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Okay, you’ve heard it all before. After all, the marketplace likes to throw the word “sustainability” around a lot. However, if you think this post will be a screed on how you should practice sustainability, relax. Instead, we’re going to talk about how restaurants can leverage the principle to earn more profits…all by utilizing eco-friendly packaging.

Ok, first things first. Here’s an important statistic: 72% of Gen Z is willing to pay more for sustainable products. That number jumps to 74% when we bring millennials into the equation. Remember, Gen Z is already the largest up-and-coming generation of consumers. So, you’ll want to find ways to reach them sooner rather than later.

Sustainability brings in customers and reduces restaurant waste — which can have a significant impact on your profits. That said, how do you conceptualize sustainability in terms of restaurant operations, and how do you create a culture of sustainability that drives long-term business results?

That, ladies and gentlemen, will be the subject of our post.

Understanding Restaurant Sustainability

Let’s make this clear — there are a million reasons to create a sustainable restaurant. It’s better for the environment, it’s the right thing to do, and it’s a great way to reduce your carbon footprint. However, we won’t focus on all of those reasons.

Instead, we’re here to talk about money. Because, at the end of the day, that’s what drives change. In fact, McKinsey reports show that the majority of businesses incorporate sustainable initiatives to reduce costs, not necessarily to reduce their environmental impact.

So, how will sustainability improve your restaurant’s bottom line? And, how will it improve the overall experience of your existing customers?

There are two primary levers that make sustainability a serious driver of restaurant profits.

  1. Food Waste Reduction
  2. Improved Diner Satisfaction

Food Waste Reduction

The restaurant industry has a food waste problem. Each year, the restaurants in the U.S. waste around 22 billion pounds of food, with a total cost of about $25 billion dollars. In an industry that’s constantly struggling to keep costs down, throwing away $25 billion dollars doesn’t make much sense.

Reducing waste has some serious cost advantages for restaurants that are willing to adopt the right strategies. According to ReFED (Rethink Food Waste Through Economics and Data), restaurants stand to gain $8 for every $1 spent on food sustainability measures.

Does this sound too-good-to-be-true? Well, let’s take a closer look. The average restaurant spends around 32% of its total budget on food and ingredient costs. Now imagine taking 75,000 pounds of that food and throwing it right into the trash can. That’s a very real problem. All in all, the average restaurant creates 25,000 to 75,000 lbs. of food waste annually.

The value of food sustainability is very real in terms of dollars and cents.

Improved Diner Satisfaction

To say that consumers care about sustainability is an understatement. 57% of them are willing to tolerate reduced product quality in exchange for sustainably-sourced meals. So, food sustainability is critical when it comes to diner satisfaction. Let’s look at some food sustainability statistics to help paint a clearer picture.

  • 20% of Americans think about food sustainability constantly.
  • 59% of Americans are interested in sustainable seafood.
  • 41% of Americans are interested in sustainable meat.
  • 65% of Americans are willing to pay more to dine at sustainable restaurants.
  • 81% of Americans want more sustainable food options.

In short, consumers value how their food is handled and processed. That should be a motivation to provide them with higher quality, sustainable food at competitive prices. It may just be the differentiator you need to outpace the competition.

Building a Sustainability Blueprint

It’s one thing to be convinced that sustainability can help your restaurant reduce its carbon footprint and bring in more customers. However, actually creating an environment that promotes sustainability is another story altogether. Below, we explain how all of us can leave that carbon footprint in the dust.

So, gather your food around: We’re about to give you a sustainability blueprint for how your restaurant can thrive.

1. Start With Food Waste

Sustainable processing technologies can maximize overall supply chain efficiency. And that, in turn, can reduce food waste and provide the following benefits for restaurants:

  • Increased profits
  • Reduced environmental impact
  • Improved restaurant brand image
  • Increased employee and customer satisfaction

Eco-Friendly Solutions for Reducing Food Waste

So, how do you reduce food waste? We admit there are hundreds of valid ways to eliminate food waste. Below, we’ll cover several popular methods. Whatever you do, remember to tailor the methods you use to your restaurant’s workflow. This may allow you to identify areas of waste that are unique to your restaurant.

Food-Related Strategies

  1. Create new dishes: Every chef has to trim fat and remove bones from meat. It’s a necessary part of the job. After all, you want to avoid any chance of your customers biting down on gristle in meat entrees. However, you can find ways to incorporate some of those trimmings into new dishes. Here’s how: At the end of the day, gather all the gristle, throw them into a stockpot and add vegetables, salt, pepper, and seasonings. Let the whole thing simmer. Remember to filter out the gristle before serving to customers as the soup-of-the-day (or, better yet, include the now-tender gristle in the soup).
  2. Use food displays wisely: We’re not telling you to avoid using food displays. Just remember that large food displays tend to create waste. Why? 76% of customers want to see fresh food in those displays. This means you’ll need to throw out any wilted display items. All in all, approximately 4-10% of food is wasted before it gets to the consumer. So, focus on small displays that incorporate more resilient food items.
  3. Think about portion sizes: Did you know that diners leave 17% of their plates untouched and 55% of edible leftovers are left at restaurants? If you notice an excess of diner food waste, consider serving smaller portion sizes. It’ll save you money, and you won’t have to take the trash out as often.

