Restaurant Industry Insightssustainability

How Restaurants Are Adapting to Changing Demographics & Practicing Sustainability

As we’re all aware, today’s guests are far different than they were 10 years ago. Today, millennials make up the largest population group, and restaurants are vying for their attention. One way to entice them and support the planet at the same time is by developing a sustainable model and reducing your restaurant’s carbon footprint. 

Let’s explore this changing restaurant landscape and how generations are affecting it.

Baby Boomers & Millennials Defined

While generational cut-off points aren’t an exact science, the Pew Research Center has defined millennials as those born between 1981-1996. That makes those in this generation range from about 27 to 42 years of age. 

Every generation is usually defined by certain attributes. For instance, baby boomer stereotypes (born between 1946-1964) include fear-driven, stubborn, and resistant to change. They grew up amid a technology revolution that disrupted their lives, and many of them served in the Vietnam War, went to Canada to escape the draft, or went to prison for refusing to serve. Many of their parents were World War II veterans, and their school days consisted of drills that prepared them for a nuclear attack. Fear is understandable.

How that translates to restaurants is a sense of loyalty and a desire for personalized service. Until the pandemic, few were in favor of ordering from an app or cashless operations and kiosk ordering. They wanted you to remember their name, and if you appealed to their senses, you would find a brand-loyal customer for life.

Millennial stereotypes include a less traditional approach to life, translating to the slower adoption of a home life, career, and traditional values. They are the first generation to be raised with the internet and mobile devices. 

This group is also known to speak out against injustice and work to improve the future of the planet, with a strong leaning toward vegan and organic options and a willingness to pay more for these healthier choices. They love technology and digital marketing and are far more likely to rely on social media and online reviews when choosing a restaurant. They also love hearing about sustainable efforts and locally-sourced products that translate to fresher foods and reduced environmental impact. 

The Importance of a Sustainable Model

Climate-related risks dominated the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report of 2023. The failure to mitigate climate change placed number one as the biggest risk facing the world over the next decade. Future climate change is projected to result in an increase in natural disasters, loss of species, and extreme weather events. To counteract this effect requires immediate greenhouse gas emission reductions.

While helping the planet and those that reside here can feel like overwhelming goals, restaurants that do their part empower their guests to follow suit at home, while also appealing to the newest generations. Adopting sustainable practices provides a win-win scenario.

Restaurants Adopting Sustainable Practices

Restaurant sustainability involves minimizing the impact your business and operations have on the planet. Essentially, it consists of reducing the carbon footprint, supporting sustainable farming practices, shortening the supply chain, and reducing food waste, packaging, and energy consumption. Did we mention recycling? It’s a lot to consider, and in an industry that can leave you with little downtime, adopting sustainable practices can feel overwhelming. 

Like everything in life, however, it’s the first step that defines the journey. As Robert Collier said, “Take the first step, and your mind will mobilize all its forces to your aid. But the first essential is that you begin.”

For many restauranteurs, that first step is supporting local farmers. This one act significantly minimizes the carbon trail and provides your restaurant with fresher ingredients. You can also support suppliers that demonstrate the same positive environmental practices. Regenerative farming is a growing practice that reduces greenhouse gases. 

Others reduce plastic consumption, reduce food waste, recycle, and have increased vegetarian offerings. They may conserve water through low-flow faucets and cut down on energy usage. After taking the first step, make sure to publicize your efforts.


What restaurants are known for practicing sustainability in the U.S.?

These 11 restaurants earned a Michelin Green Star for their sustainable practices: Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York, The Inn at Little Washington in Washington, DC, and Osteria Mozza and Chi Spacca in Los Angeles. Northern California is home to the remaining restaurants, including The French Laundry, SingleThread, Harbor House, Chez Panisse, Atelier Crenn, Bar Crenn, and Quince. 

What is the world’s most sustainable restaurant?

In 2022, the World’s 50 Best Restaurants team recognized the World’s Most Sustainable Restaurant. Aponiente is in El Puerto de Santa Maria, Spain, in the midst of a natural park. The owner and three Michelin-starred chefs, Angel Leon, is recognized globally for his commitment to the preservation of the ocean and conservation. He’s cultivated marine plants like eelgrass and sought new foods like phytoplankton.

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