Restaurants are Rocking Sustainability Practices

restaurant sustainability practices

Posted: Feb. 20, 2018

The National Restaurant Association just released its State of Restaurant Sustainability report for 2018. This report is the first of its kind for the Association and comes at a crucial period for the restaurant industry as more operations are seeking out innovative ways to reduce waste. The methods of 500 restaurants and operators were surveyed for:

  • Types of environmentally-conscious actions being made.
  • Kinds of sustainability opportunities available to food operators.
  • Operational challenges posed by sustainability efforts.

From large chains to independently-owned restaurants, the report makes evident that owners and operators are rising to the occasion with bold sustainability practices, such as:

  • Reducing water and energy consumption.
  • Minimizing waste footprint.
  • Acknowledging and connecting with eco-conscious consumers. 

Keep reading for a summary of the insightful State of Restaurant Sustainability report.

More and More Restaurants Are Driven by Sustainability Efforts

Three of the biggest takeaways of the report is that restaurant operators are consciously and actively recycling more, managing food waste, and trying to save energy and water when possible. Nearly half of restaurants track their food waste, and close to 2/3 of restaurant paper products are recycled. Lighting used to be a costly factor for both business owners and the environment, but almost 80% of businesses are using eco-friendly CFL or LED lighting. Let’s see the other ways restaurants are practicing sustainability.

Recycling at Restaurants

How much and what do restaurants recycle? The stats at a glance:

  • 65% recycle cardboard and paper products.
  • 64% recycle fats, oils, and grease.
  • 29% recycle aluminum or metal cans.
  • 29% recycle rigid plastics.
  • 26% recycle glass.

One of the biggest problems with sustainability is the wasteful packaging that collects throughout the day, especially in restaurants. Cardboard boxes full of fresh fruit or grains, glass jars with sauces and condiments, and plastic containers for potato salad—these are the common types of materials found sitting by the back door of any restaurant.

It’s easy to just throw everything into one bag and focus on your clean workspace. In fact, that’s how things have been done for decades. But with rising levels of plastic in the ocean, harmful deforestation, and more, the changing times are calling for proactivity by everyone.

Restaurants have realized the power they have on sustainability and are showing the world that small steps— such as sorting the garbage, lead to great gains.

With recycling, restaurants have found a smart way to minimize waste. Not only does packaging waste get turned into a renewable resource and stop landfills from getting higher, the restaurant pays less in waste-hauling fees.

Compared to table-service restaurants, limited-service restaurants recycle less, whereas independently-owned restaurants are recycling at higher rates than chains or franchise operations.

One way to reduce packaging waste at your restaurant is by sourcing operators that use environmentally-friendly packaging. Proper food service packaging ensures the freshness and quality of ingredients, and there are operators using sustainable materials that don’t risk the integrity of the food product.

Minimizing Food Waste

Do restaurants manage their food waste? (The answer is yes.) The stats at a glance:

In fact, it’s a well-known trick for restaurant kitchens to use their “ugly food” to decrease waste.

To stay on top of food waste, the report reveals that 3/4 of restaurants are monitoring waste daily. The types of restaurants that are most likely to track food waste every day are limited-service operators, and chain- or franchise-owned locations.

One of the reasons restaurants don’t track their food waste is they simply don’t know how. There are various tracking tools, and the most helpful is a restaurant POS system. The software has become so sophisticated that purchase orders are linked to inventory levels, which in turn are linked to orders placed throughout a shift. With all the information the POS collects, comprehensive spreadsheets or reports can be reviewed for accurate overviews on food waste.

Limited-service operators and chains or franchises are more likely to use point-of-sale systems to help track food waste than other restaurant operations.

Using Less Energy and Water

How do restaurants save energy and water? The stats at a glance:

  • 79% use CFL or LED lighting.
  • 61% use programmable HVAC thermostats.
  • 46% use EPA Energy Star-rated refrigerators.
  • 44% use low-flush toilets.
  • 41% use EPA Energy Star-rated freezers.
  • 25% use EPA Energy Star-rated dishwashers.

