As the world grapples with the effects of climate change and environmental degradation, sustainability has emerged as a crucial issue across industries. And the restaurant industry is no exception. As Earth Day fast approaches, now is the perfect time for restaurants to take a hard look at their operations and take the necessary steps to minimize their environmental impact and thus exceed customer expectations and reinforce their engagement.
In 2020, the National Restaurant Association conducted a survey that revealed a staggering 70% of US consumers prioritize environmentally sustainable initiatives when selecting a restaurant. So, if you’re looking to attract conscious customers and make a difference in the world, here are 5 proven practices to make your restaurant more sustainable.
1. Audit your supply chain
A study by ReFED found that the restaurant industry generates an estimated 11.4 million tons of food waste each year in the United States alone, with a value of $25 billion.
To truly make a difference in creating a sustainable food system, it’s critical to take a proactive approach and thoroughly scrutinize your supply chain. By identifying areas of waste and promoting green practices, you can become an instrumental force in promoting sustainability and fostering a better future for our planet.
This includes partnering with the right suppliers to improve efficiency, such as by reducing transportation distances or optimizing inventory management.
2. Upgrade to energy-efficient equipment
With the power to consume three times more energy per square foot than other brick-and-mortar businesses (US Energy Information Administration), restaurants have a unique responsibility to take action and embrace energy-efficient practices. By investing in cutting-edge equipment and implementing sustainable initiatives, you can create a truly green business model that not only benefits the environment but also sets your restaurant apart from the competition.
Starbucks’ goal to save energy began when they replaced their incandescent and halogen lighting with LED lights, reducing 80% of their energy consumption and saving up to $4.2 million per year. As a result, investing in energy-efficient equipment not only helps to reduce energy consumption costs and lower your carbon footprint, but it also demonstrates a commitment to environmental responsibility to both customers and staff.
3. Implement recycling programs
From the kitchen to the front house, set up accessible recycling stations all over the restaurant to demonstrate your commitment. Encourage employee participation by making sure that all staff members understand what items can be recycled and where to place them. You can also offer rewards or incentives to staff who actively participate in recycling efforts!
Chipotle has made a commitment to sustainability by recycling cooking oil to be converted into biodiesel fuel. Eataly has a comprehensive recycling program in place: they recycle cooking oil, cardboard, plastic, and glass and also compost food waste. They even have a “Trash Team” of employees who help educate customers and staff on the importance of recycling and proper disposal.
4. Invest in eco-friendly packaging
According to Oracle’s 2022 Restaurant Scene survey, restaurants having biodegradable or recyclable food packaging influences the purchasing decisions of 49% of respondents.
Restaurants are shifting away from traditional packaging materials such as plastic and styrofoam by using biodegradable packaging made from renewable materials such as bamboo, cornstarch, or paper-based materials. Some restaurants are even taking it a step further by implementing reusable or refillable packaging options.
In this regard, Starbucks has decided to drift away from single-use plastics by offering reusable cups that customers can bring back for their next purchase instead and KFC eliminated single-use plastic and non-renewable packaging materials. What will your eco-friendly packaging move be?
5. Introduce healthy menu options
According to a 2019 Technomic survey, 60% of consumers in the United States said they would be more likely to choose a restaurant if it offered healthy menu items and 50% said they would be willing to pay more for these menu items.
In that context, consider adding nutrient-dense salads with locally sourced ingredients or plant-based protein options like tofu or tempeh to your menu to cater to health-conscious and sustainable-minded customers. Another great option is to offer dishes with in-season ingredients, and superfoods, or to craft recipes specifically adapted to certain food diets such as gluten-free or paleo.
Many big fast-food chains are slowly adding healthy menu options to meet consumer demands. For instance, in 2020, Taco Bell launched a dedicated vegetarian menu in the US featuring items such as the Black Bean Crunchwrap Supreme and the Veggie Quesarito. Pizza Hut also offers a variety of vegetarian pizzas, including a veggie lovers’ pizza and a Beyond Italian Sausage Pizza made with plant-based meat. It’s your turn to find the perfect healthy offer for your beloved customers. You can even ask them what they are longing for in a poll!
Restaurant Sustainability Makes a Difference
The restaurant industry has a vital role in shaping a sustainable future, and it’s up to us to rise to the occasion. By catering to environmentally conscious customers and making sustainability a priority, your business not only protects the plants but also enhances its brand reputation and improves its bottom line. Every small step towards a sustainable restaurant can make a significant impact in creating a better world for all. Let’s start the change today!