5 Ways to Make Your Restaurant More Eco-Friendly


    Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and record-breaking floods, newspaper headlines these days read like blockbuster films. Glaciers are melting; oceans are rising. It seems like every other month there’s another 100-year weather event. 

    Unless you’ve been living ostrichlike with your head in the sand, you know anthropogenic climate change is a problem we’ll have to face, sooner or later. Arguments denying the reality of fossil fuel emissions and human culpability are losing force, even among their most enthusiastic supporters. 

    Keeping the food-service industry on the right side of history should be a priority for all of us. Luckily, being good to the earth can also be good for your business. Here are 5 ways to make your restaurant more eco-friendly and more profitable. 

    1. Ditch single-use plastics

    Single-use plastics are a major ecological offender in the restaurant industry. Plastic straws, cutlery, and takeout boxes may be cheap and easy, but they can take centuries to decompose. Take the humble straw. We all throw them away without a single thought. But a straw can take up to 200 years to decompose. It can circle the globe long after its user is dead and buried, perhaps even ending up in the 600,000 square mile Great Pacific Garbage Patch between North American and Asia. 

    But here’s the good news. Whether it’s straws, cutlery, or takeout packaging, there are plenty of ways your business can do its part and reduce plastic waste. 

    You don’t have to swap out your plastic straws for the paper ones everyone loves to hate. You can use bamboo, pasta-, or rice-based straws. Some restaurants even offer stainless steel options, collecting them at the end of the meal and running them through the dish with the rest of their tableware. You could also swap out regular to-go lids for sippy top lids, eliminating the need for a straw altogether. 

    If nothing else, you can ask your servers to hold onto their straws, offering them only upon request. While this might not entirely eliminate plastic straws, it can significantly reduce your waste. 

    The same goes for your plastic cutlery. There are many viable alternatives that can replace your reliance on plastic to-go cutlery. Believe it or not, bamboo makes fine cutlery, and bamboo feels warm and high-end in the hand. If nothing else, like plastic straws, you don’t need to automatically toss cutlery into every takeout bag. Instead, you can provide it only upon request. 

    Finally, ditch those plastic or styrofoam containers for good. These products can be made out of more eco-friendly materials like molded sugarcane, wood, PLA (polylactic acid), bamboo, and paper. 

    Each of these substitutes come at varying price points, with their own pros and cons. The two most common are probably PLA and paper. PLA containers have a similar look and feel to traditional plastic containers, but they are derived from renewable resources like cornstarch and sugarcane. Paper containers are cheap, easy, and can be lined with a grease-resistant interior, making them every bit as versatile as their plastic cousins.

    PLA containers are commercially compostable and excellent for liquids. Paper containers are recyclable and great for packaging hot or cold entrees. 

    2. Cut food waste

    Food waste has a big effect on the greenhouse gasses emitted from unconsumed food in landfills. Reducing your restaurant’s food waste is good for the environment and also your restaurant’s bottom line. 

    You can reduce food waste and increase the quality of your dishes by keeping a close eye on your kitchen’s inventory. You can buy inventory management software for your back of house, or you can have your kitchen manager note what ingredients go to waste. Once you have a list, you can order less of these ingredients, or you can use nightly or weekly specials to push them. 

    Reducing your portion sizes can also help you reduce food waste. Whether it be gourmet nachos or a seafood paella, if you and your front-of-house staff notice that a certain dish isn’t often finished, then you can ask your kitchen to serve a slightly smaller portion. Not only will this reduce your food waste, but it will also increase your food margins, which is a win-win for the earth and for your business. 

    3. Use less paper

    In our digital world, paper has become increasingly obsolete. While you might not want to ditch paper completely, more than likely you could cut way back. 

    Take those pesky paper receipts. Most customers leave them in your check presenters, or they stuff them into their pockets or purses and throw them away at home. Instead of printing a customer copy of your receipt, try emailing or texting it instead, allowing you to reduce your paper usage and collect an email or a phone number for future marketing plans. 

    Many POS systems have an option for digital receipts. If yours does, give it a try. You can always provide paper receipts if your customers request them. 