The added benefit of using less energy and water is the amount of money it saves restaurants over time. Here are 20 more cost-saving tricks for restaurants and bars.

The report reveals that 16% of food operators take advantage of energy rebates from utility companies. Another way restaurants are lowering energy and water usage (and saving money) is by setting up start-up/shut-down schedules for major appliances like the ovens and broilers. This includes the overhead lights to the restaurants.

Are you using a start-up/shut-down schedule at your restaurant? If not, see how many of your peers are:

  • 63% of all restaurants use a start-up/shut-down schedule for equipment and lights.

Broken down into categories:

  • 68% of table-service restaurants use a schedule.
  • 67% of franchises use a schedule.
  • 58% of limited-service restaurants use a schedule.
  • 58% of independent restaurants use a schedule.

The golden rule to energy saving is: Before or after the customers, keep everything off.

Energy-saving methods have been developed and worked on extensively for several years now, but until recently, water hasn’t had the same type of innovation. Fortunately, restaurants have several ways to lower their water consumption in 2018:

  • Low-flush toilets
  • Faucet aerators
  • High-efficiency, pre-rinse spray valves
  • Tankless water heater
  • Motion-activated toilets or faucets
  • Waterless urinals

Low-flush toilets are the most popular method right now, and in second is the low-flow faucet aerators—27% of restaurants have installed them into the sinks. They cost roughly $3 each to install, and the return-on-investment is huge. The aerators reduce hot-water use by 60%, which means up to 9,000 gallons of hot water can be saved per year with just one sink.

The environmental change taking place due to the activities of the food industry is making a negative impact, which makes the sustainability efforts of restaurants even more noble and important.  If you want to make similar changes at your restaurant, review the full report for ideas.

Here are 7 more ways to reduce food waste at your food or beverage establishment.

Posted: Feb. 20, 2018 | Written By: Emma Alois

Success Tips


The Newest Revisions of the Food Code

Jun. 20, 2018 | 0


Every four years the FDA revises its food safety code, and the final revisions are in for 2018. See what changes to implement at your restaurant or food service business. Over 20 years ago, a deadly E.coli outbreak changed the way food preparations were regulated in restaurants. Nearly 1,000…

read more


Increase Your Restaurant Traffic with These 6 Social Media Tips

Jan. 23, 2017 | 6


As a restaurant owner, you likely know how much of an impact social media can have on your…

read more

All Articles

The Newest Revisions of the Food Code

Jun. 20, 2018 | 0


Every four years the FDA revises its food safety code, and the final revisions are in for 2018. See…

read more

Upsell Your Menu with Food and Wine Pairings

Jun. 18, 2018 | 0

Success Tips

Believe it or not, any kind of restaurant can have food and wine pairings. Wine is more than a…

read more

Help Tourists Feel Comfy with US Tipping Standards

Jun. 15, 2018 | 0

Success Tips

Summer is a popular time for travel, and your restaurant might start receiving an influx of…

read more

Use Employee Feedback to Become a Hassle-Free Restaurant

Jun. 14, 2018 | 0

Success Tips

Gather your employees for an important meeting. With their help, you’re going to improve business…

read more

Here’s the Formula for Your Table Turnover Rate

Jun. 12, 2018 | 0

Success Tips

Not knowing your restaurant’s table turnover rate can have dire consequences. In short, poor…

read more

Achieving Success With a Restaurant Loyalty App

Jun. 11, 2018 | 0

Success Tips

As discussed in our previous loyalty blog, the main things you want from a loyalty program are an…

read more

Bourdain-isms: Remembering Favorite Bad Boy Anthony Bourdain

Jun. 08, 2018 | 0


Today, we depart from our standard blog to honor Anthony Bourdain, 61, who passed this Friday…

read more

Serving (and Drinking) Wine at the Right Temperature

Jun. 06, 2018 | 0

Success Tips

White wine should be served chilled; red wine can be warmer. While most people know these two laws…

read more

The Power of a Restaurant Master Schedule

Jun. 04, 2018 | 0


Developing the perfect employee shift schedule means bringing together what’s best for the…

read more