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How To Run a More Sustainable Restaurant

How and why restaurants are building sustainability into their brand

a close up of a piece of paper

The term “sustainability” has made a major impact in the restaurant industry over the past decade, yet many businesses are unsure how to fit sustainable practices into their daily operations. We spoke with the team from Chase Hospitality Group, which runs seven restaurants around Toronto; Ryan Lowe, General Manager of Ore House Restaurant in Durango, CO; and Chris Cochran, Executive Director of ReFED, a nonprofit dedicated to reducing food waste, to learn more about their approaches to sustainability. Along the way we picked up some valuable insight into how restaurants can start incorporating more sustainable practices into their business today.

Define Sustainability for Your Business

Every restaurant has its own set of challenges and opportunities, which is why the initial step in designing a sustainability plan is to think about what goals make sense for your restaurant, and lay out which areas could benefit from better practices.

Part of our job is to provide a value statement for why they’re coming to see us.

Chase Hospitality Group set out to define sustainability for their restaurants in three main pillars: sourcing, society, and environment. With these key points defined and shared with guests on their website, they have been able to stay true to their mission since their founding in 2012. They work with specialized vendors that follow ethical standards and sustainable practices, such as those recommended by the Ocean Wise seafood program. All of their restaurants feature 25% plant-based menus (at minimum), which provide more dining options and help create meaningful relationships with sustainable farmers. 

a close up of two burgers on a plate

The Planta Burger at CHG's Planta restaurant that features a 100% plant-based menu.

Use Tech To Run A More Sustainable Business

Shifting toward a more sustainable business model may seem like a large undertaking, but even small changes can have a big impact. There are lots of technologies available to help make these changes easier and more cost-effective for your restaurant. 

For example, ReFED has seen a lot of sucess with restaurants using LeanPath, a food waste prevention tracker that identifies root causes and areas for improvement relating to waste. Cochran says their research has also showed that more restaurants are using inventory management systems to order and prepare the right amount of food for service. ReFED's Restaurant Food Waste Action Guide states that food costs can represent 28% to 35% of sales in restaurants, so using technology to plan order quantities can help cut down on costs and have a large impact on waste production. 

Figure out ways to authentically talk about sustainability efforts and how to connect with the food experience as part of the identity of the restaurant itself.

Ore House uses tech in a different way by running a relatively paperless operation (besides menu printing and a few other necessities). They use Deputy, a scheduling app that allows all their employees to check their schedule online rather than printed out on a board. All important restaurant information such as recipes and best practices are saved and made accessible through a shared Google Drive cloud storage system. This allows for a more efficient training process and doesn’t require any printing of documents that often have to be revised over time.

Ore House's printed menus next to table setting

 Menus are one of the only items Ore House prints for their restaurant. The rest of their opperation is paperless.

Share Your Commitment Online

A great way to keep your business accountable when making these changes is to make a public commitment to doing so. Using your website and social media to share your mission in adopting better practices not only attracts guests who value these efforts, but can set a precedent in your community and encourage other business to make the same impact.

Ore House's sustainability page on their website.

Ore House's website details their commitment to sustainability.

Ore House’s sustainability page on their website educates guests on their efforts to create zero waste, their purchasing decisions and their commitment to benefiting the community. By being transparent and sharing your dedication to sustainability online, you can earn the respect and business of guests that appreciate your commitment. "Part of our job is to provide a value statement for why guests are coming to see us," says Lowe. "I think it's part of what helps people trust us, and then the food can speak for itself."

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