    Though you might want to keep some of your printed marketing materials, most restaurants have moved the lion’s share of their marketing online. Flyers, posters, and table tents can still be an important part of your promotions, but make sure you use your digital platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and your website as much or even more than your printed materials. 

    While we are thinking about paper, consider a digital menu. Digital menus have a lot of advantages beyond the fact that they can help reduce your eco-footprint. Digital menus can be more visually appealing than printed menus by incorporating pictures and bright colors. They can be more informative by providing mouthwatering descriptions, pictures, videos, and even customer reviews. They are easy to change and update as your menu changes and updates. Finally, digital menus provide your customers with a format that is easy to read from their smartphones, the tool most consumers use before deciding where they are going for dinner. 

    If creating a new menu sounds like a lot of work, or if you don’t consider yourself a tech-savvy internet guru, you can find menu design software from services like MustHaveMenus. These digital menu tools make creating great looking and informative menus, optimized for all screen sizes, a cinch. 

    4. Use seasonal ingredients

    Using seasonal ingredients is a great way to lower your food costs and your restaurant’s carbon emissions at the same time. When ordering out-of-season, your ingredients may be traveling long distances before they reach your kitchen. These shipping costs are offloaded onto the restaurant. But instead of paying extra for fruits and veggies from South America, you can focus on what’s in season in your area, reducing the time your ingredients are in transit and reducing your shipping costs. 

    Of course, if you are reducing the shipping time and costs of your ingredients, you are also reducing the carbon emissions of your supply chain. Take apple season for example. In the fall and winter months, apples can come from Oregon or Washington State. But when it’s not apple season, let’s say spring and summer, our apples are coming from South America or as far away as New Zealand. Imagine the difference in carbon emission for a restaurant in the United States. If you spend some time each season to reorganize your menu based on what’s in season near you, not only can you reduce your food costs and save on carbon emissions, but you can also use fresher and more flavorful ingredients. 

    5. Offer meat substitutes

    Not long ago, offering meat substitutes at your restaurant might’ve been a bit controversial. Times have changed, as have consumer opinion and meatless products. 

    With increased knowledge regarding the connection between industrialized meat production, greenhouse gas emissions, and animal cruelty, meat appears less appetizing. Many customers are looking for ways to reduce, if not outright eliminate, their meat consumption, and they want local businesses to provide alternatives. You can see this in the rising number of vegetarian dishes and meat substitutes present on restaurant menus. 

    Not only are more consumers demanding meat substitutes because of ecological and ethical concerns, the meat substitutes themselves have changed greatly since the success of products like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods. Gone are the days when your only options were ground beef or a flavorless garden burger. Though some diehard meat lovers might disagree, today’s substitutes taste almost exactly like meat. 

    If you want your customers to think of your business as an ecologically conscious restaurant, try offering a weekly or monthly (Mostly) Meatless Mondays event. As the name suggests, you don’t have to refuse to serve meat if your guests prefer it, but you can encourage your customers to try more sustainable options. These events can be light-hearted. It’s not about passing judgment on the carnivores among us, but about promoting your restaurant, having fun, and trying something new. Who knows, maybe you’ll convert some meat-lovers. 

    Promote, promote, promote! 

    Speaking of (Mostly) Meatless Monday events, all of your efforts to make your restaurant more eco-friendly provide you with the perfect opportunity to promote your brand on social media. 

    As a general rule, two or three social media posts per week is ideal. This keeps you on your customers’ minds, but it doesn’t clog up their feed and annoy them with constant updates. If you are like most small business owners without a big budget for a marketing team, the social media posts per week, nearly two hundred social media posts per year, sounds like a lot, and it can be. But you can use your efforts to go green as a way to generate content, share your eco-friendly brand, and drive business with your digital marketing. 

    If you need help filling out the rest of your social media, you can find a ton of free social media posts online from marketing experts like MustHaveMenus. These templates are customizable, easy to use, and easy to share. They can help you spread the news about your green initiatives, or just help you create a little extra online buzz. 

    Going green can be good for the planet, your online marketing, and for your bottom line. If you can’t do as much as you’d like all at once, don’t be disheartened. Making your restaurant and your life more eco-friendly isn’t always an easy goal, but it is an important one.



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