10 Best Ways to Boost Sustainability in Restaurants

Sustainability is an important goal that businesses across all industries should be diligently striving for to help protect the health of the environment. Restaurants, in particular, need to be doubling down on their efforts to utilize sustainable practices and products to combat issues related to climate change and decrease damage done to ecosystems from the presence of excessive consumer waste. Not only is this essential from a moral standpoint, but it’s also a point of growing importance in the eyes of eco-conscious consumers who want more from their favorite eateries than a delectable menu and quality service. 

But what are the best ways for restaurants to embrace more sustainable practices? And with so many of said practices available, which ones can provide the most environmentally beneficial results without significantly damaging restaurant profits in the short or long term? Thankfully, our sustainability experts here at PlantSwitch are ready to explore the best sustainability practices your restaurant can start implementing to pave the way towards a more environmentally friendly future. Please continue to learn about these top ten sustainability boosting methods and consider exploring some of their expertly written educational articles for more information.

Related: The 20 Best Sustainable Eco-Friendly Kitchen Products

The Basics of Restaurant Sustainability

Before delving into the best ways to boost restaurant sustainability practices, let’s take a brief moment to explain the basics of restaurant sustainability and what it means. In short, restaurant sustainability is when food businesses actively work to minimize their impact on the planet by explicitly addressing issues related to the environment. This can be done by lowering their overall carbon footprint, utilizing sustainable farming practices, using environmentally friendly products, reducing food waste, and shortening their supply chain. Typical sustainability measures often involve lowering water and energy consumption, joining recycling and composting programs, and more.

In general, restaurant sustainability primarily means taking steps to help protect the environment, but it also involves providing consumers with the opportunity to contribute to these efforts positively. Many consumers choose where to eat and what products to buy based on the value that businesses and brands put towards environmental sustainability. One survey conducted by the Sustainable Restaurant Association has revealed that more than 80% of respondents indicated that sustainability was a major deciding factor when choosing where to eat. Another similar survey showed that more than four out of five respondents (83%) expect brands to utilize sustainable practices. Additionally, 41% of these respondents also noted that they are willing to pay more for sustainable dining practices, products, and services.

10 Methods to Promote Sustainability

There are hundreds of different ways restaurants can promote more sustainable practices to reduce their environmental impact. Still, businesses of any kind can only make so many changes so quickly. So, let’s explore the top ten ways restaurants can start taking steps towards more eco-friendly operations.

Related: Compostable Straws: An Eco-Friendly Buyer’s Guide

Start With Small Steps for Small Wins

To start their journey on the road to enhancing sustainability, restaurants should begin by taking small steps to acquire small wins in the realm of eco-friendly operations. Making minor changes to their daily operations can be a fantastic way of getting their sustainability efforts rolling quickly. For example, restaurants can easily:

  • Replace plastic disposable with biodegradable alternatives.
  • Replace single-use paper napkins with linen ones.
  • Use laminated or digital menus rather than paper ones- or at least print them on recycled paper.
  • Cut down on paper receipts by offering an email receipt option to consumers.
  • Replace traditional trash and bin bags with biodegradable alternatives for unavoidable waste.
  • Swap out non-recyclable packaging for either multi-use or recyclable packaging materials.
  • Talk to regular suppliers of products and other goods to reduce the packaging they use when sending out their food.
  • Encourage people to monitor and limit their water and energy usage.
  • Actively maintain equipment and appliances to ensure they’re running as efficiently as possible.

These eight simple steps are small and can be easily accomplished by restaurants by making minor changes in their daily operations. While some of these steps may be slightly costly to implement in the short term, they can provide massive long-term savings while also promoting heightened levels of sustainability.

Reduce Waste Through Food Donations

One of the most significant ways restaurants can boost their sustainability is by reducing the amount of waste they produce and discard into local landfills at the end of each business day. And there’s arguably no better way to accomplish that than by donating leftover ingredients, uneaten meals, or other unusable food to local soup kitchens, food banks, homeless shelters, and religious organizations that can make use of it. Talk about killing (or better yet, feeding) two birds with one stone. According to data collected by FoodPrint, restaurants in the United States generate between 22 to 33 billion pounds of food waste every year at minimum, and nearly 94% of that ends up in landfills, according to reports produced by the Food Waste Reduction Alliance. By choosing to donate excess and unneeded food rather than throw it away, restaurants can take significant steps to protect the environment and reduce the significant issue of hunger in America. 

