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Sustainable alternatives to blue roll? Ways to make your restaurant more sustainable, from the inside out.

From physical restaurant design through to bottled water and lightbulbs, there are many ways in which restaurants can choose to be more sustainable

The images of a turtle having a plastic straw removed from its nose a few years ago made many people sit up and think about their plastic consumption. As a result, a lot of restaurants and bars switched to paper straws – or stopped offering them altogether. Some consumers even carry around metal straws so they can happily sip their Aperol Spritz knowing that no turtle is endangered by their choice of tipple… It is a fairly simple swap, but not one that has the most effect on plastic consumption overall, particularly compared to the sheer volume of plastic and other single use elements used in a professional kitchen or bar. From physical restaurant design through to bottled water and light bulbs, there are many ways in which a restaurant can choose to be more sustainable. Some of these require an upfront investment, but in many cases, the investment will pay off in the long run. Certainly for the planet – and hopefully for the discerning consumer! 

What is on your menu

Your menu is a relatively simple place to start your sustainability journey, and offers a lot of opportunity to make green choices. It’s also a great place to subtly advertise your sustainability credentials, by focusing on terms such as local, seasonal, fresh, organic etc. 

Eating less meat is a well-known way to reduce your carbon footprint – the meat (and dairy) industries only account for a tiny proportion of the worlds calories, but use a large proportion of agricultural land. Serving less meat, or smaller portions, is one way of ensuring  your restaurant has a smaller carbon footprint. If meat is a must (as it is in most restaurants, realistically), then making sure you source as locally as possible is helpful.  Outdoor reared, organic meat is likely to have more flavour – so will need less doing to it, which is a saving as well as way to help reduce what you use in the kitchen. The same goes with fish – make sure you choose sustainable varieties. Having a variety of vegetarian and vegan options is a simple way to encourage less meat and dairy consumption as well as being a healthier choice for people to make.

Bottled water is another interesting area where a more sustainable choice can be made – carrying water around the country (or across countries!) in heavy glass bottles is not an environmentally friendly choice. Not everyone wants to drink tap water however. Filtered water taps require an initial investment, and require time for staff to fill and clean reusable bottles – but they are a more sustainable way to go, even if the cash margin is impacted. 

There are ways to make sure that waste products are disposed of in an environmentally friendly way also. Food waste can be collected and used to generate energy; cooking oil can be turned into biogas – companies like Olecco are great at this; coffee grounds can be used as fertiliser. Your restaurant would need to commit to sorting these kinds of waste into different bins and arranging collection. Again, at a cost but one that gives you a clearer conscience!

Deliveries and packaging

You can also choose to work closely with your suppliers on aspects like deliveries and packaging. In busy central London restaurants, second deliveries are common, and is a service a lot of suppliers feel like they have to provide to remain competitive. However, sending a van into London for a pack of sausages or some coriander is hardly environmentally friendly. 

Similarly, the easy and quickest solutions for suppliers are often single use, disposable packaging. A restaurant can insist on their fruit and veg being delivered in reusable crates, without any plastic wrapping. Shrink wrap around cans and bottles can also be avoided. Meat, fish and dairy are more challenging but deliveries in reusable (even plastic) crates is a better choice for the environment than throwaway polystyrene or other single use options. 

Restaurant design

There are many ways to make sustainable choices when designing, or doing up a restaurant. The materials you choose can be more or less environmentally friendly, and the layout can make a big difference – large amounts of glass may require more heating/cooling to keep an even temperature, curtains around the entrance, or the creation of a lobby area can also keep cold air out. Not placing the fridge next to the ovens or hot plates also makes sense! Within all of this, it it worth bearing in mind that the most sustainable restaurant is the one you already have – ie don’t destroy something and build from scratch if you can help it but rather update what is there. David Chenery, a specialist in sustainable restaurant designs, goes into more detail hereon what measures can be taken to be as sustainable as possible. 

Energy use is another significant area worth considering. Spending a bit more at the outset means you can be more cost effective and save on energy in the long term. For instance, installing motion activated lighting in areas with little traffic such as toilets or corridors, having extractor fan switches, using LED lighting and making sure your HVAC is well maintained are all things will reduce your energy bills. Saving money makes as much of a difference to the bottom line as an increase in sales, so they are worth considering. 

Single use anything

The pandemic has seen the proliferation of digital menus, which saves on paper, ink, energy – and a lot of time! It also means your menu is much easier to maintain and update, and makes pesky typos much quicker to fix.

Other single use resources such as cling film, blue roll, vac pack bags, disposable crockery often used for events, napkins, straws, beermats – if you can avoid using any or all of these, that is also helpful. Even compostable/recyclable options still need someone to actually compost them, or recycle them – not easy if everything is being dumped into a large kitchen bin.

The environmentally friendly choice can be marginally less convenient, and may require some more time, effort or expense to set up. In many cases, such as with energy saving, or smarter, fewer deliveries, it will pay off in the long run and you will make some of that margin back. In other cases, such as with menus and bottled water, it can be a decision to make as part of the identity of your venture. Often, you can encourage small behavioural changes – such as with single use items, or food waste – that just take some getting used to. After that, consumers will vote with their wallets – as demand for sustainable ventures and more planet friendly alternatives increase, so should the profitability. The more restaurants sign up to a sustainable business model, the easier and more accessible it will become to all – consumers and restaurateurs alike!

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