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The Rise of Sustainable Restaurants

The National Restaurant Association recently published its 2018 State of Restaurant Sustainability report. Restaurant owners and consumers responded to a survey regarding best practices when reducing waste and energy consumption and how environmentally-aware guests are responding. Let’s take a look at a few of the take-aways.

Recycling. Over 60 percent of restaurants recycle both their cardboard and paper as well as their fats, oils, and grease. In addition, many of these same establishments are obtaining recycled supplies such as packaging and other paper products. Surprisingly, less than 30 percent recycled aluminum or metal cans, plastics, or glass.

Food Waste. A whopping 47 percent of restaurants say they now track food waste. This percentage is up significantly from 2016 when 32 percent of restaurants reported donating food in an FWRA survey. The barriers they reported involved transportation constraints, liability concerns, insufficient refrigeration, and onsite storage challenges. Fortunately, collection services and liability protection laws have eased these constraints which may account for the additional restaurants helping to feed the hungry.

Energy Reduction. Lighting was the area where a significant percentage of restaurants saved energy—almost 80 percent. Other energy and water saving techniques included the use of programmable heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) thermostats, low-flush toilets, and EPA Energy Star-rated refrigerators, freezers, and dishwashers.

Creating a Sustainable Venue

Considering that environmental sustainability and food waste reduction are becoming hot topics in the restaurant industry, it may be time to make some changes. If you’re interested in creating a restaurant based on sustainable practices, consider the following:

  • Donate Food. There are several companies that are helping restaurants donate wholesome leftover food to charities. In order to support this effort, the National Restaurant Association partnered with Food Donation Connection (FDC). Restaurants wanting to give are connected to non-profit hunger relief organizations in their area. This service, called Harvest Program, is working for companies such as Pizza Hut, KFC, Taco Bell, Olive Garden, The Cheesecake Factory, Chick-fil-A and many more. Besides providing food for those in need, restaurants also receive tax deductions and are protected by food donor liability laws.
  • Install Energy Efficient Equipment. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides commercial refrigerator and freezer efficiency levels on their Energy Star The Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP) has determined that you can save money by buying an Energy Star-qualified commercial refrigerator model that is priced no more than $597 above the less efficient model. The best available model has a lifetime energy cost savings of up to $1,141.

You can obtain a very cool Commercial Kitchen Equipment Cost Calculator in Excel form from Energy.gov that includes just about all your kitchen needs such as dishwashers, freezers, fryers, griddles, hot food holding cabinets, ice machines, ovens, refrigerators, steam cookers and even WaterSense Pre-Rinse spray valves.

Adding low-flow faucet aerators to your hand sinks has been shown to reduce hot water usage by 60 percent. At a cost of $3 each, this energy conservation method is an easy one to implement. It is estimated that installing just one faucet aerator can save 9,000 gallons of hot water every year.

With over 50 percent of your water use coming from dishwashing, it’s important to look for savings in this area. WaterSense is a water saving program first launched in 2006. Their products and services are guaranteed to use at least 20 percent less water than regular models.

Recommended light bulbs that reduce energy consumption include compact fluorescent (CFL) and light-emitting diode (LED).

  • There is, undoubtedly, someone on your staff who is enthusiastic about recycling. Find out who it is and then honor them with the role of recycling champion. Develop easy programs and procedures to follow that include separating cardboard, metal, aluminum, and glass. Obtain recycling bins that are easy to use and take up little space. California’s Phoenix Project is working to recycle glass from restaurants in 225 cities. They supply bins, pick-up, and even table tents so that patrons will know and understand the restaurant’s commitment to sustainability. Once in place, you’ll be calling your trash collector and letting them know you won’t be needing their services quite as often.
  • Supply Chain. Customers are now, more than ever, asking questions regarding where their food is coming from and how it is sourced. Transparency is the key. Choose suppliers that are following sustainable practices and then let your clientele know. The Ore House—a steak and seafood restaurant in Durango, Co. shares their belief on their website. “Sustainability—The Capacity to Endure: In order to do our part in protecting the planet for future generations, we believe that we should be good stewards of the earth. To this end, we do everything we can to promote environmentally-friendly, ethical standards through all aspects of the Ore House.”

Eco-friendly restaurants practicing sustainable operations are a calling-card for newer generations. According to Restaurant Business, 32 percent of Millennials, more than any other generation, say they are more likely to choose a restaurant with sustainable practices. If you’re already feeling overwhelmed with the number of projects on your never-ending to-do list, know that there is someone in your organization that would gladly take the reigns in helping you develop a sustainable model. The next generation is counting on you.

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