Consumer food waste in developing countries becomes increasingly important as they continue to urbanize and raise the income of their inhabitants. However, there are few empirical studies on the scales, patterns, and impacts of consumer food waste in emerging economies (compared to industrialized countries). Here we report an exploratory study on the amount of Horeca (hotels, restaurants, and cafés) food waste and its ecological footprint in Lhasa, Tibet, in western China, based on a direct-weighing bottom-up approach of 35 representative restaurants in 2011 and 2015. We found that, on a per capita level, Horeca food waste in Lhasa has already reached a high-level (128 ± 3 g/cap/meal in 2011 and 98 ± 2 g/cap/meal in 2015) close to that of western countries despite a lower level of income. The decline of per-capita Horeca food waste generation from 2011 to 2015 most likely reflects the reduction among local residents as a result of recently issued strict regulations (especially those targeting official extravagance and governmental reception meals at public expenses), as similarly observed in Japan and Germany. On the contrary, as a main tourism destination, tourists showed an increasing trend of food waste on a per capita level and contributed over half to the total Horeca food waste in both 2011 and 2015. This also leads to, together with other factors such as growing dining-out frequency of local residents, a sharp increase (39.7%) of total Horeca food waste in Lhasa from 2011 (15 ± 1 kt) to 2015 (21 ± 2 kt). The total ecological footprint of wasted food in the Horeca sector of Lhasa in 2015 is equivalent to 71,516 ± 7,705 ha, almost two times the arable land area of Lhasa.