Grow Your Own Produce 

The vast majority of restaurants aren’t prepared to sever their supply chain operations and start growing all of their own food. But they can begin to take minor steps in that direction by growing or mass-producing a few of their specialty items. Onsite gardens are growing massively in terms of their popularity within the restaurant industry, even in more urban locations. Not only is this a great way to boost sustainability, but it can be advantageous to restaurant profits as well. The cost of growing a garden should easily be offset by reducing the amount paid for produce, and many people love eating from restaurants that utilize locally-grown, organic goods.

Don’t Let Your Waste Go to Waste

No matter what kind of steps a restaurant may take to reduce its overall waste production, it’s impossible to prevent waste from developing entirely. However, that doesn’t mean that the waste needs to go directly into a nearby landfill and add to the struggle of environmental health. Many restaurants have begun partnering with compost services to handle whatever food waste can’t be donated. Additionally, other restaurants who have taken the above suggestion to heart and started growing some of their own products have also developed compost gardens to help facilitate the rapid growth of better, more flavorful goods to use in their dishes. Another way to minimize restaurant waste is to recycle glass and cardboard materials and return shipping packaging to suppliers for reuse.

Always Remember to Recycle and/or Compost

Recycling is one of the most essential practices restaurants can utilize to help enhance their sustainability and do their part to protect environmental health. Restaurants should have a designated area with specific bins dedicated to different recyclable materials, including tin, glass, cardboard, and plastic. Restaurant employees should also be thoroughly trained on appropriately separating recycling and reducing the amount of waste thrown away each day. Not all recycling services and collectors will accept every type of recycling, so restaurant owners need to make sure they’re partnering with a company that will help them reduce their waste as much as possible. 

Are you looking for ways your restaurant can help protect the planet by using top-quality, environmentally sustainable products that your customers can use for years to come? Feel free to explore the range of spectacular, ecologically friendly goods provided by the industry experts at PlantSwitch to learn more.

Introduce More Meatless Menu Options – Both Vegetarian and Vegan

Sadly, most livestock farming and fishing practices used in the modern era are highly damaging to the environment and are unsustainable overall. In fact, U.S. livestock produces as much as 500 million tons of excrement each year, and animal agriculture as a whole is responsible for up to 70% of the world’s phosphorus footprint, 60% of its nitrogen pollution, and 55% of the earth’s erosion. And that’s not even mentioning the water pollution, deforestation, and other issues that animal agriculture causes. Adding more vegetarian and vegan-friendly menu options will help reduce these impacts while also helping to attract a rapidly-growing, environmentally-conscious consumer base.

Go Local and Start Making Changes to Your Supply Chain

Not only does using local products and other goods help local economies and prevent food fraud, but it also shortens supply chains and helps restaurants reduce their overall carbon footprint. This promotes enhanced sustainability within the restaurant industry as a whole while also resonating with many consumers who prefer to support local businesses and communities rather than large, multi-billion dollar supply chain, distributors. Additionally, shorter supply chains can help improve ingredient quality, leading to better quality food for consumers overall. 

Cook Food That’s In Season

One of the best ways to make your restaurant sustainable is by making your menu seasonal! Like going local, relying on seasonal produce for menu options guarantees the freshest ingredients. Another way that a seasonal menu can promote sustainability is by preserving resources. Preserving resources refers to the rotating out of proteins during regrowth periods, such as with seafood when certain fish or squid are replaced with substitute seafood that is more abundant in numbers. Preserving resources in this way helps to address the environmental crisis and guarantees fresh produce, which further increases the overall quality of the restaurant menu.

Upgrade to More Eco-Friendly Equipment

This method can be a relatively costly investment compared to some of the other options on this list, but switching to more eco-friendly equipment and appliances is a great way to help protect the environment. And it will eventually lead to more long-term savings on energy and water bills for your restaurant as well. When selecting new, more eco-friendly equipment for your restaurant, keep an eye out for those with energy star ratings. It can also be beneficial to advertise to your consumers that you’re making these switches, especially if they result in a temporary uptick in the price of meals. You’ll likely be surprised by how many consumers are willing to spend a bit more when they know you’re trying to do your part to protect the earth. 

