(This interview appears in February 2019 issue of Entrepreneurial Chef Magazine.)

First let’s start with why – why make your restaurant more sustainable? Building a sustainable restaurant can reduce your carbon footprint on the environment, in addition to contributing to overall health of your customers. Moreover, being a restaurant that considers itself environmentally conscious can also help attract customers.

According to a report by the National Restaurant Association, about half of customers say that a restaurant’s efforts in sustainability can be factors in where they choose to eat. For example, if a customer in Detroit is looking for a restaurant with locally-sourced ingredients, they might Google “sustainable restaurants in Detroit.” If you are committed to operating a sustainable business, they will see your restaurant in search results.

A sustainable business plan can contribute to your reputation. With the anti-plastic straw movement in full effect, businesses are searching for ways to please lawmakers, along with appealing to patrons that expect more out of their local restaurants when it comes to their environmental impact. Good buzz from your greenish business practices can affect your reviews online and by word of mouth.

Here’s a look at some ways to implement sustainable business practices.

Use Recycled Paper for Your Menu

Utilizing recycled paper for your menu can be one of the many ways to kick off implementing sustainable business practices – which can prove to be cost effective if your menu rotates seasonally. Being that seasonality of dishes is a booming restaurant trend as of late, according to Upserve, your restaurant will not just be “trendy,” but you will also be supporting neighborhood farmers markets and businesses by sourcing locally – a win/win for your community.

Reduce Waste

According to interviews with restaurant leaders by OpenTable, the most expensive waste for restaurants is general waste or landfill. By implementing an initiative to recycle all applicable materials and sending packaging back to suppliers to be reused, you can control your environmental impact and your operating costs in one fell swoop. Executive Chef Suzanne O’Connor shares within the article that she has formed relationships with all of her suppliers, and requests that nothing be sent in Styrofoam.

In addition, consider composting your leftover scraps from service to put it back into your own farm or garden to reduce waste. Don’t have one? Donate the compost to a community garden.

Grow Your Own Food

Growing your own food helps reduce carbon emissions from the transport of food. The Southern Living Sustainable Guide reports that food usually travels hundreds or even thousands of miles before it gets to your kitchen. Another perk? Your food will be fresh, leading to higher levels of customer satisfaction when it comes to food quality.

Concepts located in an area with little space for backyard or rural gardens have taken to their rooftops. One of which is Chicago-based Uncommon Ground, first to be certified as a top organic rooftop farm in the U.S. The 2,500 square-foot-deck of space is even made of recycled materials.

Use Sustainable Products

Sustainability is not limited to the ingredients and the material of your menu. Eco-friendly products have become studier to accommodate restaurants that are looking to transfer from plastic to paper and/or recyclable materials from straws to utensils and even vessels used for delivery.

If you want to make delivery easier, delivery vessels should not only be sustainable, but functional. It is important to do your research and a bit of testing before moving products to the floor. If you are considering using cornstarch straws, be weary of the fact that they tend to not be able to stand up to heat. Does that work for your menu items? Make sure you are not compromising quality for eco-friendly materials.

Investing in cleaning products that are plant-based and non-toxic, is often an overlooked way of having a sustainable business practice. EcoLogic Solutions is a popular brand that offers cleaning solution that protects both customers and employees from chemicals.

Encourage Positive Lifestyles

A sustainable business means promoting health for both your customers and your employees. Some businesses have gone as far as giving their employees money toward gym memberships, and supplying them with a basic benefits package. This is an enticing way to retain employees, and reinforce the new restaurant culture that is being built on a healthy lifestyle in and out of the kitchen.

Reflecting on Sustainability for Your Business

Before you implement sustainable business practices into your restaurant, think about why you want to do so. Sustainability is a mindset. It’s something you should be committed to not just for marketing purposes, but because you actually want to improve the environment, create a positive employee culture, support local farmers and businesses, and serve delicious, fresh food to your guests.


About the Author

Megan Wenzl is a writer based in Chicago. She enjoys creating useful, informative stories to help businesses succeed. Megan holds a Master of Arts in Journalism from Columbia College Chicago and a Bachelor of Arts in History from Western Michigan University. Megan has written about a range of different topics including event marketing, productivity, customer experience, and the history of root beer floats in Chicago. Megan is currently the community outreach associate for Clique Studios. Prior, Megan worked at ReviewTrackers as a marketer and writer. She started her career at MLive, where she held an internship as a news reporter. When not writing, Megan enjoys watching shows and movies, playing golf, and reading.

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