The Future of Restaurant Sustainability

June 5, 2024
min read

As anyone in the hospitality industry knows, rising generations of customers are demanding a more sustainable dining experience. Restaurants find themselves in a shared position of balancing convenience and cost with mounting concerns about the planet. 

Restaurants have a responsibility to meet consumer demands, and on a larger scale, owners are also accountable for their eatery’s carbon footprint. Making relatively small changes, like switching to compostable takeout containers and providing fewer single-use plastic options, can make a big difference.

Moving forward, restaurant owners will eventually lose the option to decide as regulatory agencies step in to require sustainable measures to be taken. Given the vast benefits and minimal drawbacks of making the switch to recyclable and compostable products, most in the industry will find it makes more sense to step into the future today.

The Need for Sustainability in Restaurants

Everyone should feel responsible for making environmentally protective decisions, but businesses that deal in large volumes of waste should take special care to reduce their environmental impact. Restaurants contribute to the leading sources of food and plastic waste.

Up to two million tonnes of plastic is dumped into the ocean globally each year, and restaurant owners can do their part to reduce that by replacing plastic bottles, plates, and takeout containers with compostable and recyclable alternatives.

Consumer Demand for Sustainable Options

It’s true: generation matters. While more of the population is moving toward greener choices, millennials and Gen Z-ers are overwhelmingly responsible for the uptick in sustainability options. Research has shown that as many as 65% of global citizens prefer recyclable or compostable versions of the packaging they consume.

Regulatory Pressures and Government Incentives

Government involvement in sustainability efforts is not a futuristic concept. Many countries, including Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom, have already begun issuing bans on some single-use plastics like grocery bags and plastic straws. By all accounts, more laws will follow to regulate the use of other wasteful products that harm the environment.

In some places, there are tax incentives at the federal level that encourage businesses to adopt recyclable and compostable products, reduce energy usage, and conserve water. These programs intend to offset the cost of the transition to greener practices while emphasizing the importance of them. 

Cost Savings and Efficiency Improvements

Realistically, it takes time for new practices to result in a difference in your bottom line. But the savings will come, and you will see an increase in profitability after making sustainable changes. Plus, studies have proven that businesses that embrace greener operations run more efficiently.

Brand Reputation and Market Differentiation

At this stage in 2024, restaurants that pursue green business practices are still considered early adopters, and research shows that this will prove to be a financially sound decision for those businesses. Sustainable restaurants are setting themselves apart in the industry, and those business owners will reap the rewards of going green before it becomes the status quo.

What Restaurants Need to Do to Become More Sustainable

Change doesn’t happen overnight, but there are several steps that restaurants need to prioritize in order to run more sustainably. These may seem simple, and ultimately, they are, but they’re critical to transforming your business into a greener one.

Embrace Innovations in Sustainable Packaging

Sustainable packaging is especially important to restaurants. Everything from takeout containers to napkins to flatware matters. With dozens of options at your fingertips, you can choose between recyclable and compostable versions of products you already use that will improve your carbon footprint.

Reduce Food Waste

Simply put, food waste is a massive global problem. Approximately a third of all food produced is wasted around the world on an annual basis. In addition to contributing to world hunger, food production consumes precious resources like water and energy which are also wasted when food goes unused. You may choose to donate extra portions of what your restaurant cooks in a day or reduce portion sizes altogether to combat waste, but reducing food waste is critical to improving sustainability. 

Conserve Water

Water conservation is one of the easiest ways you can improve sustainability in your restaurant. From installing automatic faucets in your restrooms to replacing kitchen equipment with alternatives that do not require continuous water flow, you can make a big difference in water waste in your business. This step on its own will also help with energy conservation, so it’s a win-win. 

Maximize Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Many restaurants are moving toward solar energy sources for their businesses, saving them money and improving their environmental impact. Others opt for dim lighting in the dining room, serving the dual purpose of energy efficiency and creating a peaceful ambiance for customers. No matter what method you go with, maximizing energy efficiency is a great step toward a sustainable future. 

Source Sustainable Products

It doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive to replace wasteful products with recyclable or compostable ones. Finding alternatives to compostable cups, recyclable takeout containers, and green utensils are a great place to start. While the goal is to create a low-waste operation, small changes can make a big difference, especially in the beginning. 

Reduce Carbon Footprint of Supply Chain

Ultimately, change starts at the top. Partnering with other businesses up and down the supply chain that are already using sustainable practices will help improve your own. If you can choose local sources for the consumables you sell, you’ll reduce emissions from shipping and transit. There are tons of benefits to working alongside other local businesses, and sustainability is just one of them.

Restaurants are a large contributor to food, plastic, water, and energy waste around the world. As a restaurant owner, you can do your part to minimize the environmental impact of running a restaurant. The tips included here are not exhaustive, but are a good start for any restaurant owner who is working toward a greener future.

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