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5 Ways to Make Your Restaurant More Sustainable

Cater to modern diners who have a taste for both good food and protecting the environment.

Making your restaurant more sustainable is a good goal for the new year. Not only will you be helping the planet, you’ll also make your business much more appealing to many diners, especially those in the millennial and Gen Z age groups.

A 2022 survey by C.O.nxt and Menu Matters found that 80 percent of diners say sustainability matters when it comes to food. And over half say it is “extremely” or “very important.”

“Pandemic or not, American consumers are deepening their connections and concerns regarding food and sustainability,” the survey states. “This is particularly pronounced among those in their mid-forties and younger.”

With those numbers in mind, here are five ways to make your restaurant more sustainable:

1. Feature local ingredients

Adding local ingredients to your menu is a win-win-win: you attract customers who care about buying local, you support local businesses and you help the planet by reducing your “food print”—for example, reducing the amount of fossil fuel required to get food to your door. Start slowly, restaurant site Chef Works recommends. “You don’t have to incorporate every single local ingredient at once. Start small, with something that you know you’ll be able to sell, such as salad greens. From there, you can begin to incorporate more and more local products into your menu.”

2. Revamp your packaging

Take a look at the packaging and other disposable items you use, including takeout containers, to-go cups and plastic straws. The best thing you can do is to reduce the amount of packaging you use overall, and to swap throwaway items for reusable ones where possible, according to sustainability-focused nonprofit FoodPrint. A few examples: doing away with straws or using metal ones, and reducing the use of throwaway plastic gloves in your kitchen. “Despite best intentions, food packaging that may look compostable —those ‘green’ seeming, plant-based fiber containers —are unlikely to be processed properly, which actually makes them worse for the waste stream,” FoodPrint states.

3. Use water efficiently

You can reduce your water use easily by revamping a few key pieces of equipment in your restaurant. The benefit here is that while it requires an initial investment, it’s an easy “one and done” step that will continue paying off in reduced water costs and lower environmental impact for years. The trade magazine Pizza Today recommends installing in your kitchen the most efficient pre-wash spray valve you can find. “Often less than $100, a high-efficiency spray valve can spark energy and water savings that easily pays for the investment in year one,” Pizza Today states.

4. Cut back on food waste

Food waste is a huge problem in the United States, not just in private households but across the food service industry. Every year, Americans throw away 80 billion pounds of food, or 30 to 40 percent of the total food supply, according to FoodPrint. This food rots in landfills, releasing methane, a greenhouse gas that accelerates climate change. FoodPrint offers ideas for reducing restaurant food waste, including using digital food waste tracking tools and donating leftovers.

5. Broaden your view of sustainability

Look at your overall practices, including factors such as working conditions, giving back to your local community, and animal welfare in relation to the products you serve. “The definition of sustainability—long seen as environmentally focused for many—is now being seen in broader terms,” the C.O.nxt and Menu Matters survey states. “Consumers increasingly tie sustainability to economic factors, such as pay equity and working conditions.”

Taking a broad look at sustainability in your restaurant, and making improvements where you can, is a great investment in both the earth and your business.