Non-Food Related Strategies

  1. Use non-disposable utensils: Americans use over 100 MILLION pieces of disposable plastic food utensils daily. Did you know that these plastic utensils can take over 1,000 years to decompose? So, ditch the plastic sporks and stick with metal.
  2. Do a trash audit: Ok, we admit it’s a thoroughly unappetizing activity. But, digging through the garbage can tell you A LOT about your waste: Where is it all coming from? What are people throwing away? What could you do to reduce that waste?
  3. Use eco-friendly packaging: We really can’t overstate the importance of eco-friendly packaging and containers (more on this later).
  4. Plan your food budget: Make sure that you aren’t overbuying produce or meats. If you are, you’re throwing money away and creating waste.

2. Energy is Expensive

Too often, we think of energy as a necessary expense. So, we just pay the bills and move on. However, there are tons of ways for you to reduce that energy footprint. And, may we add that it can save you some serious cash in the bargain? In 2013, Carls Jr. audited its store locations to see if it could save on energy expenses. The chain restaurant found over $2.8 million dollars in savings across its portfolio, simply from cutting out unnecessary energy use.

According to Energy Star, quick-service restaurants use about 10x the energy of most commercial buildings. Simply using energy-efficient lighting and appliances can go a long way towards increasing your overall utility savings. First, we recommend doing a complete audit of your restaurant’s energy use. Then, you can start eliminating those revenue leakages one-by-one.

3. Publicize Your Efforts

Alright, let’s get this out of the way. Yes, being sustainable is great for the environment, and it can also be great for business. So, why shouldn’t you publicize it? Remind your customers that you’re a sustainable dining establishment.

Are you planning on adding new menu items to cut down on waste? Let customers know that you have sustainable options on the menu. Are you using eco-friendly packaging and containers? Let them know by printing it on the packaging. 87% of customers have a positive image of brands that are sustainable. So, flex those sustainable muscles!

The Role of Eco-Friendly Packaging and Broad Sustainability

Over 60% of Americans order food online at least once-per-week, and they spend an average of $50 per order. So, having sturdy food containers is an absolute necessity for restaurants. But, here’s the problem. While those food containers can keep fries and burgers hot, they also contribute to a massive amount of waste. In 2016, there were over 3.4 trillion units of restaurant food packaging used in the United States. And almost all of that ended up as waste. In fact, those containers contributed to about 25% of ALL material in landfills.

As consumers increasingly expect eco-friendly and sustainable options at restaurants, changing your packaging can make a profound difference for your overall branding. Now, you’re probably thinking, “eco-friendly packaging is expensive, and I’m already operating on a lean budget.” Don’t worry! You can make up the difference on your orders. The majority of diners will pay more for sustainable packaging. And, you wouldn’t be the first restaurant to make the shift.

More Restaurants and Businesses Are Using Eco-Friendly Packaging 

Dunkin’ Donuts is committed to having eco-friendly cups in all of its locations by 2020. Additionally, major food companies like Heinz, Pepsi, Nestle, and others are committed to making the shift to 100% sustainable packaging by 2025. However, we’re going to insert a warning here: Make sure that you’re sourcing quality containers that are actually sustainable in nature. Recently, Chipotle and Sweetgreens created their own compostable takeout containers that turned out to be… noncompostable. That was a major HR misfire for both companies.

That said, the eco-friendly packaging movement goes far beyond restaurants. Walmart has been reducing the amount of packaging it has used since 2008. And, in early 2019, the global retailer announced yet another bold plastic packaging waste reduction initiative. Walmart, of course, isn’t the only major retailer jumping onboard the eco-friendly train. Other global retailers have also implemented their own sustainability initiatives.

And, why wouldn’t they? Customers expect it, and there are savings at every juncture. Sure, you can treat the move towards eco-friendly options as a necessary evil. However, we recommend looking at it as a serious long-term investment. You can save money, help the environment, and implement better business practices to improve your overall restaurant image. What’s not to like about that?

Leverage Eco-Friendly Packaging and Online Ordering to Fuel Business Growth

Now that we’ve established the importance of restaurant sustainability, here’s something to think about: What good is all of that eco-friendly packaging without the right online ordering system? As more and more customers continue to move their business to the digital space, you need an online ordering system that can keep up with the traffic and help you hold on to your profits (instead of giving them away to aggressively priced 3rd party delivery apps).

Are you looking for an online ordering system that’s branded, intuitive, and easy-to-use? If so, contact us. Not only are 9Fold’s online ordering portals perfect for your customers (no matter where they are in America), but they can also help you create hyper-branded promotions highlighting your restaurant’s shift to… eco-friendly containers.