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According to the USDA, over 30% of all the food we produce in the United States is wasted. And, restaurants are a major part of this equation. According to a Food Waste Reduction Alliance report, restaurants discard over 84.3% of unused foods, amounting to a staggering $162 billion dollars of waste annually. At the same time, over 37 million Americans (including 11 million children) suffer from food insecurity. In response to this problem, we’re seeing the rise of the zero-waste restaurant — a novel concept aimed at reducing restaurant waste, creating new profit channels, and bolstering consumer hunger initiatives.

For restaurants, finding ways to reduce waste can, in turn, minimize revenue leakage, improve brand perception, and make a significant difference in the global food ecosystem.

What is the Zero-Waste Restaurant Movement?

We’ve talked about the benefits of eco-friendly restaurant workflows in the past, but the zero-waste movement turns eco-consciousness into a mission statement. Zero-waste restaurants strive to create, well…zero waste.

At this point, you’re probably thinking, “How in the world is that possible?” After all, if you’re like most restaurants, you generate waste. And lots of it. Over 50% of produce ends up in the trash cans in America — a good chunk of which is generated by restaurants. However, some restaurants have begun to reject this paradigm and are refusing to take out the trash altogether. For example, Restaurant Nolla in Helsinki generates literally zero waste. The restaurant doesn’t even own trash cans. Meanwhile, Wolf in Los Angeles only serves up whole plants (stalks and all) and incorporates all the produce that comes through its doors into dishes.

So, here’s the bottom line: zero waste isn’t just possible; it can actually have a serious impact on revenue margins. The average family of four can save over $1,500 a year simply by reducing food waste. Imagine what a restaurant can save. The typical restaurant generates about 150,000 pounds of waste annually, and over 30% of total restaurant budgets are spent on that food. So, eliminating even a small percentage of that waste can save your restaurant some serious money. Studies show that, for every $1 invested in food waste reduction, restaurants can realize $8 in savings.

The Value of the Zero-Waste Restaurant

Waste reduction as a practice impacts almost every layer of a restaurant’s operational framework. So, let’s grab our handy-dandy 9Fold scalpel and dissect a few of those layers.

1. Reduced Cash Outflows

With over 30% of your budget going towards food, zero-waste has some serious budgeting benefits. To start, use a waste-tracking system like Leanpath to track inventory spoilage, conduct a food waste audit, and get greater visibility into your restaurant’s production planning.

Next, find ways to incorporate trimmings and leftovers into exciting new meals. You’ll spend less at the market while generating additional revenue.

Of course, the benefits of zero-waste go far beyond those grocery trips. With a zero-waste mentality, you can create hyper-accurate lists and budgets. Since you know you’re going to be using everything you purchase, you can dig deep into your data (and analytics) to calculate exactly how much you’ll need to spend each week. Bottom line? Cutting down on excess inventory can reduce your cash outflows by 2-6%.

2. Great Branding Opportunities

Restaurant branding is a big deal. Walker predicts that brand will overtake price and product as the key marketplace differentiator by 2020. Here are the facts: Over 80% of diners are directly influenced by consumer reviews. Finding ways to generate social buzz and positive online reviews is a crucial part of the 21st-century restaurant ecosystem.

So, how does zero-waste play into this branding component? To start, it can literally define your restaurant. Consumers crave eco-friendly options. The average consumer will spend 66% more on a product if it comes from a sustainable brand. There’s a reason that over 90% of CEOs say that waste reduction is a crucial part of their brand vision moving forward, and 88% of business school students think that environmental issues are business priorities. Eco-friendly options literally transform the way that consumers think about your restaurant.

3. A Win-Win for Consumers and Restaurants

What’s better than fixing revenue leakages and improving your overall brand image? Generating profit, of course. And, waste reduction can generate some serious profits. Over half of consumers have changed their purchasing habits to support eco-friendly options. The National Restaurant Association surveyed over 700 chefs in 2019 to figure out the biggest trends in the restaurant industry. And, this is what it found: Not only did reducing food waste make the list, but so did water conservation, sustainable energy, and clean menus.

Consumers love restaurants that have an eco-friendly outlook. Zero-waste takes that concept to the next level by simultaneously promoting waste reduction while delivering cost-cutting processes in your restaurant kitchen. It’s a win-win scenario all around (in more ways than one). In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey tells us to “think win-win,” where both interdependent parties benefit. Instead of a “win-lose” scenario, zero-waste produces “win-win” benefits for both consumers and restaurants.

