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Incorporating Sustainable Seafood Into Your Restaurant’s Menu (And What Exactly Counts As “Sustainable”?)

Whether interested in healthier sources of protein, or simply a desire to eat something they may not be comfortable cooking at home, restaurant diners have a growing appetite for seafood. From poke bowls to fish stew, from fish curry to ahi burritos, there are numerous opportunities to incorporate seafood into your restaurant’s menu. We recently covered farm-to-table produce, grains, and meat, but what about ocean-to-table?

With 62% of US diners consuming seafood at a restaurant at least once a month, and an overall boom in growth for all things sustainable, offering sustainable seafood at your restaurant seems like a no-brainer. But understanding what counts as “sustainable” — and communicating that sustainability to your environmentally-conscious customers — can get confusing really fast.

NOAA defines sustainable seafood as both “fish and shellfish caught for human consumption by fishermen operating under sustainable fishery management systems that conserve fish stocks and the ecosystems that support them,” and fish raised through aquaculture.

If you’re still feeling lost, don’t worry — this is a REALLY broad definition and it allows for many options from which to choose! How might you begin to identify the best options for your particular diners?

To answer that, you should first consider a number of other questions:

What types of seafood will fit our restaurant’s cuisine?

Whether looking to offer a dish with a traditional seafood accompaniment, or to play against convention and give your diners something unique, this list of culinary fish profiles is a great place to start identifying good options from a flavor, oil, and texture standpoint. 

How much will our customers be willing to pay?

One practical and common approach is to offer a selection of sustainable options at different price points. For example, you may want to offer farm-raised oysters for $2 each, a “daily catch” poke bowl for $18, and a line-caught sea bass entree for $32.

Additionally, many cuts of fish that don’t sell right away can easily be used in a fish stew or fish burrito, so consider some sort of dish that will allow you to use surplus product in a way that still tastes delicious, and offers a good value to your customers.

Where does the seafood come from?

Dependable transparency and traceability of seafood is a troublesome and complex issue right now, due to a number of factors with the supply chain. The first thing you should do here is educate yourself about this issue, so that you can ask the right questions of your seafood provider.

How was the seafood harvested?

This is another complicated issue. Again, you should educate yourself about the myriad ways that your seafood can be harvested, so that you can be sure you’re truly offering your customers a sustainable species.

We hope this brief overview of sustainable seafood will help you incorporate some good options on your own menu. Stay tuned for future installments in which we’ll further discuss how to identify high-quality sustainable seafood, as well as understanding some alternative solutions for fulfilling the sustainable seafood niche.


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