To be sustainable or eco-friendly means to adopt green living and practises. This refers to helping conserve resources such as energy & water and reduce contribution to water, air and land pollution. Restaurant sustainability can be achieved through food businesses minimising their impact on the environment - particularly by diminishing their carbon footprint, cutting short their supply chain, reducing food wastage and the use of unrecyclable & non-biodegradable packaging and materials, resource consumption, etc. Becoming a sustainable restaurant is more than positively contributing to the environment, it’s also allowing customers the opportunity to add to these positive efforts. Statistics show that 80% of people nowadays are more likely to decide where to dine based on a business’s values, beliefs and position with sustainability. If they align with the customers’ values then there’s a higher chance they’ll dine with you as they’ll feel as though their money is making a positive difference. Therefore, being sustainable isn’t just a fad, but a necessity so that the needs of current and future generations of diners can be satisfied.
In regards to the benefits of becoming a more eco-friendly and sustainable restaurant, the list is endless. For instance:
- Recycling can reduce your costs - therefore allowing you to use the extra cash elsewhere to better improve your business and customer experience
- Brand loyalty & increase in customer base - when your customers see that their values line up with your restaurants’, they’ll be more likely to return as they’ll feel as though their money is contributing to a good cause and is making a positive change in the world. This in turn may lead to them spreading the word of this movement, therefore leading to free advertisement and a high chance of growth in your customer base. Your growth in customers may also come from the fact that your broader menu will begin to appeal to a larger audience of vegetarians and vegans.
- Increased profits and recovered costs - when your customer base begins to increase, so will your profits. In the meantime, the sustainable practises that you’ll have invested in will aid in reducing lost earnings.
- Employee engagement - adopting a strong social conscience can drastically amplify staff morale, retention and motivation. This is due to the fact that they’ll feel proud that their work is contributing to a positive cause.
- Improved awareness - the importance of becoming sustainable has become a prominent topic in the media over the past few years, something many are passionate about, however, some may have no clue about. With this in mind, you can use your platform as a sustainable restaurant to guide and educate those who are unsure of where to start and let them know why it’s such a significant issue.
- Improving your supply chain - shortening your supply chain can reduce your carbon footprint. Not only can this help prevent food fraud (which can lead to some hefty costs), but it can also resonate with many people who support local communities and businesses. The quality of your ingredients and the meals given to diners will also be improved, leaving customers satisfied and more likely to return next time.
- A better menu - although this may cost a little extra, investing in improved and fresher ingredients is a must. This can lead to a higher quality and varied menu - which as stated earlier, customers will be willing to pay for. If you want customers to pick you over your competition, then you’ve got to show them that they’re paying for more than just their plate.
A way in which your restaurant can become more eco-friendly is through partnering with the right producers and buying local or even growing your own produce. Recycle. Reuse. Reduce food waste - this is a huge issue due to poor stock management and menu portioning. To resolve this you can offer portion sizes on the menu, or analyse what dishes people do and don’t eat. The ones that don’t get eaten as much, you can refrain from buying those ingredients. The aim here is to minimise waste as we know being completely waste-free isn’t exactly realistic, and anything that does get left on people's plates can be composted.
You could also consider making your cleaning routine green - meaning abandoning the use of non-biodegradable detergents that are toxic, hazardous, and from non-renewable resources such as petroleum, which adversely affect the earth's ecosystem.
Becoming sustainable doesn’t have to be hard, you can start small. Building small habits will gradually lead you to make big changes. Some small changes could be you negotiating with your current suppliers to see if they could cut down the packaging they send the produce in - if not, look for a new one who will, as it's best to work with reusable materials. You could also invest in printing menus on recycled paper and writing up your specials on chalkboards. Receipts are another issue here, however, this can be easily solved. Many, if not all modern POS systems are able to send out digital e-receipts to its customers, therefore reducing the printing of paper which will eventually end up in the bin.
Although this next one may be a little expensive, you may want to look into buying linen napkins rather than constantly having to top up on paper ones which all wind up in landfills. Using biodegradable bin bags for unavoidable waste as these decompose within a matter of months or at most a few years is something which might help too. As well as using these, you may want to look into swapping out non-recyclable packaging for reusable and recyclable materials. Stop using single-use plastics and polystyrene, and instead offer your customers rewards if they return used containers - that way they’ll be encouraged to do it more often, rather than throw them out.
Another thing to take into consideration would be adding more vegetarian and vegan options to your menu. Due to the nature of livestock farming and fishing practises in the modern-day, this has led to become terrifically unsustainable and frankly quite damaging to the environment. The impact of animal agriculture such as the release of greenhouse gases, ocean pollution, mass deforestation, excessive water usage and even water contamination is now being noticed and affected by many businesses. By offering more plant-based products, you’ll aid in lessening the contribution to this global issue, and when publicised, can positively affect your reputation, as well as help grow your customer base by attracting those who are environmentally conscious. The thing with this is that you must ensure all vegetarian and vegan dishes are clearly labelled on the menu, else they won’t feel confident ordering and may end up never coming back to dine at your restaurant again.
Becoming a sustainable restaurant successfully doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a constant work in progress which is within your business’ reach and interest. By implementing incremental changes that are realistic and achievable, you’ll soon find that those businesses who reject that ideology of sustainable practices will lose interest towards its customers. On the contrary, businesses like your own, who are committing to the act of sustainability will stand out more to customers and become a hot spot to dine at.