3 Ways to Make Your Restaurant More Sustainable

Asking an entire industry to tackle sustainability can sound daunting and at times, like an insurmountable challenge. But the key is starting small and steady.

The future of the environment has been a hot topic (literally) for a while now. Last September, a digital clock appeared in Times Square counting down the years, days, hours, minutes, and seconds until the Earth would eventually perish due to climate change. Now, more than ever, people are finally taking action to promote a more sustainable lifestyle. Whether it’s being more conscious of your waste or shopping in a more ethical manner, there are many clear steps that almost anyone can take to lend a helping hand. Now, you’re probably wondering, what does this have to do with the QSR industry?

Well, restaurants, unsurprisingly, contribute a lot of harmful waste to the environment, much of which can be easily reduced or eliminated. A majority of this garbage stems from paper bills and receipts. In fact, restaurant receipts contribute 9.37 million pounds to landfills each year. For reference, it takes about 55,000 receipts to destroy one average tree.

So with the average restaurant printing roughly 9,500 receipts each year, it only takes six restaurants to remove a tree from the planet. These numbers only depict a fraction of the waste that restaurants compose throughout the year. If you factor in plastic straws, unused and used paper napkins, and all sheets of paper used for back of house operations, etc. the damage raps on the planet is detrimental.

restaurant waste stats

It’s hard to move away from easy and traditional methods in favor of creating an eco-friendly business. But, starting small can make a world of a difference. Here, we’ve compiled three ideas you can incorporate into your business to get started on the path to a more sustainable restaurant.

#1 Less “P” at the Table

The two big “P’s” that do the most damage are plastic and paper. Plastic straws and utensils, most of which aren’t biodegradable and can’t be broken down, are usually not thrown away properly. Eventually, they break down into smaller particles, releasing chemicals into the soil, air, and water that are harmful to animals, plants, people, and the environment as a whole.. 

To reduce these single-use plastics in the QSR industry, offer utensils, straws, and napkins to takeout orders only upon request from the customer. These days, most customers who pick up takeout go right back home to eat, and likely won’t use these extra pieces of plastic they find in their take out bags. In place of plastic straws offer cups with a sip-style lid. These lids contain less plastic and are recyclable, compared to the flat lid and straw combination. 

Some traditional QSR restaurants setups still include paper menu inserts at and above the register, as well as in the drive-thru. The downside to using these physical menus is that anytime a product is sold out, a limited time offer runs out, or any other inventory change, the entire sheet needs to be edited and re-printed. Newer digital menu boards offer much more customization and flexibility while wasting less paper.

#2 Going Digital

A solution that may seem obvious, but has only recently become popular around the industry is moving traditionally manual processes to digital solutions. Implementing technology into your business will not only simplify your operations but will be better for the planet as well. Reducing the amount of paper used in back of house processes like clocking in/out, documenting shift notes, opening and closing checklists, food safety and temperature logs, and inventory management is a step in the right direction. Using a digital solution for a process like tracking digital food safety saves time and paper, eliminating the need for daily paper logs, which are both hard to read and wasteful.

Similarly, consider a digital solution when it comes to tracking employee task lists like opening and closing shift checklists. A digital solution will offer a more trackable system with better accountability, and help you cut down your paper consumption. You can automate your daily operations and streamline food safety without even touching pen and paper. 

Implementing a POS system for your restaurant is another digital solution that promotes a more eco-friendly environment. Mobile devices like touchscreen tablets to take orders and process payments will reduce the need for employees to write down orders. A POS system also encourages  customers to have receipts emailed instead of printed. Online ordering is another win-win for going digital. Let your website do most of the heavy lifting, and free your staff from taking unnecessary phone calls to take physical orders. Many POS systems also create the option to offer digital gift cards instead of physical ones, another way to cut down on plastic.

A more commonly overlooked concern is paper towels in bathrooms. It’s easy to overestimate how many sheets of paper towels are needed to dry hands. Restaurant owners can invest in high-efficiency hand-dryers to scale down on paper waste used in the bathrooms. It’s a better investment in the long run, cutting down on your monthly purchasing expenses, and is one less thing for employees to keep properly stocked throughout the day. 

moving to digital receipts
#3 Recycling & Composting

From the amount of packaging restaurants receive from food deliveries to straws and paper napkins, recycling and composting would be a big step towards running a more sustainable business. Managers can reuse and repurpose the packaging their produce, meat and even dry goods are delivered in. For example, any cardboard that isn’t covered with toxic inks or glossy finishes can be recycled and repurposed into post-consumer cardboard packaging or other paper products. Egg crates can be reused for storing other items.

Recycling will help your business decrease energy usage, increase efficiency, and save money. Starting a recycling system is pretty simple. You can set up bins around your restaurant that are easily accessible to your customers and staff. That way, waste can be divided into recyclable and non-recyclable containers.

Composting is essentially decomposing organic solid wastes. The restaurant industry alone generates about 11.4 million tons of food waste. By breaking this down into dirt or soil, restaurants will reduce the amount of food waste they produce. Be sure to research which materials can be composted and which can’t. For instance, dairy products, meat, and bones, oil, fat, and grease can’t be composted.

If your restaurant is located with space outdoors, you can implement commercial outdoor compost bins. If there is nowhere outdoors, there are also indoor solutions. Restaurant owners can invest in indoor commercial electric composters and food recyclers. Electric composters, which are known as food recyclers, break down food waste by using aeration and heat, much like a regular compost pile, and will produce an end product that is completely dry and sterile. 

Enforcing these habits is only the first step to creating a more sustainable industry. Going green will not only help the environment, but it’s also beneficial to the restaurant itself. Digital solutions streamline operations on a daily basis, and the sustainable practices outlined above will also improve your bottom line int he long-run. Promoting any sustainability initiatives is also a smart marketing tactic. Now more than ever, consumers are more aware of the businesses they are supporting. They’re consistently looking for a way to shop more ethically, and by taking on these practices, you can elevate practices that customers will seek out and appreciate. In the end, it’s a win-win for both the business and the customers.