Over the last decade, the UK has seen a 22% increase in coffee shop visits, with boutique coffee shops and edgy cafes becoming a familiar sight on our high streets, challenging the more traditional coffee chains. These chains contribute to the 90,000 tonnes of fresh produce which goes to landfill every year in the UK.
Being directly affected, the catering industry has been very vocal around the issues of Eco-friendliness, food waste management and sustainability. A particular advocate of becoming more eco-friendly is River Cottage chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who launched his BBC documentary Food Waste Collection Service.
As these issues become ever more important for businesses, our guide aims to inform catering entrepreneurs of eco-friendly practices, whilst saving them money at the same time.
- Cook seasonally
Make sure you choose ingredients for your dishes according to what’s in season, changing menus regularly to reflect what’s available. Of course, this means your kitchen staff will need to be creative and inventive, but they should enjoy the challenge and the quality of your food will reward you all for your efforts.
- Start your own kitchen garden
Reduce your food miles to zero by creating your own kitchen garden, growing vegetables and herbs for your restaurant kitchen. You could hire a gardener to look after the plot, or likewise, encourage your staff to get involved to learn and appreciate how the ingredients grow. The Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) launched its #FlipTheMenu campaign last month, pledging to give vegetables more prominence over meat.
- Buy locally
If you haven’t got the space for a kitchen garden, at least think about food miles when sourcing ingredients and try to buy as locally as possible. Once local suppliers hear that you are committed to sourcing locally, they will actively seek you out to show you their own produce. Make it a goal to find a new local supplier every month. This will push you forwards with your sustainability goals and give you fresh new ingredients and menu ideas all year round.
- Choose your producers carefully
Look for local suppliers who are as committed to sustainable practices as you are. Choose family businesses where you can visit regularly and build up a long-term relationship, rather than faceless factories. By learning more about the food you serve and where it comes from, you’ll be able to pass on that knowledge to your customers.
- Focus on community
Staying with the theme of the local community, as part of your drive to be a more responsible business try sponsoring a local charity, putting on events with dedicated menus and passing the proceeds on to the charity.
Running a sustainable, ethical food business requires continuous learning and research. By constantly looking for better ways and trends to reduce and recycle waste, sourcing better materials and equipment and finding new local suppliers who share your values, you’ll reap real rewards over time. Always find out as much as possible about the produce or materials that you buy and the suppliers behind them.
- Manage waste
General waste – which goes straight to landfill – is a big issue for most restaurants. Work at reducing waste wherever possible, recycling glass and cardboard and returning packaging to suppliers to be reused. Food waste should be minimised and disposed of via a specialist processor, to be turned into compost and made good use of. The ‘Food Waste Direct’ campaign launched by national waste management company 707 allows small businesses to have their food waste collected, diverting it from landfill to anaerobic plants.
- Use eco-friendly equipment
Energy-efficient equipment can often be a little more expensive than standard kit, but over the long term, the investment really is worth it. Think carefully about the materials used in your restaurant and if you can’t afford eco-friendly equipment initially, make a road map of your future journey towards a more sustainable restaurant. For example, start by printing menus on recycled paper and using linen napkins rather than paper ones. As you progress, you will find you have a real story to tell your restaurant guests about your sustainability mission.
- Get your staff on-board
No matter how committed you are to your goals, if your staff don’t buy into your ideas, you will struggle to carry them through. It takes time and patience to convince staff of new ideas and ways of working, especially when they’ve been doing something ‘their way’ for years. Let your staff learn about the produce they use and then let them tell the story to your restaurant guests.
- Prioritise customer satisfaction
No matter what kind of restaurant you run, the focus should always be on providing an exceptional dining experience for your guests. Get the balance just right by providing the right level of information about your sourcing and sustainability goals without overwhelming your guests or pushing your message too hard.