women eating in restaurant

Do you often go to sustainable restaurants?

Perhaps you don’t even realize it when you do. These restaurants are like any others in most ways, except that they go to great lengths to preserve the natural environment while conducting their business.

“Sustainability focuses on meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. The concept of sustainability is composed of three pillars: economic, environmental, and social.”

Since sustainability is meant to make your restaurant more successful than it might be otherwise, if you plan well, you should expect few problems making the needed adjustments.

The Principles of Sustainability

What does “eco-friendly” mean? And how do you set overarching goals for a sustainability project? We support the following five principles:

  • Cut energy waste
  • Move towards zero waste
  • Reduce water waste
  • Manage your emissions
  • Impact your supply chain

We’ll add a sixth principle as well:

  • Engender consumer buy-in

Because sustainability doesn’t have strict legal requirements, there is a lot of leeway for adjusting the principles that will guide your restaurant business according to your values and those of your stakeholders.

In the following sections, we’ve tried to capture what we consider best practices for success in starting and running sustainable restaurants.

Tips for Good Sustainable Restaurants

These represent the “best of both worlds.” We consider them best practices for both good restaurant management and sustainability.

1. Assess What You’re Doing Well and Where You Need to Improve

Start with some expert advice. Whether it’s an existing restaurant or a new one, consider bringing in a sustainability consultant. And if it’s an existing restaurant, conduct an audit.

A good restaurant audit can uncover the amount of waste you’ve been generating or are likely to be, based on your business model.

The product cited in the previous paragraph “analyzes the data on waste generated from your most purchased items and delivers short- and long-term recommendations.”

2. Get Your Stakeholders Engaged

First, you’ll need to determine who all your stakeholders are. Here are some typical stakeholder groups to consider:

  • Employees
  • Funders
  • Customers
  • Restaurant or merchant organizations

Once you’ve identified the stakeholders, work with them to determine the most effective ways to get their input on the restaurant and its future potential.

A big concern of stakeholders is a owner’s and employee’s commitment to a project. Given the effort needed for a sustainable restaurant, it’s important to have a well-developed plan, share it widely, and routinely demonstrate your commitment to it.

3. Join the Green Restaurant Association or a Similar Entity

This should be good for making key connections and staying up to date. The Green Restaurant Association offers a green restaurant directory, educational resources, and formal and informal certification procedures.

Use and share the EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy, which provides guidelines for food waste reduction.

4. Integrate with the Local Community from the Start

There are numerous ways to do this. The following are a few of them:

Meet and Maintain Contact with Area Farmers

If your restaurant is to be truly sustainable, you will have many interactions with area farmers. They will, of course, supply various types of food for your menu. They also will no doubt appreciate any food scraps and/or compost you generate.

Support Fundraisers and Other Local Events

What great sources of local goodwill and publicity! If you have the budget for it, tee-shirts or other branded items would be great. But food donations would always be welcomed.

Offer School Programs on Sustainability

Schools from kindergarten through college place a high value on guest presentations to students, whether that means explaining sustainability to young kids or giving a tour of your restaurant to high schoolers.

Work Collaboratively with Other Local Businesses

Business collaborations are great networking opportunities—that can also bring you customers. For example, what if you were to provide discount coupons to a neighboring merchant for them to give out to their own customers?

5. Show Employees That You support and Value Them

You might not have a lot of financial resources for formal employee recognition at the start, but that’s not why your employees are there. If they’re working for your restaurant, you should assume they’re dedicated to its mission and values.

But there are ways to show how much you value their work that costs nothing. For example, learning their names and a few things about them early on, then using these as starting points for subsequent conversations.

Remember to thank employees for what they do and actively listen to any suggestions they might make. The more employees like and admire you, the more they will be willing to do to support you and your business.

6. The Food Comes First

Don’t sacrifice food excellence for your green initiatives. Those initiatives won’t endure without quality products behind them.

