8 million pounds of food a year is donated through the program, begun in 2003, and is distributed with the help of community partner agencies.
Not all food can be donated, though, and Darden’s goal is to one day send zero waste to the landfill. To achieve that ambitious target, we must reduce food waste, which is the single largest component of our waste stream.
We have reduced our food waste by better use of advance forecasting systems that align the distribution of food to our restaurants with the anticipated demand.
We are also working to integrate organics recycling (or composting) into our restaurants. Some of them have become pioneers in this process, which allows food waste diverted from the landfill to decompose anaerobically (without air) in a controlled, closed environment, which produces methane and biofuel that can be used for electricity.
More than 75 restaurants nationwide — including Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse, The Capital Grille, Bahama Breeze and Yard House — participate in comprehensive organic recycling programs.
As new organic recycling programs become available, we are doing our part to support these community-wide efforts. “Our team members truly enjoy supporting an eco-friendly program like organic recycling,” said Gary Brown, senior vice president of operations for Longhorn Steakhouse.
In addition, more than 75 percent of our restaurants participate in cooking oil recycling programs, recycling nearly 2,900 tons of waste per year.
Clearly, food waste is a challenge for everyone. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that the United States discards a third of all the food it produces each year, with only 5 percent composted and the rest headed to landfills or incinerated.
“We want to encourage every restaurant to take part in reducing food waste,” said Kristine Young, head of sustainability at Darden. “To help them do that, we will continue to support industry tools like the Restaurant Food Waste Action Guide,” which is published by ReFED (Rethink Food Waste Through Economics and Data, a collaboration of private, nonprofit and public-sector leaders).
In our quest to build our knowledge and share our experiences in reducing food waste, Darden participates in the Food Waste Reduction Alliance. And the Darden Foundation proudly partners with Feeding America, the nation’s leading hunger-relief organization. Last year, the foundation donated $1.7 million, which translated into 18.7 million meals for people in need.