Restaurant managers’ readiness to maintain people’s healthy weight and minimise food waste in Japan | BMC Public Health

This study examined whether restaurants in Japan support the national goals of maintaining healthy weight and minimising food waste, and investigated the characteristics of restaurant managers with a higher readiness to take action toward these goals. According to the results, very few restaurants have begun to take action to achieve these goals, and company size and reference to the SDGs for running their businesses were related to higher readiness to take action.

As habitual eating behavior may impact health, we targeted restaurants for daily use, as evidenced by the results that the restaurants were more likely to have repeat customers more than 1 day per week and customers paid less than 1000 yen (USD 9.07) per meal. We realized the need to acknowledge restaurants that were small enterprises or family enterprises. A total of 87.1% of the participants in this study worked at small businesses; This number represents a general trend across Japan. According to a survey in 2016, 85.3% of accommodation and food service industries in Japan were small businesses [24]; Therefore, the results of this study represent the general state of affairs. Considering this, together with the finding that company size was related to higher readiness to take action toward national goals, we infer that small businesses may not have the management policies or management plans that big companies generally have. In addition, large food companies are highly conscious of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) and tend to try to contribute to society; However, they are more likely to invest resources in environmental issues rather than health-related ones [25]. This study also shows that the readiness to contribute toward maintaining healthy weight is lower than that toward minimising food waste. Nearly half of the managers either found it difficult to take action or showed a willingness to take action but have not developed a plan to maintain healthy weight; Thus, it is essential to specify action plans and details that support this goal, for example, by reducing portion sizes.

This study also indicates that even small business companies, if they were aware of SDGs, were likely to have higher levels of readiness to take action toward both national goals. This represents a positive outcome with respect to small businesses in the restaurant industry in the pursuit of the aforementioned goals. However, over 70% of the participants reported to have ‘never heard about the SDGs’. Although a survey reported 43% of university students were aware of the SDGs [26], this result is not comparable to ours because of the respondents’ widely divergent backgrounds. Future research should study awareness of the SDGs in companies, including the restaurant industry, in other countries.

To motivate restaurants to take action in support of the national goals, some incentive would be needed, especially for small businesses managers. Lindberg et al. [27] conducted a program for improving the restaurant environment in a rural community. They ranked restaurants into three levels (bronze, silver, and gold) according to the number of healthy practices they have adopted, and offered incentives such as promoting the restaurants via the local media. There is a similar program in Japan that certifies the restaurants or food service companies which provide menus according to healthy meal criteria [28]. These kinds of programs would incentivise restaurants to take action toward improving their customers’ health and maintaining a sustainable environment while improving their image as well.

Strengths and limitations

This study has some limitations. First, because of the nature of self-report questionnaires, there would have existed differences in the participants’ definition of ‘taking action’ to achieve goals. Second, as few participants reported ‘taking action’, we could not analyze the characteristics of restaurant managers who were taking action and could only focus on a level of higher readiness to take action. We acknowledge this as the actual status of the restaurant industry. We found that very few restaurant managers were cognisant of the SDGs or taking action toward national goals. Qualitative methods, such as interviews, should be employed in future research.

Although this study has some limitations, this is the first study to demonstrate the awareness of SDGs in the restaurant industry and its relationship toward taking action in support of the national goals of maintaining healthy weight and minimising food waste, bearing in mind that the respondents were predominantly small businesses. This study indicates that due awareness of the SDGs has not yet penetrated the restaurant industry.

Serving appropriate amounts of food is one way to support goals of maintaining healthy weight and minimising food waste. However, many chefs believe that the portion size influences customer satisfaction, with large portions implying good value for money [29]. Therefore, measures are needed to customers to request proper serving sizes of food at restaurants, such as by altering the perceived value of meals from being based on the quantity served to other aspects, such as taste. This should equally apply to both restaurateurs and customers. One study showed that interventions from the waiter can affect a customer’s excessive ordering behavior at restaurants [30]. This suggests that communication between restaurants and customers could be an effective method to induce patrons to select moderate servings of food. Furthermore, it would be important to educate people about taking proper portion sizes and minimizing plate waste in the early stages of food consumption behaviour, such as for school meals [31].

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