“To me, it’s about bringing community together. I look at what we do in our restaurants as being something bigger than just providing nutrition for people."
Sustainability. It's a hot buzzword and its definition has been warped and twisted by many companies, trying to use it as a marketing tool. However, it's an important concept and a worthy goal to help some of the problems which plague our world. Restaurants need to pay attention to sustainability, but it can be a complex issue and restaurants can use all the help they can get to know what are the right things to do. There is a new, free resource which provides some basic, but valuable, information on sustainability and every restaurant owner should download and read this report.
“When a restaurateur grabs hold of the role of storyteller and starts telling about where the food is coming from and how you can connect with people in your community who have supplied some of it, suddenly the restaurateur takes on a role that is, to me, sort of the ground level of real sustainability.”
The National Restaurant Association recently held their annual Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show and there was a strong concentration on sustainability, including seven educational programs. Fortunately, if you didn't or couldn't attend, they have released a special report, collecting much of the information on sustainability. The report, Bright Ideas: Sustainability Tips From Industry Experts, is available as a free download and I strongly encourage all restaurant owners to read it. The report contains information from people like Chef Rick Bayless and Joe Carbonara as well as companies such as Starbucks and Chipotle Mexican Grill.
"..restaurants use five to 10 times more energy per square foot than other businesses, ..."
Some of the information is a bit philosophical, detailing how some people view sustainability as much bigger than merely worrying about local products and waste. For Chef Rick Bayless, sustainability is all about community. Some of the information is more practical, from the general down to detaiiled specifics. For Caitlin Leibert, of Chipotle, the general starting principle is to ask lots of questions, to gain as much knowledge, data and information as you can obtain. Joe Carbonara provides some specifics on designing a restaurant to be more sustainable while Jim Hanna, of Starbucks, give advice on recycling and composting. You'll even find a discussion on seafood sustainability.
“Don’t settle for what is out there. Research, ask questions and dig in. It’s really just about asking the right questions."
At the bottom line though, a restaurant needs to be profitable. If it isn't making money, then it won't be sustainable itself and will eventually have to close. That doesn't mean a restaurant needs to compromise on its principles and convictions. You can be both profitable and sustainable, though there can be friction between these two goals. That sometimes means you must better educate your customers about food costs and sustainability.
“The most successful franchisees believe that being socially involved helps their sales.”
Customers have a growing interest in the corporate and business practices of restaurants, from how they treat their employees to how they handle complaints. They want restaurants to be more socially responsible, concerned about issues from fair trade to environmental issues. Sustainability falls within that purview and a failure to address such issues can lead to a strong blacklash, especially in social media. It is not enough to just serve food anymore. People expect far more from restaurants.
“We first and foremost have to stay in business. But we aren’t going to give up on our convictions. We will find the balance in the middle.”
Besides eight articles, the report also contains eight sidebars, with more practical advice, including lists of actions to take. You'll find sidebars on topics like Energy Efficient Best Practices, Convert Trash Into Cash, Four Keys To Food Sustainability and How To Be Socially Responsible. Overall, this report is a great starting place for restaurants to think more about sustainability, and will hopefully give you some new suggestions that you might not have considered before. Sustainability is only going to become more and more vital, so the time to work at it is now.
What are you waiting for?