Sustainability Practices in Restaurants

10 Sustainability Practices in Restaurants

Rachel Lark - February 24, 2023

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By now, most of us are aware of which industries have a negative impact on the environment. For example, the construction, manufacturing, transportation and logistics sectors contribute heavily to the rising greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions causing global warming and climate change. 

Another industry less often discussed in the context of climate change and the environment is the restaurant industry. Unfortunately, the restaurant industry is far from being “good” for the environment. Restaurants and eating establishments generate massive amounts of food waste, plastic waste and emissions, as well as consume large quantities of water and energy.

Thankfully, restaurant owners and managers can adopt several sustainability practices in restaurants to minimize their carbon footprint.

1. Use Eco-Friendly Cleaning Products

One simple way restaurants can become more environmentally conscious is to buy eco-friendly, green cleaning products. Cleaning is a top priority for restaurants and eateries, but most cleaners have harmful chemicals that are bad for the environment. 

There are various eco-friendly disinfectants and all-purpose sprays restaurant owners can buy to keep their restaurants clean without using harsh chemicals.

2. Buy Energy-Efficient Equipment

Energy production is a major source of GHG emissions — according to the EPA, 25% of all GHG emissions in 2020 came from electrical power generation. 

Restaurant owners can minimize their energy usage and help the environment by purchasing and installing energy-efficient appliances and equipment. Energy-efficient appliances might have high upfront costs, but the potential savings make it a worthwhile investment.

3. Minimize Food Waste

Food waste is a significant issue many restaurants and eateries grapple with at the end of the day. It’s unsafe to offer customers food past its expiration date, so a lot of food ends up in the trash. Rather than throw out food, restaurants should consider other options to be more sustainable.

Restaurants should stay abreast of the expiration dates of foods and use the first-in-first-out (FIFO) method. Restaurants can also donate leftover food to local donation centers or reduce their portion sizes if they notice a lot of food is going to waste.

4. Install a Smart Thermostat

Another way to increase sustainability is by installing a smart thermostat. There are several brands offering smart thermostats, such as Nest, Ecobee, Honeywell and Amazon. Smart thermostats allow restaurant owners to gain better control over the indoor temperature of their establishments. 

These easy-to-use thermostats often have compatible mobile apps to make controlling the temperature quick and simple. Additionally, smart thermostats can monitor the temperature of a restaurant and make changes to save energy.

5. Use Sustainable Packaging

Many restaurants offer to-go or takeout options for their customers, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. One easy switch restaurants can make to be more sustainable is using eco-friendly takeout containers, utensils, napkins and packaging. 

Restaurants should try to stop using styrofoam altogether and opt for paper, aluminum or post-consumer packaging options instead. Ultimately, using the least amount of packaging is the goal. Restaurants can even consider including a flier in their takeout packages to encourage patrons to recycle packaged products or dispose of them properly.

6. Purchase Ingredients Locally

Restaurants should consider buying from other local businesses, such as farms, gardens or butchers, for their ingredients. 

While it might be more cost-effective and convenient to outsource ingredients from other countries or states, it’s much more sustainable to shop locally and work with vendors in the area.

7. Introduce Meatless Menu Options

A simple way to boost sustainability in restaurants is by offering meatless, vegan or vegetarian menu options. Offering meatless options might not increase sustainability by a ton, but it is a popular trend in food and beverage right now.

The GHG emissions generated by meat production are high, meaning restaurants can minimize their carbon footprint by using less meat. Restaurants should consider offering meatless menu options because many consumers are also cutting back on their meat intake. 

8. Recycle and Compost

If possible, restaurants should recycle whatever materials they can at all times and consider setting up an in-house composting site. The U.S. and Canada are making recycling easier for restaurants, and most programs are free or low-cost. 

Restaurants can recycle all materials to prevent waste from going into a landfill. Composting is also a great sustainability practice because it’s well-suited for daily food scraps restaurants produce. Later, you’ll learn how restaurants can build gardens to be more sustainable, and compost and gardening go together like bread and butter.

9. Reduce Water Usage

Water conservation is a pillar of sustainability. Reducing water consumption can help restaurants become more sustainable and might even reduce monthly bills. 

Here are some ways restaurants can reduce water consumption:

  • Only run the dishwasher when it’s full
  • Use low-flow faucets and water-saving toilets
  • Only bring water to customers who ask for it
  • Replace bottled water with a filtration system

Additionally, restaurant managers need to stress the importance of water conservation to all staff members. This could mean asking employees to bring their own water bottles and turn faucets off when they’re not in use.

10. Create an Onsite Garden

The final sustainability practice restaurants and eateries can adopt is building a functional garden. Most restaurants are not prepared to become fully self-sufficient on a garden alone, but there’s no reason restaurants should avoid creating their own gardens. 

Owners with a green thumb can grow fresh herbs and vegetables to incorporate into their dishes. It’s a win-win because it helps the environment thrive and allows restaurants to create the freshest menu options to please customers.

Adopting Sustainability Practices in Restaurants and Eating Establishments

Maintaining a healthy environment is crucial for all industries, and the restaurant sector is no exception. Restaurants are somewhat wasteful by nature, but as you can see, there are several sustainability practices in restaurants an owner can incorporate into their business to do right by the environment. 

In addition to helping out the environment, leveraging these business practices can help build brand loyalty, expand restaurants’ customer bases and become well-known as a sustainable establishment in their community.

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About the author

Rachel Lark

Rachel serves as the Assistant Editor of A true foodie and activist at heart, she loves covering topics ranging from veganism to off grid living.