Let’s talk about one very important restaurant and events industry trend that is actually home to a handful of smaller trends — I’m talking about sustainability. If you’re currently asking yourself, “What is sustainability?” my question to you would have to be, “Have you been living under a rock?” Kidding — but really, sustainability is a rapidly growing and exceedingly important trend in the hospitality industry.
In a world where issues like hunger, pollution and social responsibility take center stage, it’s no wonder the sustainability movement is a prevalent one. Whether it be through food waste or energy and water consumption, the hospitality industry has famously been associated with having a dramatic environmental impact.
So where do you begin? Well first off, don’t panic, there’s absolutely no need to rewrite your entire business plan. Here are a few small-step sustainability trend examples that can jumpstart your journey into a world of green bliss.
First off, let’s discuss taking advantage of local and seasonal foods. Simply revise your current food menus so that they only contain locally-sourced items — easy, right? Well, not exactly. A lot goes into a menu and not all venue types can source all that they need from local growers and retailers. Not to mention that sourcing locally really puts your business in the hands of the weather gods.
So, my advice is to start small. Add a few locally-sourced dishes to compliment your menu’s standard, signature items. Or even easier, add a few locally-sourced ingredients to your current menu items. Ordering locally can also help counter waste. When not shopping from big box companies, we tend to take a deeper look at how much of each ingredient we’ll really need. Any waste you do accumulate, send directly back to the farmers to use as compost. Supporting local farmers and small businesses benefits your community as a whole and that could help to grow your regular and private dining market. The more you give, the more you get.
Smarten up your bar program
Let’s talk about your cocktail and wine menus. Food waste may be heavily dependent on your kitchen, but the same scrutiny should be applied to your bar program. Do your bartenders often find themselves throwing out lemons and limes not pretty enough to use as garnish or bushels of mint slightly past their prime? It’s time to tighten up the cocktail menu.
Your bar staff should work closely with chefs to choose locally-sourced ingredients and garnishes that the kitchen is already planning to order. If one part of the restaurant doesn’t use them, the other certainly will. In addition, stop ditching fruit past its prime — instead use it to concoct a delicious, seasonal sangria or have the kitchen staff use the juices for their dishes. When it comes to your wine list, ask your reps to suggest producers offering biodynamic, carbon-neutral and organic options. You may be surprised at how many of your go-to vineyards offer these alternatives. Just don’t forget to recycle that wine bottle once your guests are done enjoying it.
Think you have your food waste situation under control? Then it’s time to move past the menus and start to tidy up your energy and water usage. A lot of easy improvements can be made by simply training your staff to be smarter. Turn lights off in rooms not being used such as storage areas or offices. Turn faucets off as soon as you’re done using them. I can’t count the number of times I’ve walked into a kitchen during service to find a wash sink with the water running for literally no reason whatsoever.
If you’d like to make an even bigger impact, then look into commissioning a local energy company that uses an Energy Management System (EMS) to do real-time tracking of your venue’s energy use and pinpoint where you’d benefit from making changes. Some examples of energy efficiency upgrades in the restaurant industry include LED lighting, low-waste appliances, and motion sensors to name a few. Afraid of cost? Many states now offer rebates to businesses that install energy efficient equipment. This can help to heighten your ROI and make the upgrades feel more beneficial from a monetary standpoint.
Do your research
Before any of these changes are implemented, your first step should be to do your research. Sure, ordering locally is great, but you have to make sure first that the cost aligns with your budget. Don’t be afraid to reach out to more than one farm or local supplier to price shop. The local folks work the same way as the larger companies do. Share price differences and barter to get the end result you need to make these changes. A business is a business and running your business in a more environmentally sound way shouldn’t cause you to go bankrupt and close your doors.
The same goes for updating your appliances. If your state doesn’t currently offer rebate programs, ask them why. It doesn’t hurt to fight for a cause you believe in. If they won’t budge, then hold off on these upgrades until they do. Being aware and resourceful of the choices you’re making is the first step.
Start small to make a big impact
My last bit of advice here is to start small. Sustainability is a vast concern with many different pieces. Putting the entirety of its weight on your shoulders will only cause you to collapse. Talk to your colleagues to figure out what works for your venue. Decide where you can easily make changes and start there. Building your business took time and so will your quest for green bliss.
Whether you’re a restaurant owner, manager, chef, server or all of the above your mission should always be the same, to provide your customers with the best food, service and overall experience that you can. All of this sustainability stuff, although important, should be the icing on an already delicious cake.
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in Tripleseat’s Seated magazine, 2019 Spring/Summer issue.