There are dozens of good reasons to make your restaurant sustainable.
A sustainable restaurant or café can be a motor of change for a whole community, attracting lots of potential customers, helping to build a circular economy, and creating local jobs. Although there is a commonplace belief that adopting sustainable practices takes a lot of money, it proves to reduce costs and avoid many headaches regarding planning, sourcing, and procurement.
Also, not considering greener practices can push away a (potentially) massive clientele! According to The Business of Sustainability Index, 64% of Americans are willing to pay more for sustainable products.
This series of blog posts will address those factors that make a restaurant or any food service business more sustainable. We will also suggest a list of tips and recommendations you can adopt in the long term. Also, we will address communication strategies that can help convey your value proposition and provide validation, to increase customer loyalty and brand awareness.
What makes a restaurant sustainable?
A sustainable restaurant can be defined as one that consciously chooses to minimize its impact on the environment and its carbon footprint to the minimum.
Consciously choosing is of the utmost importance because it means the philosophy behind the venue pursues the lesser impact. Therefore, the non-existence of certain items must be explained, so that customers understand that minimalism is not for the sake of aesthetics, but for good. The same applies to those green choices that are not visible to customers but are hallmarks of sustainable models -for example, water and electricity usage, composting, and recycling.
A Zero Food Waste Restaurant
What are the first steps any restaurant or café can take to be more sustainable? Number one is food waste.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), between 30 and 40% of food consumed - about 133 billion pounds- ends up in landfills. The uneaten food at retailers, restaurants, and homes costs 161 billion dollars per year and represents the largest municipal waste source. Also, as food decomposes in landfills, it emits methane, a greenhouse gas that is 20 times more harmful than carbon dioxide.
Step One: Actively Reduce Food Waste
As the saying goes, “You cannot manage what you don’t measure”.
Measuring your actual food waste will help you understand which practices would result in a waste reduction, following the EPA Food Recovery Hierarchy guidelines. At a restaurant, food waste may occur in three phases: during kitchen food preparation; foodservice and staff activities; and consumption by clients.
Audit Your Food Waste
According to a recent study, most of the waste responsibility falls on kitchens (either in the trimmings and peelings, bones, and packaging litter) or front-office operations.
Chefs and restaurant managers also play an important role in the procurement phase, when they choose the menu list, the ingredients to use, where to source, and how to store them. Accurately measuring food waste can give them a better understanding of food order patterns and help them gain more control over their kitchens.
- Tackle food waste by engaging your staff
Staff engagement is crucial to effectively addressing food waste loss and reduction. If kitchen staff members are enough supported and guided, they can be awesome innovators.
If you run a restaurant, explain why you have decided to implement a plan to reduce food waste. Be straightforward and let your front-line kitchen team know that you are open-minded and willing to listen to ideas and suggestions. Also, wipe out the fear and the guilt. If your staff members feel food waste equals poor performance, they will feel like culprits and not be encouraged to measure it accurately.
Use a log or clipboard to record your daily food waste. It will help you collect real-time information, which could be lost when analyzing weekly or monthly data, and help you innovate practices to improve performance. Moreover, your staff members will understand the impact of their actions on the business.
Share your restaurant’s progress with your team and underline the costs savings, the social and environmental benefits of zero-waste.
- Analyze your food cost variance
Analyzing the Actual versus Theoretical food cost variance will give you a good insight into where your biggest food waste lies. It will show you the variance between what you should have spent on your food (according to your sales) versus what you actually spent. Start analyzing the highest variance figures and find out the root cause.
- Deploy effective preparation strategies
Use of the FIFO model (first-in, first-out) for effective inventory rotation. Ensure that the oldest items are used first and the newest later, and organize shelves or label products accordingly every time you receive shipments.
Reducing batch cooking sizes, using cook-to-order, incorporating the leftovers from the day before, and training staff on knife skills are some handy practices that will cut off kitchen waste.
Use every bit of each ingredient. This is a green practice that can be as economical as inspiring. For example, Heirloom in Belmont, North Carolina, works with a whole vegetable utilization program: every ingredient that enters the kitchen is used to the maximum. This zero-waste attitude honors the farmers who grow veggies locally and invites staff members to be creative. Customers enjoy a different experience, gifted with new flavors and ingredients. Also, this enables the business to keep food costs low and profits up!
- Compost your food scraps
Composting your food scraps and delivering them to a local garden or farm will benefit your business with a considerable reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
Procurement with a green mindset
- Buy ingredients locally
Buying ingredients locally means that you choose products that are harvested close to where you live. It is a fantastic way of supporting the local economy and creating jobs. Since distribution covers shorter distances, buying locally will help you lower the environmental impact caused by fuel-intensive transportation and storage time. Although your ingredients list may narrow a bit, you will get:
Better quality and taste, since most of the produce is picked within 24 hours.
Less waste, since the chances of rotting or bruising fresh produce are minimal.
More nutritious and healthier food. Freshness equals healthy and nutritious. Did you know the moment you rip fruits or vegetables, their cells begin to shrink? As a consequence, their nutritional value will diminish over time. The longer they are stored, transported, or sit in distribution centers or shelves, the lesser their nutritional value.
- Use seasonal
Buying locally also means you will base your menu on the ingredients in season, which is a benefit more than a limitation: you will support the body’s natural healing processes.
- Choose organic
If you opt for locally-produced organic ingredients, you will minimize the impact of your restaurant’s food on the environment. You can rely on the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Database of Certified Organic farms and businesses to look for operations near you.
Build your menu based on the seasonal ingredients available, and try to choose organic when possible.
Food waste during service: less is better
The way food is served at restaurants is critical to reducing waste. By adopting simple strategies, you will mitigate waste and help customers make conscious decisions.
- Serve amazing food but in smaller portions: If you serve smaller portions, you will make sure people eat everything on their plates. Also, include in your menu different portion sizes instead of limiting small ones to children.
- Go trayless: Avoid trays and serve food directly on the plate to help your customers decide if they really need to order more.
- Zero-waste on plates: If you run a buffet, switching to the pay-per-item system is wiser than offering customers to eat all they can. Set a zero-waste on plates goal: by using smaller plates and bowls, you will prevent unnecessary waste.
- Avoid serving unsolicited bread and chips: Unless customers ask for bread and chips, don’t serve them.
Serve amazing food in smaller portions, to ensure your customers will eat all on the plate.
Set targets, track progress... and inform your customers!
Setting food waste reduction targets is the best way to motivate action.
Commit to reducing food loss and waste in your own operations, report your progress, and keep your customers informed! The restaurant waiting area is an excellent place to report your current efforts to become an eco-friendly restaurant.
Work with your team and with other restaurants to take measures to cut food waste.
If all restaurants address food waste this way, not only will they improve their profits, but promote a safer food service system and a healthier environment for us all.
9 Chefs Explain How They're Reducing Waste In Their Restaurants , by Kristin Hunt.
Rethinking the Buffet: 3 Things Hotels Can Do Now to Reduce Food Waste
The Business Case for Reducing Food Loss and Waste: Restaurants
If you run a food service business and have more tips on how to reduce waste, share your ideas with us! And if you liked this blog post, please share it with your friends and colleagues. Any questions or comments? You can contact us or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org