It's a bit of an anomaly that, despite many hospitality owners and managers (and their customers) becoming increasingly environmentally conscious, many establishments are actually not very "green" at all. Power and water bills are huge, the amount of waste and rubbish is massive, and many ingredients are from unethical and unsustainable sources.
But things are changing. More restaurants and cafes are putting their business where their ethics are and have become determined to actively contribute to the fight for Mother Nature.
However, Kermit wasn't kidding when he said it's not easy being green. You still need to keep the lights and the ovens on and to put delicious food on tables in a timely and affordable manner.
So, which areas should you look at when it comes to implementing practical measures to make your establishment more green?
Your ingredients may be delicious, but that doesn't mean the way it is produced is efficient or sustainable. Often, fresh produce can be farmed using copious amounts of environmentally unfriendly chemicals, and then transported from miles away in the backs of polluting cars and trucks.
So think local, and think organic — ideally think both! Local, organic foods may be generally more expensive, but depending on the area, the season, the specific ingredient, and the depth of your research, that's really not always the case. Many restaurants are even implementing their own organic herb and vegetable gardens — and you can't get more local than that.
You might also consider replacing some meat-based dishes with vegetarian or vegan options, and not just to satisfy your animal-loving customers. Traditional meat-farming practices are waste, pollution, land and energy hungry, while eating more vegetarian meals can be much better for your health.
Reducing your energy and water usage is not only good for the world, it's good for your wallet as well. And unlike switching to solar power, it also doesn't have to cost much up-front to implement. Replacing blown bulbs and old or broken appliances with energy efficient ones are easy choices to make, as is shutting down kitchen equipment at night, checking the efficiency of your fridge seals, and not automatically giving table water to guests who won't even drink it.
Casting a critical eye over your dining room and kitchen also reveals a treasure-trove of easy changes you can make.
When diners ask for a "doggy bag," is it made of recyclable material? Styrofoam is a definite green 'no-no', as it never biodegrades.
Have you considered using reusable fabric napkins instead of ones that become landfill?
Just by making that switch alone, a single restaurant can save a staggering 20,000 trees per year.
More questions to ask yourself: Are your staff washing their hands and doing the dishes with biodegradable chemicals? Do your toilets have a "half flush" option?
Going green is perhaps one of the best things you can do for your brand and reputation.
Studies are showing that the majority of customers want the restaurants they eat at to actively care about the environment.
So, think about various ways your actual guests can actively participate in your green quest, and even help you run your business more efficiently in the process. For instance: Recycling takes time and energy, so consider setting up clearly marked bins in the restaurant for diners to use themselves.
Restaurants and cafes may be in the business of making food, but there's something else that is made in abundance during that process — waste. Like cutting down on energy, reducing your restaurant’s food wastage is not only green, it simply saves you money.
Are your customers telling you that your dishes are amazing, but uneaten food is still being returned to the kitchen on the plate?
Addressing over-generous serving sizes is one way of reducing waste, and there are plenty of other cooking practices you can tweak as well.
Do you use real fish bones and vegetable peels to make your stocks and sauces?
Do you donate to the homeless or send to compost uneaten food and ingredients? Many charities and commercial enterprises base themselves around these services, so check what is available to you locally.
Your Comfort Zone
If you've zipped through some of these cheap and practical ways to make your restaurant more green, you may be ready to step it up a notch.
For instance, some restaurants are using reclaimed wood when they re-do the floor or need to buy new tables and chairs. Others are finding innovative, eco-friendly suppliers — such as this French vineyard who ship their beautiful wine on a 19th century sailboat. And when training your staff, go beyond table manners and kitchen techniques and help them to become as passionate about the environment as you are.
Why Should Your Restaurant Go Green?
Making your restaurant more sustainable and environmentally friendly has three major benefits:
- First, do it for your customers because as they become more passionate about the environment, they're seeking out equally responsible businesses.
- Second, do it for yourself because even if there are a few up-front or extra costs involved, efficient and sustainable practices will save you money in the long run.
- And finally, do it for the world because the food industry are big users of the world's precious resources, they have the power and responsibility to make a difference.