Restaurateurs who turn their attention to green issues clearly have a conscience and care deeply about their business's impact on the environment. In addition to feeling good about themselves, green restaurateurs will also experience some real business benefits.
There's growing evidence to suggest that today's diners also care about the environment and are more likely to buy their goods and services from those outlets sharing their concerns. Put simply, this growing demographic is much less likely to spend its money in restaurants with a poor environmental track record.
Further, it would appear that this section of the customer base will actually pay more for dining at a restaurant with proven green credentials than less at one without. In a time when margins are slim and justification for increasing prices low, charging a premium for being green is a very real opportunity for restaurant owners.
Everyone loves a story, none more so than the editors of foodie magazines and websites. Those stories have to be newsworthy to get attention, but restaurants which focus on promoting their green credentials and turning them into stories are likely to have a wider media reach.
There is a science behind this, however, because simply saying “we've gone green” won't cut it with the press – they want vibrant and interesting stories which will reverberate with readers. For example, a restaurant which switches to growing its own vegetables or herbs makes an inert story, but a restaurant which takes this further and invites local school kids to a lesson on growing their own will get extra column inches.
The business benefit of this approach comes from context – in publishing your news, the magazine, newspaper or website will have to explain who you are and what you do. That's a great free advert for the business, irrespective of the story.
Let's get one thing out of the way: if a diner doesn't really care about the environment, green restaurants are unlikely to appeal to them over and above any other. However, those diners with an interest in green issues – and we're not referring to hard-core campaigners here, just customers who try to do their bit – will find green restaurants extremely attractive.
As well as the tangible benefits of restaurants going green, customers want to be have a guilt-free experience. By choosing a restaurant which leans towards sustainability, diners can eat and sleep soundly in the knowledge that their steak was ethically sourced, the vegetables pesticide-free and any waste was recycled. Further, they care that their custom supports the local business community in a tight supply chain with a minimal carbon footprint.
In a more health conscious society, eating locally-sourced food with a focus on positive nutrition has great appeal to customers wanting to dine out and stay in shape.
There's also one obvious but often overlooked appeal: as customers, we are more likely to feel valued and cared for if the restaurant clearly has a caring nature overall. Restaurants which demonstrate their care for the environment are much more likely to convince diners to return.
In marketing terms, creating a strong and recognisable brand is the holy grail. There is, however, much confusion over what branding actually is. Sure, it covers logos and other paraphernalia but fundamentally a brand is how the customer perceives the business and its offer. Companies spend billions of dollars each year to establish what their business stands for in the mind's eye of the customer, and keep it there for as long as possible.
We don't propose giving a lesson in marketing here, but the brand which the restaurant wishes to establish for itself must be based on its own truths – its genuine brand values. This really is one of those areas which is all or nothing, because customers simply won't accept the brand if what they experience is actually different from what the business claims or promotes. A restaurant which markets itself as “the green restaurant” but actually isn't very green won't fool anyone and the brand will mean nothing to customers.
The happy news here is that embedding some of the green thinking we've discussed over the last few blogs is a great way to re-position a restaurant into something special and become – genuinely - “that green restaurant” in the eye of the customer.
Some F&B businesses have a great competitive advantage if, for example, they are the only pub in the village. In more densely packed towns and high streets, however, unique selling points are a vital element of beating competitors and winning their customers. What better way to create that advantage than through being green? A quick look at competitor websites will immediately give restaurateurs a feel for whether there is a niche to be exploited here, in order to attract all those environmentally-aware customers to spend with them.
Every business is ultimately a numbers business, designed to make a profit. Unfortunately, profit can only be made by income exceeding expenditure, but by reducing cost, margins can be improved without raising prices.
It is amazing how costs add up over time, particularly on what could be superfluous items such as consumables and waste. If we examine the costs of a fictional table of two guests enjoying a three course meal, we will see a range of costs associated with our offer, many of which can be reduced slightly with some green thinking.
Let's say we can reduce the cost per cover by fifty pence through changing linen to environmentally-friendly disposables, or swapping wrapped butter pats to plated portions, or swapping bottled water in favour of table jugs. Our two covers have now cost a pound less. Worth the hassle? We think so - just look at the bigger picture: if we have, say, forty covers in a day then we have now saved a more respectable forty pounds. If we are open five days, we have saved £200. That's going on for a £10,000 saving per year. That fifty pence now sounds more attractive, doesn't it?
We hope you have found this series of articles interesting. There are two main benefits to restaurants, pubs and café bars in “going green”. The obvious one is the positive impact of doing so on the environment, by reducing waste, saving energy, recycling, using local produce and a host of other measures including a shift towards seasonal and plant-based foods.
There's also a very compelling business case, with today's customers finding restaurants which align with their own environmental habits extremely appealing. Even a small shift in the business's brand towards sustainability can significantly increase footfall, revenue and competitive advantage while reducing costs and increasing margins.
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