Contrary to popular belief, food delivery and sustainability go together like peanut butter & jelly, gin & tonic, pad & thai. Recent reports reveal that ordering food online may even leave a lower carbon footprint than buying groceries – yep, you read that right. According to Science Direct, food delivery—namely meal kits— have lower average greenhouse gas emissions than grocery store meals, and grocery meals result in higher food waste.
In parallel, customers are becoming more environmentally conscious: 83% say that they wish restaurants would use more environmentally friendly practices, and as many as two-thirds of consumers are now prepared to pay more for environmentally friendly products. While shifting to more sustainable choices in terms of packaging, inventory and more may seem less financially advantageous, prioritizing sustainability will likely help your restaurant increase sales and stand out from competitors in a big way.
Read on to learn how implementing six of the top restaurant sustainability practices will benefit your bottomline.
When it comes to sustainability, stocking your kitchen with local ingredients and supplies is a surefire way to reduce your restaurant’s carbon footprint. If you’re able to grow your own produce on a rooftop, backyard garden, or local garden—try it out! Your customers will be impressed. If that’s not an option for your restaurant, try reaching out to family-owned and small business operations to learn about their production and labor processes. The key is to know where your ingredients are coming from & how they’re produced. From there, consider letting your customers know about their order’s story through signage, ingredient callouts on delivery apps, and social posts.
Ever find yourself throwing out spoiled produce? Get organized in advance and plan to sync up your menu with seasonal produce. You don’t have to create a separate menu for each season, but mapping out what items are in season all year round vs. specialty seasonal items effectively reduces unnecessary waste. Introducing seasonal specials or swapping out an ingredient for whatever is in season reduces the travel time for your ingredients and is excellent for the planet in addition to being a fun change for your customers. If you market the fresh ingredients to your customers correctly, they are likely to cover any resulting increase in cost.
Thinking about seasonality when it comes to your inventory is a significant first step to becoming a sustainable restaurant. Next, it’s time to take a full audit of your menu. Sit down with your menu and think about the items that are causing you problems. For example, are you tossing out spoiled ingredients regularly? It might be helpful to think about cutting down your offerings and focusing on your best-selling items. Next, encourage resourcefulness amongst your employees. Developing a system for dealing with excess ingredients is a great idea (maybe you could take advantage of extra food by creating specialty sauces, stocks, smoothies, etc). Making a plan to avoid throwing food out in the garbage will ensure you’re wasting as little as possible during your restaurant preparations.
If your restaurant has been open for dine-in amidst the pandemic, chances are you’ve ditched your physical menus for a QR code or e-menu already. Permanently implementing this practice will eliminate the paper waste and cost associated with printing – a simple but effective way to lower your business’ carbon footprint.
Did you know that 60 - 80% of all restaurant garbage is food waste? Every restaurant worker has brought a barely-eaten plate back to the kitchen at one point or another. While offering smaller portions helps eliminate waste, there will always be customers that don’t finish their meals. Instead of throwing out the leftovers, consider composting. Composting requires little equipment & education, and is a hugely positive step for your local food system and environment. Click here to read the dos and don’ts of composting for a restaurant for more information.
As many restaurants transitioned to delivery-only amid the pandemic, plastic waste became a major problem. So much so that experts predict plastic waste could increase by 40% over the next decade if packaging doesn’t evolve. Luckily, in early 2021, restaurants began breaking up with single-use plastics. The good news for you is that trading in plastic for more environmentally friendly materials only requires a few small changes. When it comes to dine-in, offer reusable plates and glasses. For takeout and delivery, trade plastic for plant-based compostable packaging.
Some of the biggest players trying to fight climate change are those who have become a staple for covering our late night cravings: McDonalds, Chipotle and Domino’s. The burger giant McDonalds is bidding to fight climate change by promising to effectively eliminate emissions across all of its global restaurants and supply chain by 2050. McDonald’s has already opened a “net-zero energy” restaurant in Orlando and is currently working to cut all plastic from its infamous happy meals.
Chipotle recently launched the “Real Foodprint”, a transparent sustainability tracker that calculates an average sustainability impact across each of their ingredients. Domino’s increased their percentage of recycled content in the boxes from 40% to 72% in 2020. So what does this mean for your restaurant? It means that it is critical for your business to think about the impact that it will have in the future and that starting small, and implementing some of the steps we highlighted before is the perfect way to start building a brighter tomorrow.
Why are QSR giants like Chipotle, McDonald’s and Domino’s making a big bet on sustainability? Because it’s a major driver on where their customers spend their money. A recent study showed that nearly 50 percent of people would be willing to pay more for a sustainable product. Sustainably marketed food products like carbonated beverages & cookies grew more than 100% from 2015 to 2019, compared to their overall categories, each of which only grew at around 10%. If these numbers haven’t persuaded you to make a bet on environmentally friendly practices in your restaurant, consider that the food and hospitality industry as a whole is investing in innovative technology to benefit their customers and the planet. In order to grow with the category and your customers, you must think ahead.
In 2021, your customers’ purchase decisions are driven by more than price and quality. Brand purpose & values play a big role in where people chose to spend their money. And as society becomes more environmentally aware than ever before, it’s critical for your business to align with this cultural shift by considering the impact your practices have on the planet.