You should have a unique and outstanding menu at the start—one that features the types of food you feel proud to serve and promote.

It’s helpful to have a plan for implementing sustainability measures over time. Remember, overextending your human and financial resources is not a sustainable practice!

Besides, small successes early on—if you share and promote them—tend to have a snowball effect. 

7. Marketing

One of the best up-front investments you can make in your sustainable restaurant is a good-quality website. Yes, investing in quality is critical since you don’t want a bad impression of the website to carry over into other areas.

Local marketing is important for a restaurant as well. A lot of restaurant traffic comes from word of mouth. And make sure your restaurant is listed with Google My Business.

There are many more great marketing strategies you can use. But we’ll save those for a future article.

8. Digital = Sustainable

Toast, a developer of software for restaurants, makes a clear and detailed argument for using digital products in virtually all facets of restaurant management—from the front to the back of the house.

Restaurant-focused POS developers offer a suite of software that incorporates:

  • Guest-facing POS technology that saves financial and natural resources by digitizing both the bill and the receipt.
  • Paper order tickets being replaced by digital display screens both at the table and in the kitchen.
  • Payroll and scheduling software replacing sloppy and confusing paper shift sign-up sheets.
  • Automated payroll replacing paper paychecks, pay stubs, and tax forms.
  • The adoption of digital guest feedback technology for customers to use onsite, when their experience is fresh in their minds.
  • An integrated CRM allowing you to reach out to existing customers with announcements of upcoming events, coupons or offers, and traditional advertising.
  • Inventory tracking that predicts and limits the amount of food ordered, thereby limiting waste.

Many of us struggle with the leveling effects of digitization, but it seems clear that POS software has the ability to reduce different kinds of waste and help preserve natural resources.

9. Use Energy-Efficient Appliances and Fixtures Throughout

You can begin by installing a smart thermostat to keep customers and employees comfortable and save money and energy. And then look for commercial-grade Energy Star appliances for the kitchen.

Also, replace incandescent lightbulbs (and fixtures if necessary) with LED. Use smart switches to dim or shut off lights at certain times of the day.

10. Keep Track of How You’re Doing

The first item in this list was about using benchmarks to measure and record what you have at the start of a project. If launching a sustainable restaurant is the project, then the following would be some possible benchmarks:

  • Food waste: this is, essentially, the amount of food ordered and received minus that consumed by customers or employees.
  • Number of customers in a given period (e.g., a week or a month).
  • Meeting your break-even point: this is the sales volume required to make back an investment.
  • Cost of goods: this should be reduced by certain sustainability initiatives such as local sourcing.
  • Prime cost: the combined cost of labor and goods and services.
  • Various measures of server effectiveness.

You should be pleased if you see any progress on these targets. 

11. Celebrate Your Success

Throw a party! This is a restaurant, right? So, what better place for a party? What are you planning? We can think of a couple of things:

Recognize Your Supporters

These could be employees, financial backers, mentors, early and loyal customers, supportive fellow business people, suppliers (especially local ones), and anyone else who has, in some way, contributed to your success thus far.

Promote Sustainability

And, you need to give a big shout-out to sustainability, the very concept underlying (at least in part) your success.

If you continue to nurture sustainability in your restaurant, this amorphous and multidimensional concept will treat you well. Among other things, it’s likely to both save and earn money—all the while making the earth a better place to live.

“Sustainable is Unofficial But Measurable”

This was not meant as a pithy quotation—it is, rather, a sub-heading in an article. However, it does sum up the qualities of a good sustainable restaurant. It’s a great way to end this article too.

That government regulation only affects isolated aspects of sustainability, and certifications are determined by whatever organizations issue them, assures us that sustainable is indeed voluntary. However, it’s also connected to a solid work ethic.

Measuring success over time (i.e., benchmarking) means that the most significant competitor you intend to deal with is your earlier self. Or, in this case, your earlier restaurant.

Check out the rest of our website sometime and find out how we do things at our place!