Q&A: The Community Café Model of Adjustable Portions, Prices

While eating at Café 180 in Denver, Denise Cerreta ordered only what she could finish. Photo: One World Everybody Eats

While eating at Café 180 in Denver, Denise Cerreta ordered only what she could finish. Photo: One World Everybody Eats

Earth911: When mentoring community café owners, how do you suggest reducing waste in the café’s everyday operations?

Denise Cerreta: We don’t believe there is only one right way, but we do strongly suggest letting patrons choose their own portion amounts or giving them the option of smaller portion sizes. This might be as simple as providing small, medium and large plates.

Choosing your own portion size is very important to us — not [all community café owners have] embraced it, but many have in their own way. We always share the philosophy that if you serve people the size they want, and they are pricing it, then you will end up with less waste. No one feels like they have to overeat to get their money’s worth.

E911: What are some other means to reducing waste that you implemented in your first café and suggest to new community café owners?

DC: I had my own garden, as do a lot of these cafés, and I would compost waste. This was the same garden I was growing food in for the café, so it was full circle.

We also suggest saving kitchen scraps that might otherwise be thrown out and using them to make vegetable or meat stock.

E911: What were the visible results of your practices?

DC: We had one 5-gallon white bucket that was our garbage can. It was for kitchen scraps and for patrons, who would scrape their plates clean prior to being washed. Most of the time it was half full by 9 p.m. at night; we opened the doors at 8 a.m. We served about 120 a day.

I also noticed that we were able to feed many more people when people chose their own portion size. It was truly like the modern-day version of loaves and fishes. By not automatically loading a plate with food that might not be consumed, more food was left to serve to more people.

Also, our lunch regulars would tell me that they had lost weight. Perhaps this was from our healthier food or from not feeling like they had to clean their plate.

E911: How do you feel when you eat out at a regular restaurant?

DC: For me, ending waste almost trumps ending hunger — they really go hand in hand, so I get sad when I see the huge portions served, and discarded, at just one busy restaurant. What gets thrown out could likely feed the same number of people that ordered it.

I think if people were more conscious of the value of food, especially for those who don’t have much of it, they would choose to eat less or take it home, and be less cavalier about saying, “Yes, I’m done; take it away.” I do believe in the so-called butterfly effect — that how we treat food and waste here will send ripples, good or bad, halfway around the world.

Remember littering and how it wasn’t uncommon to see people throw garbage out the window of their car? Well, after a national campaign to stop littering, people became a lot more conscientious about not littering. It is considered ignorant now to litter, not to mention it is against the law. I think we need to raise the collective conscience and level of awareness in regard to food waste.

Next page: The best community cafés and how others can follow their lead

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