Going Green: Leveraging Sustainability in the Restaurant Industry

Picture1 1024x682 1

More than just a trend, sustainability is becoming an essential factor in running any business, and nowhere is it more important than in the restaurant industry, which relies on the quality and availability of plants, animals, and other natural resources. It’s also true that a growing number of restaurant guests seek sustainability too, with one UK survey suggesting that over 83% of consumers expect the hospitality businesses they visit to be taking action on sustainability. For some guests, it may even be one of the decisive values that determine where they eat out.

Even for restauranteurs who want to prioritize sustainability, one of the chief concerns is likely to be cost, especially while the situation for restaurants in the United States this year is unsteady. While ‘greening’ a business does require an upfront investment, when done right it can save owners money over the long term. Let’s take a look at key ways to boost restaurant sustainability, and how these actions can benefit businesses.

Devising a Sustainable Menu

The first key step is for restauranteurs to reduce the carbon footprint of their menus, but in reality, calculating this accurately is nearly impossible. Rather than lose sleep over whether to use imported or greenhouse-grown tomatoes in January, restaurants should prioritize using fruit and vegetables that are both local and in season whenever possible. Going locavore requires creativity when designing a menu, but is an opportunity for chefs to shine and restaurants to differentiate themselves from the competition. Food that’s in season also tastes better, and building a relationship with local producers can help secure a better price for higher-quality ingredients.

An even greater step towards a more sustainable menu is reducing the amount of meat and fish offered. Meat has a notoriously large carbon footprint, and the fishing industry is rife with environmental and ethical problems. An awareness of these issues in recent years had led to a change in consumer preferences, with many more open to trying vegetarian dishes. To test the water, restaurants could start by switching out less popular meat- or fish-based dishes on a menu with vegetarian dishes.

Of course, reducing meat doesn’t mean taking it out altogether. For the meat and fish that stays on the menu, it’s essential for restaurateurs to do their homework and seek out better options like local, ethically-raised meat and MSC-certified fish.

Building a Sustainable Supply Chain

Efforts to become more sustainable don’t stop at the doors of a restaurant. Another key step is for restauranteurs to review their current supply chain and seek out sustainable options. This involves getting to know suppliers and producers better and learning more about how responsible their own practices are.

Sourcing sustainable ingredients isn’t cheap, but there are ways to make the most of everything. One cost-savvy way to work with seasonal produce, yet still keep it on the menu all year round, is to buy in bulk when something is available, then freeze or preserve it. There are plenty of time-tested preservation techniques that have returned to the limelight in recent years, like probiotic pickles and kimchi, and even the offcuts of meats and vegetables can be used for broths and stocks.

For some ingredients, it may also be possible to forego sourcing completely by growing them at the restaurant. While some restaurants have gone so far as to open their own farm, smaller businesses have done well with just rooftop herb and vegetable gardens. Greening a restaurant literally is also a great way to promote sustainability efforts to guests.

Minimizing and Managing Waste

For restauranteurs concerned about the cost of going green, focusing on waste reduction should be a no-brainer. Food waste in particular costs the U.S. restaurant industry $162 billion every year, with precious resources restaurants have invested in being lost to landfills. Food waste can be reduced both at the front and back of the house by reconsidering portion sizes and by innovating in the kitchen with offcuts and scraps.

For the food waste that inevitably occurs, there’s composting. An increasing number of cities are offering municipal composting, but it’s also possible to incorporate a vermicompost bin into the corner of a kitchen. What’s produced is nutrient-rich soil, which can then be sold or given to a restaurant’s local producers or used in the business’ own garden—closing the food production loop.

To further tackle waste, restaurants also need to vet their suppliers to ensure they use easily recyclable, minimal, or reusable packaging. It may be that a current supplier just needs an extra nudge to transition to greener practices, but it also may require a restaurant to seek out an entirely new partner whose processes are in line with their own sustainability goals.

One often overlooked but significant contributor to waste is the use of disposable cups. With the rising trend of takeout and delivery services, the volume of single-use cups has surged. Restaurants can address this by switching to biodegradable or compostable disposable cups. Encouraging customers to bring their own reusable cups by offering a small discount can also significantly cut down on waste.

Reducing a restaurant’s overall volume of generated waste ultimately helps cut down on waste management and recycling bills, and is one area where savings can help make up for other expenses in going sustainable.

Investing in Eco-friendly Equipment

Gas, electricity, and water are essential to restaurant operations. However, these utilities are often left running out of convenience and to speed up processes, drastically increasing the ecological footprint of a business. One way to reduce unnecessary utility usage is by installing motion sensors, programmable thermostats, low-flow sinks, and toilets, and upgrading to modern energy-saving appliances and induction stoves. Staff may also need to practice breaking bad habits like turning equipment on well before it’s needed, or using small pans on large burners.

While bringing in new appliances and fixtures is an obvious major cost, energy-saving equipment does just that: it reduces energy use, saving money over time and eventually paying for itself in the long run. It’s also important to invest in high-quality equipment to ensure it has a long lifespan. Costs can be mitigated by selling older equipment to a company that will refurbish, reuse, or recycle it, or it can always be donated to a charity or other business in need.

Making changes such as these to sourcing and operations, even incrementally, will go a long way towards improving sustainability in the restaurant industry, helping restaurants become adaptable in the face of a rapidly changing future. And as a bonus, those early adopters who can leverage sustainability to their advantage will undoubtedly have an advantage in attracting the growing numbers of eco-minded consumers.




Plants, seeds & more delivered to your door!



  • Oceania Luxury Travel Co Luxury Travel Australia FiveStarAsutralia.com Banner 728x90 1