Sustainability has had an ongoing and increasing influence on operations in the foodservice industry.

And as we begin to return to post-pandemic life, 2022 has been predicted to be the year of the sustainability revival.

The National Restaurant Association’s “What’s Hot” 2022 Culinary Forecast –  an annual survey of 350 culinary leaders – found that sustainable packaging, plant-based foods, and zero waste were predicted to be leading culinary concepts this year.

And, the pandemic hasn’t shaken diners’ interest in sustainability.

In fact, a survey taken by Menu Matters of 750 consumers across the US found that sustainability is more important to consumers now than it was a year ago.

“Over the past two years amid the global pandemic, we all have witnessed massive supply chain issues…” so according to Goodr CEO Jasmine Crowe, “now more than ever people recognize the value in every item and the importance of zero waste.”

Ultimately, consumers are becoming even more cognisant of what they eat and drink, as well as the packaging it comes in.

Green Star Restaurant. Image by SingleThread Farms in B&W. Source: Business Chief

Based on consumer demands and these aligning trends, restaurant operators and hospitality groups have begun to focus more on sustainability practices, as we emerge from an era of dining restrictions.

In only the first quarter of the year, major hospitality leaders, like Marriott Hotels have cited sustainable packaging as a goal for 2022.  

And 11 restaurants across the US now have their ‘Michelin Green Star’ recognizing their commitment to sustainability initiatives; including utilizing local ingredients, eliminating food waste and non-recyclables, and curating a plant-focused menu.

There are plenty of ways to bring sustainable practices into (or back to) your restaurant operations in 2022, that don’t cost a fortune.

With profit margins in the restaurant industry having decreased in 2021, if you’re looking to implement sustainable practices, you’re likely also looking for cost-effective tips. The good news is you don’t need to take a ‘Michelin Green Star’ approach to make your restaurant sustainable.

In fact, these tips can benefit your business and even cut costs and [we’ll tell you how].  

Read on to discover 6 cost-friendly sustainable practices that you can incorporate at your restaurant, and how to get started today!

1. Plate Some ‘Plant-Based’ Dishes

Start by: Adding vegetarian and vegan dishes to your menu, or substitutions where possible.

Plant-based foods were predicted to be the second-hottest trend in 2022 – and it’s a trend worth jumping on! Reducing meat and dairy consumption is a common choice among consumers to reduce their carbon footprint, and you can make these choices more accessible to them. You’re also encouraging sustainability; while some diners know they want to make sustainable choices, others may order a vegan dish just because it sounds good!

An added plus for you is cost reduction – meat and dairy likely constitute some of the most expensive ingredients you order. Since produce items cost significantly less than meat, plant-based menu items can have higher profit margins.

2. Say Good-Bye To Paper

Start by: Digitizing your menu

Digital menus may have been popularized as a result of safety protocols, but implementing them in your restaurant is a great way to improve your sustainability. Deforestation has resulted in around 18 million acres of forests being cut down, and the paper industry uses about 40% of this to manufacturing paper products. And, paper also makes up 26% of landfill waste. These issues massively affect our planet, and the printing of paper menus does add up across the industry. Digital menus are a simple way to reduce your paper waste, and overall your carbon footprint.

Plus, it’s pretty easy if you have an existing website – you’ll just need to print some QR codes one time, which you can easily make here. Next, you can consider bringing your invoices and ordering online.

A bonus is that this tip is cost-effective! You’ll save money on printing costs with the QR code method, especially if you were printing disposable menus for each customer during COVID. Even if you weren’t replacing your paper menus on a per customer basis, you’ll save on printing seasonal and special menus, and won’t have to replace the pages that get a spill or two.

3. Get Creative With Food Waste

Start by: Reducing food waste by Avoiding, Repurposing, and Composting.

Restaurants often create avoidable food waste. Expired ingredients, food scraps, leftovers and other waste that is thrown away can be composted, repurposed or avoided. If you find yourself with expired food, you may want to look at solutions for keeping better inventory. Or check out an app like Good to Go, which allows consumers to purchase your surplus food at a lower price. If your guests aren’t finishing their meals, you can reduce portion sizes. And with scraps, you can get creative and repurpose them into stocks and sauces. With any leftovers that cannot be repurposed, be sure to compost to reduce your carbon footprint.

And your benefit – cutting down on waste will save your restaurant money, not cost it.

4. Shorten Your Supply Chain

Start by: Checking out your local vendors

Supply chain activity is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions in the food industry.

Many large foodservice vendors ship products hundreds or thousands of miles to reach their customers, and shipping these items long distances, whether it’s by truck, ship, or even air produces excessive and unnecessary carbon emissions.

With all the supply chain issues caused by the events of the past two years, now is a great time to rethink your vendors – to benefit your business, and the environment.

Odds are, there are local vendors who can provide you with identical or similar products that travel a much shorter distance to be delivered. Take a look at your supply chain and see if it’s possible to localize even parts of it; receiving a few products locally is a start.

While switching to local vendors may not be the cheapest tip on this list, buying locally should save you some money on shipping costs, and vendors may offer bulk deals which can get you some savings on large orders.

But importantly, the benefit to your business is supporting your local economy.

Plus, since consumers are increasingly concerned with where their food comes from, and even willing to pay more for sustainably sourced choices, advertising your transparency to consumers is to your advantage.

5. Use Seasonal Products

Start by: Reviewing what’s in season and tweaking your menu.

One of the most common tips to make your restaurant more sustainable is to adapt your menu offerings based on the produce that is in season in your region. Seasonal items will likely be more local to your venue, so this sustainability tip has similar environmental benefits to shortening your supply chain, among others.

If you need a refresher on what’s in season near you, check here for Canada, and here for the US.

A bonus for your business is that integrating seasonal produce can actually reduce your food costs. When items are in abundance during their natural harvesting season, this supply drives costs down.

6. Invest In Sustainable Packaging

Start by: Doing some research to ditch one-use plastics

The massive increase in take out, as well as the need to support sanitation measures with disposable items prompted by the pandemic has undeniably forced restaurants to produce an increased amount of waste from single use plastics. Luckily, sustainable packaging is becoming increasingly popular, and available. There’s plenty of sustainable options to replace plastic packaging – check out three options to consider here.

Restaurants can begin by auditing the amount of one-use plastics involved in their operations, and reduce this where possible. Small changes like replacing plastic takeaway bags and containers with recyclables where you can is a great start.

As for your business benefit, investing in eco-friendly packaging isn’t cost free. But, as demand for these products continues to increase, it can be expected that prices will change for the lower.

And, since consumers are increasingly focused on sustainability and their personal environmental impact, and often willing to pay more, you could consider being transparent with any price increases relating to sustainable packaging.  

Have a great sustainability tip that we missed? Tell us!