Not that long ago, if you wanted to keep your restaurant's customers happy, you just had to cook good food and serve it well. Now, however, up to two-thirds of your customers would prefer to patronize restaurants with eco-friendly practices. They're even willing to spend more to support an environmentally-friendly restaurant.
In a world in which even major fast-food chains are instituting eco-friendly programs, it's no surprise that all sorts of restaurants are following suit. By adopting similar practices regarding energy use, waste management, and food sourcing, you can make a declaration to your Millennial and Gen Z customers that you care about the environment as much as they do. Take a look at some top eco-friendly practices you can put into action today.
1. Use Sustainable Packaging
When customers call for takeout or ask you to pack up their leftovers, you probably pack them up in convenient plastic containers. While plastic packaging keeps liquids intact and reheats easily in a microwave, it can also release harmful particles into the environment once it's discarded. Opt instead for recyclable or biodegradable packaging made of paper, bamboo or recycled plastics.
2. Recycle and Use Recycled Products
Every school child can recite "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" — and as those former children become your customers, they'll want to know if you're following these basic rules. Look for ways to use recycled materials throughout your kitchen, including bar mats, paper towels, kitchen mats, and even toilet paper. Set up recycling bins to capture the glass bottles, cardboard packaging, plastic bottles, and wood containers that you bring into your kitchen every week.
3. Work With Your Vendors
Many of your vendors probably already offer environmentally friendly options — or if they don't, you should be able to find vendors who will work with you to meet your eco-friendly goals. Ask for biodegradable packaging for your orders. Reduce your shipments to once a week or less to minimize the fuel emissions created during delivery. In addition, you may be able to find a local waste company that guarantees that none of your kitchen waste will go into landfill.
4. Cook a Seasonal, Locally Sourced Menu
When you use ingredients that aren't in season, they may have to be sourced from halfway around the world. Sourcing produce and proteins locally minimize your restaurant's carbon footprint by reducing the amount of travel involved to get ingredients to your kitchen. And you'll reap other benefits as well when you opt for a seasonal menu, as you can promote special dishes and attract new guests as you let your chefs' creativity shine.
5. Grow Your Own
Depending on where your restaurant is located, you may even be able to start a kitchen garden to grow basic vegetables and herbs that you use frequently. Your chefs are likely to be excited at this opportunity to be so close to their ingredients, and you can promote the concept to your guests.
6. Train Your Staff
If your staff are on board with your sustainability goals, you'll see a big change throughout your restaurant. They'll be willing to pitch in to make sure recyclables are handled properly, for instance. Even your guest-facing staff should be trained, as they're the ones who will communicate your restaurant's commitment to environmental sustainability to your customers.
7. Switch to Eco-Friendly Cleaning Products
Of course, you want to keep your restaurant as clean as possible at all times — but you no longer have to use toxic products to do so. While some environmentally friendly cleaning products come with an uptick in costs, by shopping for the right vendor, you should be able to find cleaning products that are both eco-friendly and cost-effective.
8. Avoid Using Paper Where Possible
The paper trash in a restaurant can reach overwhelming levels pretty quickly. Reduce your carbon footprint by finding ways to avoid using paper. Focus on online advertising rather than print, and give your patrons opportunities to forgo paper receipts. Many people prefer digital receipts because they have a permanent record of them for expense reports without having to shove a piece of paper into their wallets or handbags.
9. Conserve Water
In some parts of the country, water conservation is a huge environmental factor. Stay on the right side of this issue by repairing leaks in pipes and faucets as soon as they start, and don't run your dishwashers unless they're full. You can also save water by thawing food in the refrigerator (rather than under a running faucet) and by asking guests if they want water at the table rather than serving it automatically. Switching from bottled water to a filtration system also helps conserve water.
10. Use Energy-Efficient Appliances
You may already shudder a bit every time you have to pay your restaurant's energy bills. Fortunately, you can do something to bring those high numbers down. Upgrading your equipment with energy-efficient appliances allows you to retain (or even improve) performance while cutting your energy bills down significantly. Keep an eye out for the Energy Star logo when choosing new appliances.
11. Manage Your Food Waste Well
Keeping a tight control on your ordering and inventory helps you avoid the expense of throwing away fresh food because it's gone bad. Consider teaming up with a local food bank as well to donate dishes and ingredients that you don't serve to guests. You can also turn that food waste into compost for your own kitchen garden or for local gardeners.
As you take steps to increase your restaurant's sustainability and eco-friendly practices, make sure to let your guests and prospective customers know. You can use your social media platforms and even your menu to let people know that you're taking environmentally friendly actions, and your customers will be happy to support you in those efforts.