Common practices in recent years along with a report by the National Restaurant Association reveal how restaurants and foodservice operators are taking huge strides towards reducing waste and conserving resources and are making groundbreaking choices and great progress.
Isn’t Sustainability the Same as Being Green?
While there are certainly grey areas, it is important to remember that sustainability is a bit different than going green, as defined by World Atlas,
“Green refers to the activities that provide a more efficient use of resources and minimize the harmful impact on the environment when compared to similar products. Sustainable refers to activities that allow a specific problem to be solved without having adverse implications in the future.”
A Study on Sustainability
In 2018 the National Restaurant Association’s released a report called The State of Restaurant Sustainability in 2018. To learn more about how restaurants are tackling environmental protections, the National Restaurant Association (NRA) surveyed 500 restaurant owners and operators within their businesses. At the same time, 1,000 customers were surveyed to find out how restaurants can promote their sustainability practices to customers.
The report showed that foodservice operators of all kinds, from small, independent restaurants to mega restaurant chains, are trying to reduce their consumption of water and energy, and minimize waste creation with sustainability practices, while also connecting with environmentally conscious customers in the following ways:
Restaurants recycling food packaging and waste statistics:
- 65% recycle cardboard and paper
- 64% recycle fats, oils, and grease
- 29% recycle aluminum or metal cans
- 29% recycle rigid plastics
- 26% recycle glass
- 22% recycle flexible plastics, like cling wrap and bags
Restaurants saving energy and water with energy-saving equipment:
- 79% use CFL or LED lighting
- 61% use programmable HVA thermostats
- 46% use EPA Energy Star rated refrigerators
- 41% use EPA Energy Star rated freezers
- 25% use EPA Energy Star rated dishwashers
- 44% use low-flush toilets
- 16% of businesses took advantage of energy rebates from electricity companies
(Energy Star is a federal program that helps businesses save money while protecting the environment with the best environmentally-sound technology.)
Operators using packaging and supplies made from recyclable materials:
- 72% buy packaging and supplies that are made from recycled materials
- 56% buy supplies certified as compostable
Reducing food waste is a top priority for operators:
- Nearly one-half of operators track how much food waste is created
- About three in four restaurant operators monitor food waste daily; 76% of chain restaurants do compared to 66% of independent contractors
- One in five donates leftover food
- More than one in 10 compost food waste
Sustainability Attracts and Influence Guests’ Choices
The most environmentally-conscious collective is Gen Z, people born in the mid- ’90s and early 2000s. Sustainability practices are important to this age group, especially in regard to practices that protect the oceans and oceanic wildlife. Packaging made from recycled materials is equally important, and they want to see restaurants limiting the use of plastic straws and utensils. About half of all consumers say that a restaurant’s efforts to recycle, donate food, or reduce food waste can be factors in where they choose to dine.
Promote Your Restaurant’s Sustainability Efforts
Chefs get it: In the NRA’s What’s Hot Report, (a trends report based on surveying 700 chefs), sustainability, food waste reduction, and local sourcing are priorities for 2019. “Environmental sustainability” is ranked No. 9 on the list of Restaurant Trends.
As mentioned in the survey, many people are concerned about the amount of waste produced by restaurants. One way to cut down on waste is to incorporate near-zero-waste and zero-waste food preparation. Creative cooks, chefs, and restaurant owners have recently been focusing on cooking that results in zero-waste. Two particularly creative and popular new dishes include broccoli tots and house-made (artisan) pickled vegetables.
In fact, one of the largest trends in sustainable restaurant efforts in 2019 was the practice of zero-waste cooking. This is dually a sustainable and green practice. When adding these efforts, be sure to let your guests know since they are likely to appreciate and spread the word. These communication efforts should include:
Sharing Your Restaurant’s Passion
Social media and restaurant apps are perfect platforms to easily spread your sustainability efforts by sharing information about your efforts. Share your nutritional information and quick tips for customers to implement sustainable practices at home.
Take note to share how your restaurant and employees are involved in the community. This could be a specific non-profit (or several) you choose to support or fundraising events for school sports and clubs, and you should encourage customers to be involved. If you’re not sure where to start, ask your employees and your customers. You’re bound to find a great match for the restaurant’s culture and brand.
Where to Start?
The first step could simply be improving your composting, recycling, or efforts in zero-waste practices. Secondly, do a little research and know which sustainability practices your peers are adopting and consider implementing a few in your restaurant if you haven’t already. With a flexible, strong restaurant point-of-sale system, you can track inventory and food waste and make cost-saving sustainability changes.
Some additional sustainability options include:
- Cut waste: include working with local vendors to reuse or use less bulky packaging
- Install motion detection lighting in bathrooms, closets, and walk-in refrigerator units
- Seek customer and employee input for creative ideas to use ingredient ‘scraps’
- If you provide plastic cutlery look at sustainable options such as edible, bamboo, or hardy waste-based cutlery
- Install motion-detected water faucets for all sinks, not just bathrooms
- Have a modern programmable thermostat installed that ‘learn’ for the most efficient energy consumption
As a restaurant owner or manager, you are aware of the growing popularity of sustainability. In recent years, restaurants are more likely to have adopted innovative practices. Whatever you do, start your restaurant sustainability practices with purpose, be consistent, and work towards lasting change to help with waste-related costs (environmentally and budget-wise). In the long run, your customers will support your efforts and your business will continue to flourish.