Incorporate Energy Efficient Installations

This essentially goes hand-in-hand with the suggestion above to switch to more eco-friendly equipment and appliances but involves a much larger scale of more minor changes that can help your restaurant lessen its overall water and energy usage. For example, your restaurant can install:

  • Light timers and motion sensors
  • Low-flow sinks and toilets
  • LED, CFL, or halogen light bulbs
  • Low-flow spray valves in kitchen and bathroom sink
  • Spot air conditioners
  • Occupancy sensors in fridges and freezers

Additionally, restaurants can also:

  • Open windows to reduce the need for AC and heating
  • Routinely clean condenser coils on refrigeration equipment
  • Identify and fix leaks or other issues with faulty appliances
  • Offer water to customers instead of bringing it to the table automatically

Invest in Eco-Friendly Disposable Products

Millions of trees are cut down daily, and millions of tons of plastic are disposed of in the U.S. alone. Restaurants can help resolve this issue by investing in multi-use, biodegradable, or compostable products made from natural resources like bamboo, sugarcane, hemp, and agave by working with trusted product providers like PlantSwitch. Some of the top products your restaurant should consider replacing include:

  • Straws
  • Cutlery and utensils
  • Plastic bags and takeout boxes
  • Menus

What are the Benefits of Promoting Sustainability in Your Restaurant?

Now that we’ve covered the top ten ways that restaurants can boost their sustainability let’s take a moment to more fully explain the advantages and benefits that come with that enhanced sustainability. Aside from the overall benefit of knowing they are working to protect the environment and meeting the demands of eco-conscious consumers in the process, restaurants that utilize the above methods can also benefit from:

Increased Profits & Recovered Costs

A big incentive for waste reduction unrelated to the environment is that landfill waste, in general, represents a significant expense for the average food-service provider. Compared to other waste, the largest contributor to US landfills is food waste, costing $218 billion each year when considering production and waste management. Minimizing waste through sustainable practices can save restaurants significant amounts of money. What’s more, the increased customer attention will further increase cash flow as brand loyalty grows. 

Enhanced Supply Chain

Simplifying the supply chain to go sustainable and reduce its carbon footprint can work in a restaurant’s favor. Shortening the supply chain allows greater visibility of the chain, which, in turn, helps protect a restaurant from food fraud, makes management more straightforward, and maintains low overhead expenses.

Strong Brand Loyalty

Restaurants that align their values with their general people enjoy greater brand loyalty because happy customers come back! Similarly, customers that have a positive experience and share similar values of preserving the environment are more likely to share your brand with friends and family, which builds brand awareness. Most people feel good when they’re doing something good. In this way, customers feel more fulfilled because their money made a positive difference in the world by supporting a sustainable establishment. 

Improved Employee Engagement

Restaurants should remember that employees are just as important as customers. Employees want to feel like their work is gratifying and meaningful. Since sustainability encourages a strong identity and moral sense, it can also boost morale, motivation, and retention among staff members. Employees will feel a greater sense of accomplishment from their work and, therefore, a more substantial commitment to the brand. 

Maximized Menu

Sustainable practices can improve a restaurant’s overall menu because of the greater attention to local, fresh produce. Improving recipes with high-quality ingredients may cost a small percentage more than the average, but most people are inclined to pay more for sustainable dining, as seen in recent years.

Related: 10 Longest Lasting Items in Our Landfills

The Bottom Line & Final Factors to Keep in Mind

Sustainability is a critical consideration for businesses both in and out of the restaurant industry. Now that you have a better understanding of some of the best sustainability boosting practices your restaurant can start implementing today, you can ensure you’re helping protect the planet’s health while still providing consumers with top-quality meals. And if you’d like additional information about what your restaurant can do to support environmental sustainability, please consider contacting the sustainability experts here at PlantSwitch and creating a business account to acquire some of their eco-friendly products. Their durable agave straws and cutlery are all made from naturally degradable, upcycled plants that are landfill biodegradable and available at fair and competitive prices. A plant-based future is here to stay, so don’t hesitate to make the switch!

Do you want to do your part in helping keep the environment safe and free of trash by utilizing sustainable goods in your restaurant? Take a look at the selection of superior-quality environmentally-friendly kitchen products proudly provided by industry experts at PlantSwitch today to learn about what your business can do for the planet.

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