The procurement of catering services offers many opportunities for the circular economy. Whereas for other product groups the circular aspects mainly involve the technical cycle, for catering services it is usually the biological cycle that matters most. For this product group the focus is on preventing unnecessary procurement and food waste, limiting the embedded CO2, and – if present - high-value processing of residual flows.

In its roadmap towards a circular category, the Dutch central government has clearly defined what it understands by ‘circular catering’. In addition, there are various examples of catering facilities with a circular concept. These may serve as inspiration for the circular procurement of catering services.

Aspects of circular catering

The principles underlying the circular economy can be applied to catering in various ways. With regard to product range and menu planning, the following aspects deserve attention:

  • Protein content: over time, shift the plant/animal protein ratio to 60/40, 70/30 or even further.
  • Origin: ask suppliers to use local, biological and seasonal food as much as possible.
  • Food waste: prevent food waste in banqueting, for example by interfacing actively with the event organisers.
  • High-value reuse: find ways to use wasted food and kitchen waste as a high-value raw material.

In addition, the following aspects are relevant for the operational management of restaurants:

  • Making the chain more sustainable: develop a sustainable catering chain by offering fair rewards and by encouraging collaboration between chain partners.
  • Measurable impact: by measuring the impact of sustainable innovation, we know how sustainable we really are.
  • Transport and logistics: make sure that the impact of the transport of ingredients, goods and people is as low as possible.
  • Packaging material: Minimise the use of packaging material where possible, prevent the use of composite packaging, and only use monopacks if this is necessary to prevent food waste.
  • Equipment: assess the viability of maintaining ownership of, for instance, coffee dispensers or small kitchen equipment, and focus on Total Cost of Ownership.
  • Staff and guests: involve staff and guests in your sustainable efforts and communicate about this; ultimately they are the ones who will have to start making other (more sustainable) choices.

Decide which aspects are important to your organisation and perform a market consultation to involve market players and seek advice.

Concerns regarding procurement of circular catering services

Various principles have been defined for the procurement of circular catering.  Use the following questions to challenge suppliers to develop a circular catering concept.

  • Prevention: what is being done to prevent food waste?
  • Production: how, where and when is the food being produced?
  • Logistics: How is the food packaged and transported?
  • Residual waste: what is being done to ensure that waste retains the highest possible residual value?
  • Chain: what does your value chain look like? Which chain partners are you able to influence? What sustainable incentives can you create?
  • People: How do you persuade your staff, guests and collaboration partners to adopt more sustainable behaviour?


Challenge your own organisation to re-examine the way they approach catering and their own role in this.

Another important consideration is how the entire food chain is driven by volume. All parties in the chain base their turnover on volume, often aiming at maximum volume at a minimum price. It is hard for the client to exert direct influence on this system, except by not copying or supporting this approach.

Concerns regarding the circular procurement of hot and cold drinks dispensers

The procurement of hot and cold drinks dispensers is also governed by a number of principles: Use the following questions to challenge suppliers to develop a circular drinks dispenser concept.

  • Device: does it consume a minimum amount of energy? Is the device easy to repair and adjust? Is preventive and corrective maintenance in place to extend the life cycle of the device, and does the contract contain a financial incentive for value retention?
  • Coffee, tea, sugar and other additives: to what extent is the production of these items sustainable and socially fair?
  • Cups: to what extent are the cups reusable, biobased and the same throughout the building? Or are there solutions that would make disposable cups completely superfluous?
  • Residual waste: to what extent is high-value reuse of residual waste, such as coffee grounds or used cups, part of the supplier's business process?


Catering facilities with a circular concept

Circular concepts are becoming increasingly common in catering. The following four concepts have a unique story to tell:

  • Restaurant InStock cooks with food waste from supermarkets. Products that are discarded by supermarkets, for instance due to damaged packaging or an expired best before date, are transformed into nourishing restaurant meals, InStock has restaurants in Amsterdam, The Hague and Utrecht.
  • Paviljoen Circl has a kitchen without gas and with direct current instead of alternating current to reduce the loss of energy. To reduce energy consumption, hardly any products are being refrigerated and other storage and preparation methods are being used.
  • Restaurant The Green House (Dutch) works towards a ‘plugless kitchen’ (without electrical connections) and primarily uses local and seasonal products in its meals. The temporary pavilion can be disassembled completely after its expected life cycle of 10 years.
  • Future Food Lab is a collaboration between caterer, client and the education sector. This circular pop-up near Utrecht University has been built from recycled and recyclable materials. Here, the caterer and students are working on a transparent ‘food print’, local and circular menu items, chain collaboration, involving startups and increasing awareness.


  • Clearly define what you understand by circular catering, and which aspects you will be focussing on.
  • Be aware of the incentives currently at work in the chains, which at present are driven by volume.
  • Agree with your suppliers on a growth path over the contract period, so new developments can be incorporated. Include clear KPIs with respect to circular performance.
  • Be inspired by existing circular catering concepts, new revenue models and sustainable innovations!

Inspiring examples

Background information

Tool - Circular Office (Dutch)

Circular Office is trying to set up collaborations between facility service providers in order to close the cycle for the office environment.

Suggestions and/or additions?