Person serving two others in a restaurant

Portion size is the main reason for plate waste when we eat out

23 February 2023

  • New research* from WRAP shows that almost half (48%) of people say portion size is the main reason they leave food when eating out - with on average almost 15% of main courses left uneaten.
  • Despite cost-of-living meaning we are now eating out less than pre-lockdown, food left on plates has increased since 2020.

A new report from international climate action NGO, WRAP, highlights valuable opportunities for the Hospitality and Food Service sector to reduce the amount of food left on customers plates, but still offer value for money for diners.

WRAP’s report, conducted in July 2022, provides new insights into customer behaviours and attitudes to food waste when dining out. It found that on average, people today eat out 5.2 times per month - down from 5.6 times in March 2020, immediately before lockdown. Cost of living was cited as the main reason for the drop, impacting on both how often we eat out and what we order. But despite eating out less often, we are seemingly wasting more food when we do eat out, compared to two years ago.

Almost half of those questioned (45%) said they eat out less and a third (32%) said they order fewer takeaways. People are also adapting their behaviours when they do eat out, with 20% ordering fewer or cheaper drink options, 16% opting for less food or fewer dishes and 14% choosing more cost-effective options from the menu. By contrast, nearly one in three (32%) say their eating out habits have not changed, with these tending to be 18–44 year olds, people with children and those with higher incomes.

What customers want (and don’t want)

Larger portions have resulted in a self-reported increase in leftover food since March 2020, when WRAP last surveyed people. More than one in five people (22%) say that the portion size of one or more of the dishes at their most recent sit-down meal was ‘too much.’ This is up from 17% in March 2020.

More than three in five people (63%) are concerned about wasting food when they eat out, with the main worry being the waste of money. The survey found a strong association between over-portioning and levels of food left uneaten, consistent with both WRAP’s 2012 and 2020 research. However, the latest findings indicate that both portion sizing and reported levels of waste have increased relative to previous years. In 2012, 41% of people said 'the portion was too big' resulting in leftovers, today that has risen to 48%**.

Catherine David, Director of Business Collaboration and Change at WRAP, said: “While most food waste happens in our homes, plate waste when eating out is still significant, and there are ways that businesses and their customers can prevent this. A key challenge our research highlights is that while customers are concerned about food waste, large portions can be linked with their perception of value for money. But many are looking for more choice on portion size or better understanding of what is included in their dish, and there are several simple changes and tactics that can be adopted by businesses to ensure that we are feeding people and not bins.”

The top binned foods from WRAP’s research across all types of food venue are:

  • Chips/potatoes – 25%
  • Salads/coleslaw – 15%
  • Vegetables – 12%
  • Meat/fish, breads and sauces/condiments – 11%
  • Rice – 9%
  • Pasta – 6%

The new report, ‘Citizen Food Waste Attitudes and Behaviours Out of Home’, highlights opportunities for Hospitality and Food Service venues to help customers make more informed choices when eating out by building awareness about portion size and providing information on the menu.

The survey shows that people are open to a range of simple changes that food venues could make to support better portioning. Over half (53%) say they would find it useful to have clear information about side dishes and garnishes (including the choice to have something different or not at all), followed by having more choice on portion sizes (51%). Over two in five (45%) would find it useful to be given the opportunity to take leftovers home.

Kate Nicholls, Chief Executive at UKHospitality, said: “Reducing food waste is a key objective of hospitality’s 2040 net zero goal, with a target to halve waste in the next seven years. Venues have already taken huge strides in their operations to reduce waste and continually look for ways to get better, so this new toolkit from Guardians of Grub will be a valuable addition to our net zero journey.”


Andrea Zick, PA at OXO Tower Restaurant, Bar & Brasserie, said: “We have been measuring food waste here at OXO Tower Restaurant, Bar & Brasserie since 2019 and through this, we realised that there is a tension between serving guests generous portions, and food being left on plates. There still seems to be stigma around asking to take leftovers home, so we make a conscious effort to offer this to all guests. We believe that these open conversations help our front of house team identify dishes that are often uneaten, so we can look at actions to take; whether that’s reducing the size of the dish even by one or two chips, which can save kilos of potatoes in a week.”


Louisa Dodd, Senior Project Manager, Sustainable Restaurant Association said: “Many restaurants have been successful in reducing operational food waste, using the principles of Guardians of Grub. Customer plate waste remains a major challenge for businesses like The Restaurant Group (TRG), for whom plate waste is now 80% of their total waste. We’ve seen through the programme we co-created with TRG how key steps like measuring food waste, identifying key culprits, piloting menu changes and portion training can both reduce food waste and their carbon footprint, as well as save money and keep cost-conscious customers happy.”

