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Perfect portions

Met at Memorial: tipping the scales on restaurant efficiency

Campus and Community

By Daniel Ferguson

What is the recipe for a great business relationship?

You could feast on what’s been written on the subject, but sometimes it’s just about having the right ingredients when inspiration strikes. 

For recent graduate Johan Arcos-Mendez (B.Sc.(Hon.)’22), that eureka moment came in the Main Dining Hall in Paton College on Memorial University’s St. John’s campus. 

“I was living in residence when I realized there was a big problem regarding food waste,” said Mr. Arcos-Mendez. “My parents raised me with a worldview where I appreciate food and I don’t like wasting it all. It feels terribly wrong. I realized that maybe a better way to keep track of how much food people are taking can bring about change and decided to apply my technical background to address the issue.” 

In March the UN reported that households across all continents wasted more than 1 billion meals a day in 2022, while 783 million people were affected by hunger and a third of humanity faced food insecurity.

InVerte is born

Mr. Arcos-Mendez’s friend Rohan Rumjansing (B.Sc.’22) shares the same feeling about food wastage.

Mr. Arcos-Mendez brought the idea to his fellow alumnus, with whom he collaborated frequently during their student days in Memorial’s computer science program.

“We had great chemistry.” — Johan Arcos-Mendez

Before long, the pair were making the most of Memorial’s support programs for emerging entrepreneurs at the Genesis Centre for their startup business, InVerte. 

“Rohan and I worked on projects together in class, looking at things like data mining,” said Mr. Arcos-Mendez. “There is a lot of relevance from that experience that applies to our current work. We had great chemistry. After we graduated together in October 2022, we saw the opportunity lining up for our project with a National Research Council grant and leveraged our position with the Genesis Centre to work full-time on the venture.”  

As partners in InVerte, the men brought in Sebastian Reyna, another friend and a PhD candidate in mechanical engineering at Memorial University, to advise on the design of InVerte’s technology.

“We are connected to this great vision of fighting food waste,” said Mr. Arcos-Mendez. “We come from different backgrounds but we all abhor wasting food.” 

An image of multi-coloured dots against an off-white background. The text "Met at Memorial: Celebrating the connections made here" is in black in the middle.

Inflation affects waste

Mr. Arcos-Mendez says one of the main things they’ve learned from consulting with local restaurant operators is that the main driver of waste is the food customers don’t eat.

“Why do they happen in the first place?” said Mr. Arcos-Mendez. “It could be that they are overserved and the diner leaves it on their plate. The industry practice is to standardize portions. This is not the right model, because not everybody has the same appetite or dietary goals.”  

They’ve also narrowed down other issues that cause restaurants to lose money.

“We got the idea from actual users.” — Johan Arcos-Mendez

One of their pilot projects is with a casual dining restaurant; another is a quick-service pizzeria.

For the former, a lot of time, labour and materials go into pre-measuring and packaging standardized portions.

For the latter, eye-balling portion size means food is wasted due to the cooks’ inconsistency. 

In response, the men honed in on a potential solution: using smart weigh scales to track portions in real time.  

So how does InVerte work?

With easy, plug-and-play technology, restaurant staff use a traffic light assistant to determine portion sizes.

It’s fast and intuitive and integrates easily into a restaurant’s workflow. 

“We reduce over- and under-serving portions while increasing restaurant efficiency,” said Mr. Arcos-Mendez. “By tracking every gram in the kitchen’s line station, we get great results. After four months of trials, we’ve helped operators achieve a 56 per cent reduction in inventory loss.” 

What’s next?

Mr. Arcos-Mendez sees the company’s ongoing mission as minimizing waste one portion at a time. He hopes that in another year, his team can use existing data to start helping restaurants better prepare for rush hour.  

“We want to help them not overstaff or understaff their restaurant,” Mr. Arcos-Mendez said. “We got the idea from actual users. Cooks wanted to have access to our application to visualize their precision. We realized we could set up a leaderboard to incentivize healthy competition in the kitchen. This could help operators retain top cooks, and help others get better at determining portion sizes.” 

Beyond that, the team also hopes to eventually allow diners to tailor their portion sizes to align with their own dietary needs and goals.  

Accessing Memorial’s entrepreneurial ecosystem has been vital to InVerte’s creation, Mr. Arcos-Mendez says.

“We wouldn’t have gotten into it without Memorial’s entrepreneurship support!” 

As we prepare to mark Memorial University’s 100th anniversary in 2025, we are celebrating the connections that mark our lives. We look forward to telling the stories of how Memorial has transformed the lives of individuals and their communities through higher education, cultivating generations of exceptional talent whose innovations have fuelled the future. Met at Memorial is a series celebrating great relationships that got their start right here. Explore partnerships, collaborations and more with us. Have an idea for a Met at Memorial story? Let us know! 


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