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How to Run a More Sustainable Restaurant: 5 Tips

As the world grows more climate-conscious and adopts eco-friendly practices and behaviors, restaurants must also focus on improving their sustainability.

Running a more sustainable restaurant involves making eco-friendly changes to become more environmentally and socially responsible, being mindful of the ecological footprint of their establishments, and aiming to lower emissions. 

If you’re unsure how to turn your restaurant into a green business, these five tips can help you get started.

Reduce Energy Consumption

Restaurants are energy-consuming machines, using five to seven times more power per square foot than other commercial spaces. Quick-service eateries consume nearly 10 times more.

About 80% of a restaurant’s total energy consumption derives from heating, lighting and preparing meals. Reducing this usage will prove challenging, but there are a few things you can do.

Upgrading your appliances to more energy-efficient models decreases energy use and costs. Purchase Energy Star-certified products and reconfigure the kitchen’s layout — a refrigerator near a hot stove or oven will have to operate harder. Likewise, an upgraded HVAC unit can help improve temperature comfortability.

Light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs are another quick and easy fix to improve your restaurant’s sustainability. Studies show that up to 98% of incandescents’ energy emits heat, making rooms feel much hotter. LEDs also use about 75% less energy than traditional lightbulbs.

Motion-activated features can also improve sustainability at your restaurant. Consider installing sensors in certain rooms or pantries. You might even include motion-sensor faucets and high-velocity hand dryers in restrooms to prevent water and paper waste.

One case study by the National Restaurant Association’s (NRA) ConServe Program recognized a Chicago-based restauranteur who spent $3,000 on six efficient hand dryers and saved $1,000 on paper towels in the first month. Between their two restaurants, the owner now sees annual savings of $24,000.

Source Local Ingredients

One of the best ways to run a more sustainable restaurant is to source as many local ingredients as possible.

Transportation accounts for 29% of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. However, purchasing locally grown goods can dramatically reduce your food carbon footprint while supporting the local economy. 

Sticking with local vendors also presents an opportunity for enhanced quality control. Developing close working relationships with suppliers helps reassure you that the food was sustainably grown without pesticides and fertilizers and has met U.S. food safety standards.

Look over your menu and determine the local ingredients needed for more sustainable offerings. You might even swap out some items, such as rice for potatoes. Potatoes emit the least amount of greenhouse gases and need only 53 gallons of water to cultivate 2 pounds — rice requires 294 gallons. 

Reduce Waste

Waste reduction is essential if you’re trying to improve your restaurant’s sustainability. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that 31% of food loss and waste — 133 billion pounds amounting to $162 billion — comes from the restaurant industry.

Another study by ChefHero found that one restaurant may produce 25,000 to 75,000 pounds of food waste annually.

Implement new practices at your restaurant to help reduce food waste. For example, composting can be an efficient way to generate a sustainable waste stream. A benefit of a healthy compost system is the ability for restaurants to grow their own herbs or produce on-site. 

Additionally, donating leftover food to homeless shelters or other nonprofits is an excellent way to boost your sustainability and give back to people in need. In 2020, one in eight Americans were food insecure, with no improvement from the year before. 

See if a food rescue system serves your community. For instance, Replate is a technology-based nonprofit in California’s Bay Area that utilizes a mobile app to connect restaurants to organizations that deliver excess and unwanted food to hungry people. 

Optimize Inventory Management

Another way to reduce waste is by optimizing your restaurant’s inventory management. You can’t serve customers without the proper ingredients for your menu’s recipes. However, poor inventory practices often lead to overordering and accumulating numerous perishables that spoil before you can use them.

Optimizing your inventory by implementing an upgraded system lets you improve ordering efficiency and shelf space. Advanced inventory software is worth investing in for your restaurant, allowing you to gain insight into past and future sales to determine essential ingredients. After some time, tracking inventory will become second nature and you’ll see gains in your bottom line. 

Following the “first-in, first-out” rule — also known as FIFO — is another excellent way to ensure the kitchen uses every product before its expiration date.

Use Eco-Friendly Takeout Packaging

Takeout is convenient for customers on the run or who have little time to prepare dinner or sit down at a restaurant. However, the packaging significantly contributes to waste. 

Restaurants should look into eco-friendly alternatives, such as boxes made with compostable or recyclable materials. 

Compostable items must be appropriately discarded — not with regular trash — which means it’s only an option if a commercial compost facility serves the community. Otherwise, recyclable packaging like aluminum or plastics is a much better choice. Plastic will undoubtedly keep food warmer for longer. Restaurants should avoid styrofoam, which is often not accepted at recycling centers.

Restauranteurs who are afraid of higher costs of sustainable packaging shouldn’t worry. The NRA’s 2022 State of the Restaurant Industry survey found that 70% of millennials and 72% of Gen Z adults are open to paying higher takeout costs for eco-friendly containers.

Greener Initiatives for a Sustainable Business

Making your restaurant more sustainable will take time, patience and a little expenditure, but the outcome will always be positive. Customers will appreciate your restaurant’s efforts and commitment to creating a healthier planet.

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