Beyond the Menu: Sustainable Restaurant Trends

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By Patricia Bonacorda

What’s hot in the restaurant industry today? Apparently, sustainability is sizzling.

The National Restaurant Association’s 2016 Culinary Forecast identifies the 20 top restaurant trends to watch in 2016. Want a few highlights? Check out these rankings: Locally-sourced meat and seafood top the list at No. 1. The No. 3 and No. 4 spots are filled by local produce and hyper-local sourcing. Environmental sustainability and sustainable seafood help fill the top 10 (along with natural ingredients and healthful kids’ meals), and food waste and reduction management appear at No. 19.

The latest Nielsen research proves what these restaurant trends hint at: Worldwide, the percentage of consumers who say they will pay more for socially- and environmentally-responsible products and services are becoming the majority.

For restaurants, food is of course top of mind. These days, it’s becoming easier to find menus that feature local, organic and other sustainably-sourced fare. Though for restaurateurs who truly want to go as green as possible, the menu is just a starting point.

Beyond the menu: Other sustainable restaurant upgrades

As in any business, a restaurant can do dozens of things to be more sustainable. However, the food-service industry presents its own unique challenges. Let’s take a look at a few upgrades forward-thinking restaurateurs are making that are not only environmentally and socially responsible, but financially sustainable as well.

  • Waste reduction: Just the food waste from restaurants is estimated to exceed 134 million pounds each year in North America alone. Packaging, used fryer oil and disposable supplies like paper towels also add to the waste stream. Conducting a waste audit can help a restaurant identify and eliminate unnecessary waste. For example, when U.K. hospitality firm Bennett Hay underwent a food-waste audit, it was able to reduce its food waste from 6 percent to 2 percent of total sales per year.
  • Water conservation: Restaurants use 5,800 gallons of water per day, on average. That’s a lot of water and a lot of potential savings. In fact, many water-saving initiatives cost little or nothing to implement, as Janet and Mac Henderson, owners of Henderson’s Restaurant in Edinburgh, Scotland, discovered when they consulted with economy expert Zero Waste Scotland to reduce their water consumption. By implementing simple measures like fixing leaks and installing infrared sensors in the urinals, they were able to cut their water use by 33 percent. Their annual savings going forward? An estimated 5,000 euros.
  • Energy efficiency: Restaurants, with their need for refrigeration and sanitation, are exceptionally heavy users of electricity. HVAC, too, can be challenging in a situation where large numbers of customers enter and exit the building. Just like waste reduction, conducting an energy-efficiency audit is a smart move for identifying the biggest areas for improvement. Just ask the owners of Tiny Boxwoods, a boutique café located in Houston, Texas. The energy-efficiency retrofits they implemented in the wake of their audit resulted in a 23 percent decrease in energy use, saving the business nearly US$8,000 per year.
  • Renewable energy: The very fact that restaurants are so energy-intensive makes them great candidates for on-site renewable energy systems. For example, the owner of Buffet@Asia in Las Vegas expects that his solar hot-water system will pay itself back in just five years, even at today’s low energy rates. However, payback isn’t always the biggest reason to invest in renewable energy. When the owners of The Great Escape restaurant in Schiller Park, Illinois, decided to erect a 108-kilowatt wind turbine, their primary motives were environmental responsibility and leadership. However, they do expect to save money in the long run, and their very visible commitment helps brand them as a restaurant that cares.

Of course, with restaurants, it always comes back to the food. As the National Restaurant Association report makes clear, sustainable options are in high demand. That leads to another bonus: People talk about what excites them. Whether a restaurant’s clientele leaves the establishment raving about the fantastic local fare or the wind turbine on the front lawn, sustainable upgrades can make it the talk of the town — and to any business owner, that’s delicious.

Image credit: Pixabay

Patricia Bonacorda is the President of Spartan Plumbing a plumbing and HVAC company that has assisted all types of businesses and residential homes since opening 1964. Spartan Plumbing is a licensed, bonded and insured business that has provided professional plumbing, heating and air conditioning services throughout the DC Region.

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