Job Security for Restaurateurs: Don’t Kill Your Customers, and Green Up Your Eateries

bypass.jpgOne of the more insipid offerings in this year’s television menu is The Doctors, on which four fresh-faced physicians chit-chat about sundry health-related topics. One recent episode did a completely non-critical expose on “extreme health trends.” Somehow, a restaurant called Heart Attack Grill, which serves high-rise “quadruple bypass” burgers with four patties and 8000 calories, earned air time on the show. One of the doctors remarked that, with its lard-covered “flat-liner” fries and beverage menu consisting only of Jolt cola, this restaurant theme was taking poor health “just a little too far.” Wow, what a scathing review. Alas, restaurants are free to serve whatever fatty foods they want to. At the place offers truth in advertising.
Thankfully, restaurateurs who want to serve less deadly fare now have a good online resource: The site is the brainchild of Paul Kuck, a foodservice veteran. He found it difficult to find information on sustainable goods and practices for restaurants when he opened a new eatery in 2002, which prompted him to evolve his own research into a new career as a sustainability consultant for the foodservice industry. So really, the site is just a calling card for his professional services. Still, it’s a good source of (free) data and it also acts a portal for many online databases, organizations and magazines where readers can dig down and get even more details.

Topics include how to source food and alcohol with an eye toward sustainable farming practice and minimal shipping; how and where to donate food; composting services; and how to do on-site vericomposting.
And then there’s all the fats, oils and grease that’s generated in food preparation. It’s costly to remove this goop from grease traps. And when those traps overflow, the stuff is major contributor to sewage overflows in large urban areas. This causes obvious human health concerns and can also lead to nasty spills into oceans, lakes and rivers. The solution? There isn’t a single one, as he notes. But reducing the grease, oil and fat in the foods you serve is the obvious first, and most effective, step. Rather than trapping and later collecting the stuff, some services use bioremediation to eat away at the greases and oils. But Kuck says this raises questions about whether the enzymes that break down the solids are just moving the problem downstream. Another solution is turning this stuff into biofuel (an effort that San Francisco is undertaking). But that’s a much more energy-consumptive process than using the cleaner frier grease for fuel.
It’s not just about food, however. Much of the site is devoted to addressing energy consumption. The Department of Energy’s Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey found that among commercial buildings, food service is the most energy-consumptive, per square feet (nearly three times the energy of the average commercial building). So it’s vital that foodservice companies work to lessen their impact and follow more sustainable business practices – not to mention lower energy costs.
Kuck points readers to tools and energy calculators they can use for measuring their energy consumption in order to determine where their buildings are most wasteful and therefore most easily improved.
The site also addresses ways to reduce water consumption by installing more efficient fixtures (in both kitchens and restrooms), and using Energy Star appliances (did you know Energy Star-rated steam cookers use 90 percent less water than standard machines?).
Sure, there are plenty of green-minded eateries – I don’t think the vegan, raw-food only caf√© down my street needs to be more mindful of its carbon footprint. But what’s great about Kuck’s effort is that it speaks to the ubiquitous, conventional meat-and-potatoes, restaurants, cafeterias, caterers, etc., in the world. Case in point: a write-up about the site recently appeared in QSR Magazine. QSR stands for “quick service” restaurant. That’s foodservice-speak for fast food restaurants. McDonalds, PizzaHut, Subway, and the like (yes, even Heart Attack Grill) are all QSRs.

Freelance writer Mary Catherine O'Connor finds that a growing number of companies are proving the ways that they can make good financially, socially and environmentally (as the triple bottom line theory suggests).With that in mind, she contributes to Triple Pundit, as well as to Earth2Tech and other pubs focused on sustainability. She also writes The Good Route, an Outside Magazine blog that addresses the intersection of sustainability and the active/outdoor life.To find out more, or to reach her, go to

4 responses

  1. I have mixed feelings about whether or not legislation should be used to tell restaurants what they can and can’t eat. After all, eating lard is not exactly a new thing, and might even be better than some of the hydrogenated oils we’ve been dumping into fast food. The “heart attack grill” is as much a natural reaction to an overly commercialized and paranoid health culture as becoming a militant raw-only vegan is, just in the opposite extreme.
    Michael Pollan said it best – Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants.
    In other words, don’t be a slob and use your brain. It’s too bad people feel the need to react so insanely to this stuff, it’s a testament to the tragic loss of collective common sense that seems to have happened over the last few generations and desperately needs to come back.

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