The Zero-Waste Restaurant: Coming to a City Near You

Composting in the zero-waste restaurant

It can be a challenge to identify a zero-waste strategy for your restaurant. While eco-friendly containers, composting, and the elimination of straws (America uses 500 million of these a day) are all processes that can inch you towards zero-waste, what does an effective strategy really look like?

Let’s take a look at some restaurants that have adopted zero-waste or near-zero-waste strategies to help deliver value to consumers and the environment.

Nine Lives in London, England

“Being completely sustainable isn’t instantaneous, it’s a constant evolution…” — Tom Soden, Co-founder of Nine Lives Bar in London.

Who’s ever heard of a zero-waste cocktail bar? You have now, thanks to Nine Lives. When it comes to zero-waste drinks, this unassuming London bar is taking charge with eco-friendly strategies that deliver intrinsic benefits for all. The furniture (and even the sound system) is repurposed. Meanwhile, the mixed drink ingredients are grown in an on-site garden, scrap food is composted, and there’s not a single straw in sight.

These aren’t expensive or backbreaking strategies, either. By growing its own food, Nine Lives gets to hit the “fresh,” “local,” and “organic” diner demographics. Also, by eliminating straws, the bar is cutting more costs. The only loss here is for the trash man.

FREA in Berlin, Germany

“It’s important to create a place that is holistic and combines enjoyment with sustainability.” — FREA

FREA is firing on two cylinders. It’s zero-waste — with all waste being processed into soil — as well as vegan (which Nestle claims is the biggest emerging restaurant trend). This Berlin restaurant is making headlines for its homemade menu. FREA even creates homemade nut milk in-house. And, it’s doing zero-waste in a novel way. It simply transforms waste into compost and ships it right back to its food suppliers (farms).

This is an interesting approach. Instead of creating menu items based on kitchen waste, FREA simply returns the waste to whence it came. It’s practicing what we call a circular economy, which is restorative in nature.

Ancolie in New York City

“A lot of people are tired of wasting packaging” — Chloe Vichot, Owner of Ancolie in New York.

For an example of an effective zero-waste restaurant strategy, let’s look at Ancolie — the eco-conscious chic spot that serves up trendy rainbow salads — in NYC. Ancolie uses all of its food ingredients for multiple menu items. This means it uses all the parts of plants. If there are any scraps, they’re composted. And, at Ancolie, you won’t find any plastic, disposable packaging. Instead, all cups and utensils are compostable.

Here’s what Ancolie does that’s interesting: It delivers food in jars. Then, it gives you $2 back in restaurant credit if you return the jar. Customers can also keep their jars, if they prefer. The restaurant’s dedication to a zero-waste culture has earned it a 4-star rating by the Green Restaurant Association.

Grand Banks in New York City

“Grand Banks is a leading voice in the sustainable seafood movement.” Grand Banks in New York.

Many of us appreciate a good oyster bar in the summer. But, here’s the problem: oyster bars typically use straws, plastic bags, and disposable napkins. And all of that ends up in (you guessed it) landfills. But, not at Grand Banks in New York. This summer oyster bar (operational from April to October) has made systematic changes to create a zero-waste culture. It only serves draft beer (no cans), there’s no plastic, receipts are digital, and all of the oyster shells are composted.

Sure, Grand Banks hasn’t invented any new strategies. However, it has taken very simple principles and applied them to its business model effectively. That’s a big part of the zero-waste movement. It’s about how each restaurant can streamline its operations while reducing waste.

Here’s an example: An obvious problem for Grand Banks was its oyster shells. So, the restaurant found a way to coordinate with Hudson River Park to use those shells as compost for the park. That’s what we call a win-win scenario!

Become a Zero-Waste Restaurant and Partner With 9Fold to Increase Your Profits

As can be seen, finding ways to become a zero-waste restaurant can drive profits and attract customers. You don’t have to transform into a zero-waste operation overnight, however. You can start small. Moving towards zero-waste is all about nailing sustainable strategies that create, not reduce, profit margins.

One easy way to start your sustainable journey is through an online ordering system. Not only are +60% of adults already ordering online weekly, but digital ordering doesn’t create waste. You don’t have to use notepads to take orders, and you don’t have to print any receipts.

Want to learn more about how you can help your restaurant create profits and get more sustainable through online ordering? Contact us to schedule a free demo today. We serve restaurants in all 50 states and will work with you to find a sustainable online ordering solution.