Green as Grass: How To Make Your Restaurant More Sustainable

When customers know that green is your theme, most will gladly cooperate with the measures you are taking to create less waste. Here are some of our favorite "green" ideas for restaurants:

  • Grow your own herbs and vegetables. This can be as large as your land and time permits or as small as an herb garden in a window. Customers enjoy seeing the chef's garden, and there is no better way of ensuring they are served fresh food than growing your own.
  • Source foods locally and put that on the menu. Diners appreciate the nutritional value, better taste, and freshness of locally grown produce and locally sourced meat, cheeses, and eggs.
  • Speaking of the menu, print them on recycled paper and cover them with plastic. If people want to take home a menu "for future reference," provide it only after informing them the menu is on your website. You can give them a business card with the website address.
  • Install electric hand dryers in the bathroom instead of paper towels. A box of disposable tissues on the sink is a nice touch, and tissues create less paper waste than towels.
  • Take a hard look at your use of paper products. Straws and extra paper napkins can be "available on request." For your take-home containers, use those made with recycled materials and have bags available on request instead of automatically placing takeout containers in bags.
  • Use energy efficient light bulbs and install automatic sensors in bathrooms, storage rooms, halls, and staff break areas.
  • Instruct staff to conserve water by turning off the tap when the water is not being used.
  • Find out how you can safely donate leftover food items to food pantries and local shelters.
  • Experiment with canning, pickling, and ferment­ing. These heritage techniques are back in vogue because they extend the life of seasonal, local foods. Plus they make menus more interesting.
  • Have an attractive recycle bin next to the trash can in the customer area. People are accustomed to "Please recycle," so give your customers something new to ponder. For example, "Plastics take 400 years to degrade in the ocean."

The National Restaurant Association released its 2018 edition of The State of Restaurant Sustainability to document sustainability efforts by restaurants. The Association surveyed more than 500 restaurant owners and operators about their practices and more than 1,000 consumers about how restaurants can best communicate their green initiatives to their patrons. Key findings include the following:

  • Eight in ten restaurants use energy-efficient lighting.
  • Six in ten restaurants use programmable heating, ventilation and air conditioning thermostats.
  • Four in ten of all restaurants surveyed use Energy Star-rated refrigerators and freezers.
  • Reducing food waste is an emerging trend. Half of the restaurants surveyed track the amount of food waste generated and one in five donate edible leftovers to local nonprofit organizations. Some do not donate food because of fear of liability. However, the federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act of 1996 protects restaurants from legal liability when they donate "apparently wholesome food" in good faith to nonprofit organizations.
  • Water-saving practices are increasing. Half the restaurants surveyed use low-flush toilets and one-fourth use pre-rinse spray valves and faucet aerators.

The National Restaurant Association's annual "What's Hot" list, based on a survey of 700 professional chefs who are members of the American Culinary Federation, cites food waste reduction and environmental sustainability as among the top ten menu trends for 2018. Local sourcing, although not always tied to sustainability, also continues to grow in popularity.

Today, few deny that recycling is a good idea. Many are passionate about recycling. Make it clear that your restaurant recycles and uses sustainable business practices. For some people, your green practices will solidify their restaurant choice, and there really is no downside with the few people who are not interested in the "going green" movement.