Running a restaurant is a tough business, but it can also be a wasteful one. Constantly going through food, packaging, and cleaning supplies, not to mention all the stoves, dishwashers, and other appliances can make a pretty substantial impact on the earth — not to mention your bottom line.
If you’re the type of owner who wants to run a greener restaurant — and maybe save some green in the process — here are some tips.
Get A Handle On Food Waste
The first step toward reducing your restaurant’s environmental impact is to get your food waste under control. The average restaurant wastes between 25,000 and 75,000 pounds of food every year, so any reduction to that number you can make will really add up. As an added bonus, this one will save you some money, too.
First things first: smaller portions. While you can’t control how hungry your guests are, you can control how much you give them in the first place. Ask your servers what people aren’t finishing — are there always a few fries left on the plate? Are people always asking to box up the last few bites of cheesecake? Giving customers more food than they can eat is a good way to waste food and money.
The next thing you can do to manage food waste is a digital inventory management tool. Lots of restaurant owners and managers are still tracking inventory the old fashioned way — by taking a look in the walk-in and order whatever seems low. A digital inventory management tool will alert you when inventory is low and show you quantities in real time so you don’t over-order.
Finally, you should have a local food pantry on speed dial. You’re going to end up with extra food at some point no matter what you do, but you can donate a lot of the usable food to local charities to make sure none of it goes to waste and get some good PR at the same time.
Upgrade Your Appliances
Restaurant-caliber appliances use a lot of energy, and we mean a lot. According to EnergyStar, the commercial food industry uses $10 billion in energy per year, and up to 80% of that energy is wasted through heat and noise by inefficient appliances.
Energy-efficient appliances can cut your environmental impact — and your power bill — by a huge margin. But it’s not just appliances. Replace lights with LEDs, turn lights off when they’re not in use, and shut down appliances during slow shifts.
Green Your Clean
Conventional cleaning products aren’t the earth’s best friend, let’s be honest. The chemicals in industrial cleaners don’t break down and can pollute the water supply and the air, and guests would rather enter to the smell of fresh food than the smell of bleach.
And that’s not to mention the enormous number of paper towels and napkins that some restaurants go through. For guests, switching to cloth napkins and laundering them in large batches is greener and cheaper than paper napkins.
For cleaning, recycled rags are a great way to stock up on cheap, eco-friendly cleaning supplies that you can use anywhere in the building — bussing tables, cleaning spills in the kitchen, or behind the bar.
Or take it one step further and switch to microfiber towels. Microfiber can tackle hard scrubbing jobs or delicate surfaces like glass and stainless steel without leaving streaks or lint, and can even wipe up bacteria without the need for extra cleaning chemicals.
One of the best ways to go green is to grow your own produce, but that requires a major investment in infrastructure and time that lots of restaurant owners can’t afford to jump into right now.
No worries! You can buy local instead. Not only will you have more control over quality and freshness, but you won’t pay shipping costs and you won’t be contributing to all the carbon emissions that come from long-haul transport and refrigeration. You don’t have to ditch your distributor entirely — just do some research and find out what’s grown near you. Every little bit helps.
Don’t Forget About Water
There are lots of ways to save water, a crucial step in becoming a more environmentally-friendly restaurant. Firstly, you can replace your facilities with water-saving appliances — motion-activated sinks, low-flow toilets, even no-flush urinals to keep your bathrooms from pouring money down the drain.
Don’t serve bottled water by default — it’s expensive and wasteful. Keep some on hand in case it’s requested, but you can also invest in an in-house filtration system for clean, fresh water right out of the tap.
Depending on what part of the country you live in, you might be able to get a lot of energy out of solar panels or even install a roof-mounted water heater to heat your hot water directly from the sun. Lots of states and cities even offer rebates for solar equipment so you don’t have to shoulder the whole cost yourself.
Some of these tips can be expensive, but you don’t have to do them all at once. No matter how small, going green is a good move. Not only are you doing your part to protect the planet, but customers increasingly value environmentally conscious businesses. Showing that you care will help attract new business and boost your bottom line.