Paying for Unfinished Food

Hayashi Ya Japanese Restaurant is just your regular NYC all-you-can-eat joint (if you consider a $26.95 per person price regular). Except for one little wrinkleSurrender. photo by Chapree Da Grande (via Creative Commons) captured on their sidewalk sign:

We will charge 3% for wasted and unfinished food.

New York’s WCBS had this report on the policy that discourages customers from taking more food than they’ll eat. The segment features Joel Berg, head of the NYC Coalition Against Hunger, dropping some knowledge on food waste and hunger.

Berg, a nice guy who oversaw gleaning and food recovery at the USDA under Clinton, recently published a fascinating book on hunger in the U.S. It’s required reading, and if you buy it here, half the price goes to the Coalition Against Hunger.

Back to the unfinished food fine, it’s one solution for the old ‘eyes are bigger than the stomach’ problem. Some would say that ‘all-you-can-eat ‘ is the real problem, as it encourages overeating to ‘get your money’s worth.’ At these buffets, food waste is often an unfortunate side order.

I’ve seen an uneaten food charge a few places in Asia, but this the first time I’d heard of it in the U.S. What do you make of the idea?

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  1. William D. Colburn
    Posted December 8, 2008 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    A good idea for all-you-can eat places. I’m constantly shocked at people who bring huge plates of food to the table, eat part of the plate, then go for another plate. I get two plates at the generic Chinese all-you-can-eat buffets. I know, deep down inside myself, that one plate is enough. Two usually makes me feel full, which I know is too much. I compensate for overeating by trying to drain all the sauce before transferring food to my plate, and my picking out all the vegetables for myself and leaving the meat on the buffet. I think I’m even correct in assuming that people who come after me will be much happier eating “beef and broccoli” that has had all the broccoli picked out already.

    I thought of you last night. I went to a diner type restaurant, and was intrigued by a burrito sold as whole, 1/2, 1/4, and 1/8 size. The whole was $7.99 (USD). The waitress told me it was big, about 8 pounds. For $7.99 I didn’t believe her. They served me a burrito the size of a rugby ball. An eighth of said burrito very well might have been a pound of food. I thought of you because even after I ate everything that tasted good (there was decent amount of carna adovada hidden inside it that was fabulous) I still had most of the burrito left. I abandoned what was left to the trash heap because everything that remained just wasn’t something I wanted to eat.

  2. Posted December 8, 2008 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    Stunned speechless on the 8 lb. burrito.

    Getting my voice back…OK, here it it is:

    I like that they sell different sized-portions. That’s positive. As for the rugby ball burrito, not so much.

  3. Posted December 8, 2008 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    Hey wait, I like both beef and broccoli! So you’re the guy picking out all the broccoli??

  4. Posted December 8, 2008 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    I’m not a big fan of all-you-can-eat places because I don’t eat enough to make it a great deal. If pay $27 for one meal, I want to take some leftovers home.

    But kudos to the restaurant for calling attention to the problem. It sounds like a good opportunity for educating patrons.

  5. Posted December 8, 2008 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    there’s an AYCE sushi joint in chicago that’s been doing the same thing for at least the 5 years i’ve been going there. all food including rice must be eaten or they do charge you. not sure what the policy is if you order something you then discover you hate. only the price makes new york look like it’s for suckers: $17.95. i only got busted for rice one time.

  6. Posted December 8, 2008 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    I guess you’d learn after that first time…I can’t imagine they’d have many repeat customers getting fined. That’s an interesting question about things you don’t like. But I could see a ‘gag me with a spoon’ clause being abused as the default excuse for anything left over.

    It’s too bad about buffets and taking food home. I can see why they don’t allow it, but it seems like the cause of a fair amount of waste.

  7. Missy
    Posted December 8, 2008 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    I think its pretty common at AYCE Sushi places.

    I used to go to one that charged $1 for each piece of rice left to discourage patrons from turning it into an AYCE sashimi experience…which is both wasteful and much more expensive for the restaurant.

  8. Posted December 8, 2008 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    Full disclosure: A recent sushi convert,I’ve never been to an AYCE sushi place. Sounds like a smart policy, though.

  9. Sara
    Posted December 8, 2008 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    It is common at AYCE sushi places, in Canada as well. The one I went to it’s around $20 a head plus $1something for all unfinished dishes.

  10. GLM
    Posted December 9, 2008 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    So who decided how much is “too much” waste? I’d have a problem with that, if there wasn’t clear guidelines. I mean, what if the food is more filling that someone thought, or if it just didn’t taste good?

  11. Sara
    Posted December 9, 2008 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    Someone at the table still has to eat it, which is why it’s good to go in a large group and know the menu fairly well.

  12. TL
    Posted December 13, 2008 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    This rule is not new and is common in many buffet restaurants. I’ve seen many buffet restaurants and all you can eat korean bbq restaurants in Los Angeles and other cities with similar rules.

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