2 Steps to a greener restaurant
The previous blog in this series looked at how restaurants can help the planet and their business by evaluating the technology and behavioural changes available across food waste, energy efficiency, water use and by changing menus. In this part of the series we will look at two diverse areas: cleaning materials and the supply chain.
Cleanliness is a prerequisite of customers in the hospitality space and a factor used time and time again in online reviews, so keeping kitchens, WCs, bars, appliances and all areas of the property clean is one of the top priorities for restaurateurs.
Cleaning products actually have a real job on their hands within the restaurant environment, being charged with breaking the chemical bonds that hold grease, sugars, fuel oil, food residues, and other dirt residues. However, harsh chemicals are know to pollute the water table and cause skin and respiratory problems to users and can contain petrochemicals, phosphates, preservatives, enzymes, synthetic fragrances and animal by-products.
In the past, business owners have opted for products based on the industrial strength of their ingredients, rather than their green credentials in part because the performance reputation of ecologically-sound products was, frankly, not very good.
Times have changed with the development of new technologies driven by consumers' demands for a more planet-friendly experience. Long gone are the days when green products simply didn't work very well without those nasty ingredients; indeed, the new generation of products can be as effective and sometimes better than toxic cleaning compounds, drawing on nature to deliver that powerful cleansing demanded by restaurants.
Green ingredients found in eco-friendly cleaning products are numerous and all - from essential oils to coconut-based anionic surficants – are toxin-free and biodegradable.
With a rise in demand from consumers for innovative cuisine comes a lengthening of the restaurant sector's supply chain. Ingredient producers ship their products worldwide to cater for this demand with products transferring via land, sea and air and a host of bulk-breakers to diners' plates. Each stage of the chain will see cost added to cover merchants' expenses and to provide a profit which in turn impacts the price to the consumer and restaurants' margins. Plus, of course, all that transportation has a major impact on a restaurant's carbon footprint.
As green-conscious diners look to their favourite restaurants to minimise this impact, restaurateurs are remodelling their offer in order to rightfully claim their green credentials and entice a broader range of customers.
By introducing dishes which reflect the seasons, restaurants can keep their menus fresh and exciting while shortening their supply chain. Rather than feature a menu item all year round, irrespective of its ingredients' locality, seasonally reflected dishes can be introduced which follow nature's natural rhythm.
For example, the simple apple pie is a favourite dessert all year round despite its main ingredient's season being relatively short in the UK. Apple pies served in the summer months will probably contain imported apples, thus adding cost and contributing to a less than favourable carbon footprint. Conversely, gooseberries are in season locally right around this time and make a very attractive and tasty alternative, without the added air miles.
As consumers look to experience organic fresh food with a low carbon footprint, many restaurants are going a step further and growing their own ingredients to cater to the demand. At the top end of the scale are enterprises with their own farms producing everything from livestock to vegetables and fish.
Clearly not all food & beverage business owners have the luxury of fields spanning many acres to do the same, but small allotments can be hired in even the most urban areas and simple herbs grown in the smallest of spaces. For those restaurateurs with an adventurous temperament, foraging for berries, fruits, mushrooms, flowers and nuts provides a rich source of natural flavour and colour to their menus.
Even if restaurants are not in a position to grow their own, there are a number of green and commercial benefits in choosing local suppliers. By buying locally businesses cut the length of their supply chain considerably, all the time reducing transportation miles and the impact of fuel emissions. Further, locally-sourced ingredients are fresher, tastier and more appealing to consumers looking to be more ecologically conscious.
Many restaurants have clear policies and values of their own when it comes to sustainability, so while buying from a local wholesaler can be a great move, the value of doing so is somewhat reduced if that supplier does not itself practice the same philosophy. Merchants who purchase from sustainable sources and mirror the restaurant's own purchasing attitudes, for example in using sustainable packaging, will always be favoured.
There's another benefit to restaurants buying from local sources: they are helping the local economy to thrive by keeping income within the nearby business community, leading to employment and growth.
Finally, many restaurant owners have realised that their responsibility to a sustainable supply chain doesn't end in their premises. The rise of the collection and delivery phenomena has seen an increase in road use, be it by consumers driving to pick up their take-away or restaurants using their vehicles to facilitate home dining.
Some food & beverage businesses have been quick to recognise the opportunity to reduce carbon footprints by switching to pedal power or e-bikes and encouraging those collecting orders to consider doing the same.
Consumers are increasingly looking for green credentials when choosing where to dine and owners of restaurants, pubs and cafes have a great opportunity to cater to this demand while making a significant contribution to helping the planet. Switching to more environmentally-friendly cleaning materials and remodelling the supply chain are two such areas. Not all businesses will be in a position to adopt all of these principles, but making small changes via a stepped approach will go a long way to establishing a green outlook and attracting new customers.
Look out for part three of this blog series, coming soon.
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