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12. July 2022, 6 min read

10 tips for a more sustainable restaurant

Author: Birgitte Brøndum
Hand holding newly harvested carrots
Tips for a more sustainable restaurant
Photo: Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Diners today are elevating their expectations. While seeking culinary experiences, they also expect a conscious commitment to sustainability from restaurants. This isn’t a fleeting trend or passing wave; it’s a fundamental shift that’s here to stay. Let’s dive into strategic ways your restaurant can become more sustainable while avoiding the pitfall of greenwashing.

Get inspired by our 10 sustainability tips and start moving in a direction that’s good for both the climate and your restaurant business. The MICHELIN Green Star is also worth striving for!

1. Wrap and box it sustainably — or don’t!  

Do you offer takeaway or doggie bags? Wrap your menu items in sustainable food packaging or jump on the no-wrapping wave. There are many different materials to choose from. Here are some of the better options:  

Compostable: These single-use materials, such as bioplastics, are a better option than biodegradable food packaging. They are often made from plant starch and will break down into oxygen, water and compost. They can’t be thrown in your own compost heap, but industrial composters won’t have any trouble processing them.  

Recyclable: These materials aren’t as easily broken down as their compostable counterparts, but when they arrive at a recycling centre they will be processed and eventually turned into new materials.  

Reusable: These are, as the name implies, packaging alternatives that can be washed and used again. Naturally, reusable food packaging must be durable to ensure that it lasts as long as possible. Glass, aluminium, bamboo and recycled plastic are examples of materials used for this type of packaging. Reusable glass jars and aluminium containers might not seem like the best option for takeaway, but why not try? You could offer a discount for guests who choose this option and bring the containers back to you.

No packaging: This is the best and most sustainable option, but it can make things a little difficult. Encourage your guests to bring their own containers for takeaway and the leftover food on their plates. Guests will see this as a good initiative and at the same time, it will create a homier feeling when you’re packing your delicious food in lunch boxes from their own kitchen cupboards. 

Even if you don’t offer takeaway, it’s worth considering more sustainable alternatives to the food packaging, napkins and other materials you’re using in your restaurant and in the kitchen.

2. Less carbon, please!  

There’s a lot of transportation involved in running a restaurant. Making informed choices in this area can help reduce your carbon emission.

If you offer food delivery, it’s especially important that you make sure your driver’s delivery route is the shortest and most efficient. Electric scooters, cars, and maybe even an electric cargo bike are good options! There are many brands and price ranges to choose from, and with a nice logo design on the bike, your delivery service will double as city-roaming marketing.  

Even if your restaurant doesn’t offer food delivery, you can still reduce carbon emissions by considering the transport involved in other logistic areas such as your vegetable, meat and fish suppliers. Check if there are local suppliers that offer the products you need or adapt your menu to the product range offered by suppliers that are closer to your restaurant. 

Sometimes becoming more sustainable means a few compromises, but it doesn’t mean your menu can’t be as mouth-watering as it always is!

3. Waste less food

Having to throw away food is never fun. It’s a shame to see good ingredients go to waste, and at the same time, it’s a real downer for your restaurant’s budget. Luckily, there are many ways to reduce food waste in your restaurant.  

Cupped hands holding ripe strawberries.
Photo: Artur Rutkowski on Unsplash

Dive into restaurant analytics. The data insights you get about guest behaviour, menu item popularity, peak times and much more, will help you make smarter purchases when you’re ordering ingredients.

Adjust portion sizes! Do many of your guests leave a big pile of fries behind on their plates? Experiment with smaller portions. Sure, it looks great with a very full plate, but it’s still better to avoid throwing out perfectly good food.

You can also actively encourage your guests to bring home a doggie bag. Everybody loves a late-night snack, but many people think it’s a little embarrassing to ask if they can bring home leftover food. Hang a little sign somewhere that lets your guests know that they’re welcome to ask for a doggie bag. If you don’t want to call it a doggie bag, make up your own fancy or funny name for it.  

Offer dining events with set menus. By creating events with a menu that’s decided in advance you can give your guests a special experience while reducing food waste. With an event that takes place on a certain date, you will know in advance how many guests to expect, and this makes it a lot easier to buy the right amount of food.  

If you end up with a surplus of food anyway. Why not contact a local homeless shelter and arrange that they get this food? This way the food won’t go to waste and homeless people will get a nice meal. 

4. Keep your restaurant sparkling green

Many regular cleaning products contain toxic chemicals that are bad for us, animals in the ocean and the planet. Naturally, it’s important that your restaurant is clean and germ-free to keep your guests safe, but you can still find greener alternatives for many of your daily cleaning tasks.  

The cleaning product jungle is a big and dense one. Moreover, green cleaning is a growing business where some brands are promising more than what’s true.

Officially approved eco-labels will help you choose the most environmentally friendly cleaning products for your restaurant. Some countries have their own labels, such as the Nordic Swan, Nordic Countries, The Blue Angel, Germany and Millieukeur, Netherlands. If you’re curious about the complete list of labels you can find it right here.  

The European Commission even made a list of cleaning products and services that “represent a holistic approach, ranging from limits on the use of hazardous substances, sustainable sourcing of raw materials, recyclability and design of packaging, to proper guidance for the product’s use.”  

