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By Customer Demand: The Importance of Sustainability in Restaurants

May 6, 2014 3:18:00 PM

Sustainability is a popular topic among restaurant owners today, but just how important are sustainable practices to the average customers? Well, all this talk among operators may not be for nothing, according to a new survey completed by Technomic, 63 percent of consumers said they are more likely to go to a restaurant that they perceive as being socially responsible. This could have a huge impact for any restaurant and certainly explains why 93 percent of restaurant operates find using sustainable practices as very or somewhat important. More than 50 percent of these operators go one step further and project that restaurants will have to take on sustainability practices if they hope to remain competitive in the upcoming years.

What Do the Customers Want?

While there appears to be no question that customers are looking for socially responsible restaurants, there is some question as to what sustainable practices the customers find important or valuable. Technomic’s survey took steps to explore this question and the results were somewhat surprising. According to this survey, customers consider providing a safe and quality work environment and recycling programs as the most important issues.

While the inclusion of a recycling program was no surprise, and in fact, many restaurants have been working on these programs for years, what did surprise many operators was how far down on the list the customers rated buying local goods. The National Restaurant Association reported last year that the top chef’s surveys ranked local-sourcing as their top sustainable practice.

Does this mean that operators have been using all the wrong social practices? Not necessarily, it seems to be more about creating well-developed sustainable practices. It is about changing how one thinks about their operational decisions and always considering the social impact. Basically, the customers want the restaurant operators to make the same sound social decisions that they are trying to make.

Tips for Sustainability

So how do restaurant operators incorporate great sustainable practices that resonate with customers? The trick is to start slow and make a strong commitment to keep making social-friendly changes throughout the year. Below are some great tips to help operators get started.

  • Take steps to create a safe and positive workplace environment.
  • Set up a compost bin for kitchen waste instead of throwing organic waste in the trash.
  • Create a recycling program for discarding glass, paper, metal and cardboard products.
  • Use recycled paper products whenever possible, including napkins, storage bags, basket liners, paper used for menus.
  • Use only environmentally-friendly cleaning products, soaps, and pest control services.
  • Offer the staff incentives for participating in community service opportunities in the area.
  • Visit local farms in the area and determine how they can provide some of the products needed on a regular basis.
  • As the current light bulbs burn out, replace them with florescent or LED bulbs. Not only is this better for the environment, but it is also reduces energy bills while requiring less labor since these bulbs require much less frequent changing.  
  • Operators should look into wind or solar energy alternatives that will work best for their location.
  • Get rid of any polystyrene (i.e. Styrofoam) products used in the restaurant, especially products used for takeout services as these are toxic for the environment and not recyclable. Instead, consider using materials that are recyclable or can be composted.

These tips offer a great start to creating viable sustainable practices. All operators should take a closer look at the products they purchase and what their alternative solutions are. It is a tricky process to try to maintain a fully sustainable practice, but keep overall costs within budget. However, as these practices are becoming more in demand, many affordable solutions are now available.  

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