sustainability in restaurants

What Does Sustainability in Restaurants Mean?

Jane Marsh - February 17, 2023

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As global warming and climate change awareness increases, consumer demand for environmentally-friendly alternatives has also risen. 

One recent study revealed that 61% of Americans consider sustainability before making a purchase decision, while 34% of the global population is willing to spend more on green products.

The restaurant industry is no exception, as 38% of environmentally-aware customers prefer dining at an establishment that serves locally-sourced food.

For restaurant owners, upgrading their eateries’ sustainability to meet this paradigm shift in consumer preferences is essential to their success. 

How Do You Make a Restaurant Sustainable?

What does sustainability in restaurants mean? Is it composting leftovers or switching appliances and light bulbs for greater energy efficiency? 

Of course, reevaluating one’s business plan to implement greener practices is no easy feat. However, there are six easy ways restaurant owners can begin making these changes.

1. Train Staff

There are several reasons why more people and businesses aren’t living and conducting their work more sustainably. 

In GlobeScan’s 2019 Healthy & Sustainable Living Highlights Report, about 27% of respondents indicated knowledge gaps about sustainability prevented them from going green.


Suppose sustainability is the target for a restaurant owner’s establishment. In that case, providing proper training and education about the environmentally-friendly changes to customer-facing staff is critical — especially if the hope is that customers are made aware of the new sustainable initiatives. 

Of course, updating the menu and signage to communicate a restaurant’s ongoing commitment to sustainability is just as important. 

2. Switch to Energy-Efficient Light Bulbs

Commercial kitchen equipment and appliances are costly. Fortunately, restaurant owners don’t have to swap them out right away for energy-efficient alternatives. Instead, improving a restaurant’s energy efficiency can be as simple as switching to light-emitting diode (LED) light bulbs.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), ENERGY STAR-rated commercial LEDs use 90% less energy and heat than traditional incandescent bulbs and last 15 times longer — meaning restaurant owners can spend less and save on operating costs and maintenance.

3. Go Paperless

As the coronavirus pandemic swept through nations worldwide, restaurants turned to contactless technology for menus and purchasing to stay afloat. However, even with the vaccine rollout and business as usual, establishments see little reason to return to conventional menus. 

The Future of Restaurants 2021 report by Square highlighted that 88% of restaurants are considering digital menus in lieu of paper or single-use menus. Additionally, 61% of restaurant managers intend to keep using digital menus.

Adopting digital menus and QR codes for patrons to pull menus up on smartphones helps reduce paper waste and provides safer, germ-free dining. 

4. Reduce Waste

Sometimes, sustainability is as straightforward as properly disposing of trash. The United States accumulated 300 million tons of landfill waste in 2018 alone — a concern for municipalities as landfills become increasingly overcrowded and use more energy.

Finding ways to reduce waste can help build a more sustainable eatery. Upgrading inventory management to avoid over-ordering supplies and utilizing excess ingredients to make specialty condiments and stocks can keep a menu interesting.

Restaurants might also want to compost leftovers to reduce food waste and donate the compost to community gardens. Likewise, they could always use compost themselves for growing an on-site culinary herb garden. 

5. Source Locally

The transportation of food products accounts for one-fifth of agricultural emissions — however, restaurants can reduce their food miles by sourcing locally-grown ingredients. 

Establishing positive relationships with local farmers and family-owned or small businesses can ensure one’s restaurant is serving cleaner, fresher food at all times. Restaurants might also decide to create a rooftop garden or raised garden bed to grow their own produce.

The benefits of sourcing locally-grown, seasonal food include supporting the local economy, delivering food with greater nutritional value, and reducing emissions.

6. Use Biodegradable To-Go Containers

There’s a profound awareness of global plastic pollution, in which consumption has quadrupled in the last 30 years. Between 2000 and 2019, plastic production reached 460 million tons — with plastic waste generation doubling to 353 million tons.

Plastic production also generates carbon emissions — a single 16-ounce water bottle releases over 82 grams of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Rather than plastic or styrofoam, sending takeout orders and leftovers home in biodegradable or compostable containers can improve a restaurant’s sustainability and avoid worsening the current plastic crisis. 

What Does Sustainability in Restaurants Mean? Greener Practices

What does sustainability in restaurants mean? Restaurants can implement practices to reduce waste, source locally and cut down on their energy costs.

Customers have made it clear — sustainability matters regardless of the industry. Implementing greener practices and environmentally-friendly products and alternatives into one’s restaurant operations can significantly enhance the customer experience and improve an establishment’s bottom line. 


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About the author

Jane Marsh

Starting from an early age, Jane Marsh loved all animals and became a budding environmentalist. Now, Jane works as the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co where she covers topics related to climate policy, renewable energy, the food industry, and more.