This list is an amazing go-to if you want to know exactly which products that will make your kitchen sparkle and shine without harming the planet and your staff’s health. 

5. Greener menu options

Your menu is your main attraction, which means that it will also need attention and adjustments if you want a more sustainable restaurant.

A vegetable dish served at a sustainable restaurant.
Photo: Louis Hansel on Unsplash

As mentioned above, using local ingredients for your menu items will help reduce your carbon footprint. A big plus here is that local ingredients often are tastier and fresher.  

Another important thing is to follow the seasons. Some food and drinks call for pineapple all year round, and perhaps these are some of your most popular items. That’s fine but aim for vegetables and fruits that are in season whenever you can. 

Choose organic ingredients whenever possible. Organic products are sometimes a bit pricier, but even if you only manage to exchange some of your menu items with organic options it makes a difference. If you use a lot of eggs for your Sunday brunch, maybe it’s worth opting for organic free-range eggs. This also looks great written on the menu!   

More veggies and plant-based dairy options. Is your restaurant a steakhouse? Win a few extra sustainability points by adding more vegan and vegetarian options. Added bonus: your steak-eating guests will be able to bring all their vegetarian friends! 

6: Sustainable events 

Hosting dining events can also be a step toward a more sustainable restaurant. 

Events allow you to sell tickets in advance, translating to less food waste because you know exactly how many guests to expect. But there are plenty of other ways to squeeze sustainability power out of events. 

Here are a few suggestions: 

Arrange no-waste Sunday brunches where you use whatever good ingredients you have left from the week. Spotted apples are still delicious in pancakes or oatmeal!

Why not have green Wednesdays where vegetables and legumes play the leading roles on the plate? Combine it with a vegetarian recipe workshop to show your guests what they can do to go greener at home. 

Afternoon tea with vegan or organic cupcakes. Use leftover fruit and berries that are still fine to eat and treat your guests to heavenly sweet bites and organic teas. 

Don’t forget to share your events on your social media channels!  

7: Pick energy-efficient kitchen equipment 

Kitchen appliances swallow a lot of energy. That’s why picking energy-efficient equipment for your restaurant can help you get more sustainable and save money on your electricity bill.  

If all your equipment is new and running as it should, it doesn’t make sense to start replacing it here and now, but if you’re considering investing in a new oven or fridge, it’s worth checking the energy efficiency before you go ahead and buy one.  

You can read the European Commission’s advice on energy-saving products here. 

Buying second-hand kitchen appliances is another way you can make a responsible purchase while saving money. There are many good fridges and smaller appliances looking for a new restaurant to live in. Naturally, these should also be energy efficient so you can keep the electricity bill down!

8: Kickstart your recycling

There’s no way of being a sustainable restaurant without recycling.  

Maybe you already have separate bins for your food waste, plastic, cardboard, glass and metal, but does everyone always remember to use them? If they do, yay! If it could be better, remind everyone by putting up a little sign or message on the whiteboard for yourself and your colleagues. Make sure the bins are as accessible as possible — we’re all a little lazy.  

Talk to your supplier about getting your fruit, veggies and herbs in reusable crates to avoid throw-away plastic and packing materials. If they don’t offer this, investigate if other suppliers do. This will leave you with fewer things to recycle and your staff can spend less time unwrapping individually wrapped cucumbers. 

9: Make every drop count: reducing your restaurant’s water usage

A significant amount of water circulates through a restaurant each day. Imagine operating your establishment without water for boiling, steaming, cleaning, or serving guests. It’s simply not feasible. However, adopting measures to use less water is not only possible but also highly beneficial!

Three full water jugs with cucumber slices and mint.
Photo by Yomex Owo on Unsplash

Do you have any leaking faucets? Even if a faucet is only leaking a little, a lot of water is wasted if you wait too long to fix it. This is a fast fix that will save you water and money in the long run.  

Did your guests ask for water? By all means, grant their wish. But sometimes guests won’t need water while drinking soda or something else that quenches their thirst, and in these cases, there’s no need to place a water carafe on the table.  

In the kitchen boiling food in less water, not leaving the water running while peeling vegetables and not running a half-full dishwasher are other small things that make a big difference.

Installing motion-sensor taps in the guest bathrooms will also help you save water. Guests can’t forget to turn off the faucet and they’ll use less water when washing hands. The same goes for the faucets on the kitchen staff’s sinks. Another bonus here is fewer germs because fewer hands touch the faucets — win-win!   

10: Do you really need to print those flyers?

If you want to take your restaurant’s sustainability full circle your marketing also needs to go greener. 

The next time you consider printing a big pile of flyers to advertise your restaurant or a dining event, consider keeping your campaign online instead. These days, guests have access to the Internet all the time. They’re more likely to remember you if you’re present online than if they get a flyer and slide it into a back pocket.  

Printed advertising material sends a negative signal about your sustainability efforts, and it’s also much more expensive. Save paper and ink and stick to social media and online marketing instead. There are a ton of benefits to this: wider reach strengthened online presence and the ability to track if your efforts are paying off.

Perhaps some of the things on this list are obvious, but we tend to forget obvious things, especially when we’re busy. What’s most important when it comes to sustainability efforts is that we keep them in our minds — let’s keep reminding each other!

The fact is, many of these efforts are great business boosters as well. Guests will be happy to discover that their favourite restaurants are doing something for the environment.