It’s possible that you, immersed in the tastes, aromas, and delectability of your foodie environment, have been unaware of a growing, perhaps permanent, trend. Perhaps you’re taken aback by (seemingly) odd questions from your customers, questions like:
Was this chicken locally sourced?
Is this takeout box biodegradable?
Is the sashimi wild caught or from a farm?
Whether it’s due to today’s virtually interconnected world or the travel photos that their friends upload to Facebook, people are more aware of the world around them and their impact on it. It was inevitable that the food service industry, being particularly dependent on resources to deliver, prepare, and store food, would come under scrutiny from within and without.
Luckily, you’ve stumbled across the right article at the right time. No, we can’t tell you where to buy biodegradable takeout boxes, but we can point you in the right direction if you’re wondering where to start in your restaurant’s approach to sustainability.
#1 Energy consumption
#2 Food waste
#3 Food and takeout packaging
#4 Source food locally, plan seasonally
#5 Bring it front of house
We recommend that you start with the one that offers the path of least resistance. It’s a great way to hit a home run right off the bat, and it will encourage you and your team in future endeavors.
#1 Energy Consumption
The food industry is a huge energy consumer. It uses water, cooling, and heating in vast quantities to store, hold, and prepare food, not to mention keeping the lights on so people can see what they’re eating.
You can start small by fixing water leaks and replacing light bulbs, inside and outside. Chuck those old school light bulbs and replace them with LEDs to save energy and money. As a side benefit, better lighting can improve your restaurant’s ambience and make that food really pop on the plate.
Something else you can address are the appliances and heating/cooling systems in your restaurant. Switching to Energy Star® certified cooking and kitchen appliances can reduce your utility bills by 10% – 30%.
#2 Food Waste
Restaurants that track their food waste can figure out ways to reduce it, thus increasing profitability. You can do this at your restaurant with the result that you will save money by either using more of the food you’ve already bought or by avoiding the over-purchase of food.
Another angle in the food waste problem is to team up with local food redistribution organization, diverting surplus food to those in need. This can save you money as a deduction from your taxes to a charitable donation. (But don’t trust us – before committing yourself to anything, first check with your accountant and attorney.)
One more tip on the food waste problem. Check around to see where you can purchase “ugly” produce from stores or farms. This is food that would otherwise get thrown out as unsellable due to consumers’ desire for only flawless produce. Buying ugly produce at a lower price will save you money and divert food from the landfill.
#3 Food and Takeout Packaging
You might be patting yourself on the back for using recyclable take-out boxes or only purchasing from companies that use recyclable packaging. However, the sobering fact is that less than 14% of plastic packaging in the U.S. gets recycled.
Replacing your stock of single-use utensils, to-go containers, and such with environmentally friendly material is one approach. But, we’re sorry to say that you aren’t going to save money with this. In fact, it’s the opposite.
We suggest replacing these foam and plastic items gradually over time, which is easier on your budget. Our hope is that you can balance out the increased cost of these sustainable items by finding other ways to reduce the cost of doing business (for example, by cutting your utility bill).
#4 Source Food Locally, Plan Seasonally
Sourcing produce, meats, and other food locally helps reduce fuel emissions because trucks don’t have to travel from as far away to deliver your food. As a side benefit, the food will also be fresher.
Consider tweaking your restaurant’s menu to use in-season produce as much as possible. First, this will reduce the emissions from trucks and planes traveling long distances to deliver out-of-season produce. Secondly, you’ll reduce the chemicals and pesticides used to coax those out-of-season crops to grow in non-peak conditions.
#5 Bring It Front of House
Besides the resources at the end of this article, you already have a huge support system ready to help you out – your loyal customers. Some of them may already be on the sustainability bandwagon and ready to cheer you on, while others may require some gentle education about your new sustainability initiatives.
By being open about what you’re trying to do, you’ll win over those who appreciate authenticity and transparency. You’ll also be doing your part in spreading the word about the myriad ways we can ease our impact on the planet.
It’s definitely a way to start interesting conversations between you and your customers. Who knows? They might even spark ideas for other ways in which you can more sustainably run your restaurant business.
Sustainability Resources for Restaurants
- Green Restaurant Association
- Food Service Technology Center (“Promoting Energy Efficiency in Foodservice”)
- Energy Star Commercial Equipment Resources
- Restaurant Food Waste Action Guide from ReFED