New toolkit for businesses

Through its award-winning Guardians of Grub campaign, WRAP has developed simple steps that the industry can take to protect their profits by reducing food waste. The new Guardians of Grub toolkit guides businesses to measure food waste and identify plate waste ‘hot spots,’ how to reduce food waste and how to engage with teams and customers.

Food Waste Action Week

The Hospitality and Food Service sector will be taking action on wasted food in WRAP’s upcoming Food Waste Action Week from Love Food Hate Waste . This is the UK’s largest food waste behaviour change campaign and aims to increase people’s confidence in making the most of their food. It will promote a range of skills that can be easily adopted but potentially have the greatest impact on reducing food waste. Food businesses across the supply chain will be involved, including those from the Hospitality and Food Service sector via Guardians of Grub

Notes to Editor

The research involved a survey of 4,006 UK adults which used a construct of focusing on the most recent sit-down meal out of home. Follow on qualitative research was conducted with fourteen adults. The research took place in July 2022.


* Summary of findings from the ‘Citizen Food Waste Attitudes and Behaviours Out of Home’ report:

  • UK citizens report an average of 5.2 meals OOH in the past month, down from 5.6 meals inMarch 2020. The cost of living having a discernible impact on eating out of home- both in frequency and adapting behaviours (fewer drinks, dishes, choosing cost effective options). By contrast 1 in 3 say their eating habits haven’t changed. However, by ages, the average meals compare as follows: 25-34s (8.1 meals), 35-44s (6.6) and 18-24s (6.5), compared to 3.2 among those aged 55+. Those with young children (0-10) report 8.7 meals out and those with children (11-17) report 7.1 meals out, compared to 4.2 among those with no children living at home.
  •  People with a household income exceeding £62,000 report 6.9 meals on average, compared to 4.1 among those with a household income up to £28,000. Larger portions mean more leftover food - both have increased since March 2020. For example:
  • Just over one in five (22%) say that the portion size of one or more of the dishes they ordered at their most recent sit-down meal was too much- up from 17% in March 2020.
  • The survey estimates that, on average, 14.8% of the main dish/course was left uneaten- significantly up from 13.0% in March 2020. The trend is evident for all courses.
  • Levels ofwaste is higher amongst 18-44s, those with younger children aged 0-10, segments 6 and 7, those eating as part of a large group or eating with work colleagues.  
  • Food waste occurring across all food venues.  
  • Potato/chips and salads/garnishes most often left uneaten (cited by 25%). Qualitative research suggests garnishes notnecessarily conceptualised as food.  
  • Around three in five (63%) are bothered by food uneaten out of home. Main reason being it is a waste of their money.
  • WRAP’s   ‘Citizen Food Waste Attitudes and Behaviours Out of Home’ report, builds on WRAP’s 2012 report - the first of its kind to examine citizen food waste outside of the home.

** In 2012, 41% stated that the reason why they left food was that 'the portion was too big'.

In 2022, 48% cited portion size was the reason for food left uneaten either as portion was 'larger than expected' (40%) or because they 'felt they ordered too much' (11%).


  • WRAP is a climate action NGO working around the globe to tackle the causes of the climate crisis and give the planet a sustainable future. Our vision is a thriving world in which climate change is no longer a problem. We believe that our natural resources should not be wasted and that everything we use should be re-used and recycled. We bring together and work with governments, businesses and individuals to ensure that the world’s natural resources are used more sustainably. Our core purpose is to help tackle climate change and protect our planet by changing the way things are produced, consumed and disposed of. Our work includes: UK Plastics Pact, Courtauld Commitment 2030, Textiles 2030 and the citizen campaigns Love Food Hate Waste, Clear on Plastics and Recycle Now. We run Food Waste Action Week and Recycle Week.
  • Guardians of Grub is WRAP's food waste reduction campaign to tackle the £3.2 billion of food thrown away at hospitality and food service outlets. It is aimed at empowering professionals from across the hospitality and food service sector to reduce the amount of food thrown away in their businesses. A suite of free operational resources is available that businesses can use to tackle food waste, including how-to guides and a free food waste calculator. The campaign resources help supporting bodies, trade associations and other influencers in the sector embed good business practice. Leaders in the sector have already pledged their support, including the British Beer and Pub Association and UK Hospitality. The recent Ambassadors roundtable demonstrates the need for accelerating the pace of change to protect profit and the planet.
  • Contact: Frances Armitage, Senior Media Relations Specialist:  for more information and interview requests with WRAP spokespeople.