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Understanding consumer behavior to minimize food waste in growing buffet food serving system

Deducing ways to save food in buffet system, where people have the option to choose what they want, yet end up unwilling wasting food.

Photo of Prithvi Raj
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Hi! I am Prithvi Raj, a foodie. I stay in Bangalore, one of the most happening cities in India. These days, I have been eating different kinds of food from various hotels, canteens and places outside home where buffets are a common method of serving food to consumers. The general procedure here is

  • People who love food of one kind take it on to their plates one by one and then sit down to eat(or stand and start eating).
  • Once they start eating, they sometimes might find some food which looked really attractive, but doesn't end up tasting good to their taste buds.

This is a common scenario. Though these people never had the intention to waste food,  they don't want to eat food they don't enjoy. They were at a good restaurant/hotel to have a happy meal. Even though they had the intention to waste minimum possible food, they now don't have a choice, than to leave the food unattended on their plate after getting a taste of it. This has happened many a times to me too.

This not only leaves the consumer with a bad eating experience, but also makes him feel guilty about wasting food on his plate. The freedom to choose food becomes guilt when people feel they are not using their freedom optimally.

There is a severe gap to be addressed in this method of eating. Personally, I have always made sure I take food which seems good to me. But, I get to taste it only after I have it on my plate.

I researched this scenario observing people at my company taking food from four different buffet counters available. I found different factors lead to food getting into people's plate. I also tried to analyse the various factors which play a role in getting food onto my plate. 

  • Food which seems attractive is selected(might end-up not liking it!)
  • To get out of the line faster (there is a feeling of pressure when people are standing behind me).
  • I might end up taking food which I just want to try. Because of the default size in which the food is made(I might want to taste a small portion of the food, but the big size of one single piece doesn't leave me an option).
  • Cutlery of different sizes provided for each dish might not be suitable to help me put the minimum required quantity on my plate.
  • Need to return to the long queue to get another serve might make me take more than what I may consume.
  • Also laziness to come back to the line(even if the line is shorter) might get more things on my plate. 

There are many other such factors. 

Is it possible to efficiently and elegantly have food on my plate in a buffet system and possibly eliminate waste? Though buffet system bestows the necessary freedom to help the consumer choose what he wants, it still has many uncomfortable situations and the consumer might end up feeling guilty for wasting food on his plate.

I would like to work in these lines to help reduce food waste with an aim to create a pleasant, happy and guilt-free buffet every time for foodies who enjoy choice in their menu!

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

Wasting food taken from a buffet system is a very common scenario. People can easily empathize and relate to these scenarios and understand that this is a real existing problem. With this problem which is easy to witness, it provides high chances and motivation to have an observable real life scenario in front of us, and might lead to innovative and much required solution to this scenario.

Tell us about your work experience:

I am a User Experience Designer at Siemens, UXD India. I have experience in software development, electronics, management and love speaking to people. Proficient in 5 languages.

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Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Prithvi! Thank you for your insights on the buffet system and why people may waste food. I am sure this insight will be invaluable in the ideas phase. I hope to see you there.