Sustainability is a big issue for modern consumers — they want to know their money is going to responsible businesses. In fact, 70% of Millennials and Gen Z consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable products. Modern diners are increasingly motivated to order from sustainable restaurants.
The shift toward eco-friendly and socially conscious practices creates an opportunity for restaurant owners. If you can show a commitment to sustainable operations, you can win customer confidence and create a lasting legacy.
So how can your restaurant go green? Keep reading to find out.
What are sustainable restaurants?
Sustainable restaurants embrace practices that benefit the environment and society while maintaining economic viability. The goal is to create a business model that can be sustained over time without creating a negative impact.
As you can imagine, full sustainability is challenging to achieve. The goal isn’t perfection — if the majority of restaurants make small adjustments, the collective effort has the potential to create powerful, long-lasting change. Restaurant owners are getting on board; according to a 2022 Datassential report, 70% are prioritizing sustainability. Even so, just 41% of restaurants feel their business model is truly sustainable.
Some of the factors that make a restaurant sustainable include:
- Reducing food waste
- Sourcing from suppliers with sustainable practices
- Minimizing wasted water and energy
- Embracing recycling and composting
- Cutting back on carbon emissions for delivery and food transportation
Why restaurant sustainability is more important than ever
Restaurant sustainability benefits the planet and society as a whole; it could also affect the success of your business. It’s a top priority for food-service businesses and suppliers, especially those with a younger customer base. According to the Pew Research Center, 67% of millennials and 67% of Gen Z believe the climate is a top priority. Because these two generations include 140.79 million people, it’s important to consider their preferences.
Consumers are serious about purchasing from companies with sustainable practices. A McKinsey study found that businesses with strong environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices are growing faster than their less-sustainable counterparts. In this environment, restaurants that are committed to going green and reducing waste may gain a competitive advantage. When given the choice, socially and environmentally conscious diners are more likely to choose a sustainable restaurant over the alternative.
It’s no longer enough to make vague eco-friendly statements. Research shows that 88% of Gen Z customers have a low level of trust in commercial ESG claims. They’re also experts in ferreting out the truth and calling out performative actions. As you build sustainable practices and hire new chefs, make sure they stand up to intense scrutiny; that way, you can avoid bad PR and win the loyalty of young customers.
Tips for sustainable restaurants
Most restaurants have room for improvement when it comes to sustainability. Beyond the obvious options, such as reducing energy use and saving water, there are several industry-specific actions you can take.
Food waste reduction
Food waste is one of the most important issues facing the restaurant industry. The food that’s sent to a landfill each year has significant consequences for the environment and the national food supply — and your bottom line. Adjusting your operations to reduce waste can cut your average food costs by 4% to 10% and reduce your cost of goods sold (COGS) by an average of 4 cents on every dollar.
Some ways to reduce restaurant food waste and increase restaurant sustainability include:
- Redesigning your inventory management system to reduce spoilage
- Ordering according to actual restaurant data
- Donating food to local non-profits
- Composting food scraps
- Serving smaller portions
Don’t be afraid to publicize your efforts on social media, customers are paying attention. In 2022, one report found that consumer awareness of food waste had increased by 39% in just 3 years. When you’re open about the process, it can help customers feel good about dining at your restaurant.
Sustainable food sourcing
The sustainability of your restaurant isn’t limited to internal practices — your supply chain matters, too. Take time to evaluate each supplier to find out if they’re implementing sustainable methods. Any time you add a new vendor, make sure to choose from companies with socially and environmentally safe business models.
Due diligence is especially important when you’re selecting food suppliers; farming and animal husbandry have a big impact on the environment. Keep an eye out for sustainable agriculture practices such as:
- Minimized use of pesticides
- Crop rotation that supports healthy soil and prevents erosion
- Intelligent water management
- Integrated livestock and crop management
- Fair labor practices
Another solution is to source food locally. When your ingredients have fewer miles to travel, they use less energy. And because local farmers don’t need to consider long transit times, they can harvest food later and provide fresher, more flavorful items. In contrast, the food that’s shipped from far away is often cooked with gas or chemicals.
Local sourcing does more than increase food quality at sustainable restaurants; it builds a stronger sense of community. Customers appreciate the chance to keep their money in the local economy and support small businesses they recognize. As a bonus, incorporating locally grown ingredients into a rotating seasonal menu can boost your bottom line. A regular lineup of new dishes gives diners a reason to keep coming back.
Each year, Americans send more than 82.2 million pounds of municipal solid waste to landfills. About 28.1% of that waste consists of containers and packaging materials, according to the EPA.
If your restaurant offers takeout and delivery, you can make a difference by switching to sustainable to-go containers. Avoid plastic and Styrofoam; they can take up to 500 years to decompose. Plastic containers often end up in the ocean, where they pollute the water and break down into small pieces that harm sea life. According to National Geographic, the oceans already contain 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic.
Sustainable packaging is biodegradable, which means it breaks down naturally and blends safely back into the ecosystem. Compostable containers are a good solution. Some are made with sustainably farmed sugarcane or bamboo. If you’re concerned about leaks, you can find paper containers lined with a plant-based starch resin. Although these containers still make it to landfills, they break down much faster than traditional options.
What is the Green Restaurant Association?
If you’re looking to help reduce food waste and incorporate sustainable practices, the Green Restaurant Association (GRA) is a good resource. This organization, which has been leading the charge for restaurant sustainability since 1990, is committed to driving change in the industry. It provides educational materials and access to a network of vetted sustainable distributors and products to help you build a better supply chain. The GRA also offers a sustainability certification program; once you become a Certified Green restaurant, the team can help you promote the credential.
The Green Star, which is a MICHELIN initiative, is a different type of distinction. It’s awarded to restaurants that are excelling in the area of sustainability. A Green Star is another vote of confidence for consumers.
Sustainability is a critical issue in the restaurant industry, and it’s likely to become more important in the coming years. By taking action now to improve your practices, you can establish a solid foundation for long-term success. At Grubhub, sustainability remains a priority. With the #CutOutCutlery campaign, diners must opt-in to get single-use plastic utensils, reducing the amount of unnecessary waste generated from each order. Ready to reach more customers and share your restaurant’s mission? Partner with Grubhub today.