Thursday, July 17, 2014

7 ways to bring sustainability into your restaurant

Practicing sustainability is good for the environment, but can also cut costs and drive profits for restaurants large and small.

That’s the word from restaurant sustainability experts who shared tips and advice at NRA Show 2014, held in Chicago in May.

We’ve compiled their top tips in our new “Spotlight on Sustainability” report, to help spread the word about the easy steps restaurateurs can take to incorporate enviro-friendly practices at their restaurants.

Seven starters from the experts:

  • Make sure your sustainability program blends seamlessly with your operation. “There has to be a reconciliation of your sustainability initiatives with what works for you,” said Elizabeth Meltz, director of food safety and sustainability for the Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group.
  • Compost your organic waste material into mulch and plant flowers outside your restaurants, like employees at some White Castle burger locations do. “Your cheapest resource tool is education and engagement,” said Shannon Tolliver, White Castle’s manager of social responsibility and sustainability.
  • Reinvest efficiency savings into other projects. Helen Cameron of Uncommon Ground in Chicago spent $3,000 on six accelerated hand dryers for her two restaurants. In one month she saved $1,000 on paper towel costs. The investment resulted into annual savings of $24,000. She took that money and invested it in LED lighting for her business.
  • Communicate the sustainable actions you take—particularly with millennials, born between 1980 and 1992. “The green message is critical to attracting and retaining [millennials’] loyalty,” NRA research and knowledge senior vice president Hudson Riehle said. “The research is pretty clear. If an operator communicates what he or she is doing, it can have a positive retention factor.”
  • Outfit your restaurant with energy efficient equipment. Buying an energy-efficient fryer for $1,400, versus $700 for a traditional fryer, will cost more at the outset, but will end up extending the life of your fryer oil. Plus, local utility companies often offer rebates on the more efficient equipment. “Efficiency is saving you money,” said Richard Young, senior engineer and director of education for the Food Service Technology Center. “The market wants it, and it’s the right thing to do. Really, it’s good business.”
  • Visit farmers’ markets for locally sourced items. Ryan Stone, executive chef at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., says farmers’ markets are “a great place to start [searching]. I also started reading labels on products in grocery stores to see what was out there.”
  • Assess the amount of waste you create at your establishment. Sodexo’s senior sustainability manager, Christi Cook, said operators need to understand “what food and recyclables are coming through the back door. Education is important, and looking at portion control is part of that. The best way is to track your food waste and figure out where it’s being generated.”

Learn more about the Association’s Conserve program and sustainability best practices for the restaurant industry here. Also, subscribe to Bright Ideas, Conserve’s free, monthly newsletter focusing on sustainability tips and tools for foodservice businesses.

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