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restaurant sustainability practices

As we kick-off 2020, many restaurateurs are looking to use the new decade as an opportunity for innovation. While some operators may be perfecting a new menu item or investing in a new marketing strategy, many are looking to incorporate sustainability into their restaurants. 

Now more than ever, consumers care that their food is sustainably and ethically sourced. They’re making their preferences known not just through social media and using their purchasing power to patron businesses that align with their values. If you’ve wanted to become more sustainable, now is the perfect opportunity to begin your journey towards wasting less and saving more. Here are some of the trends in restaurant sustainability that owners and operators can expect to see in the coming year.

1. Food Waste Awareness

Food waste is one of the fastest-growing problems our country faces to date. According to ReFED, every year, American consumers, businesses, and farms spend $218 billion a year growing, processing, transporting, and disposing food that is never eaten. This massive inefficiency not only creates large financial costs but has a human cost as well. 

One in seven Americans identifies as food insecure, meaning they are not confident where their next meal will come from. While we send 52 million tons of food to the landfill each year, many go hungry. In 2020, expect to see more awareness of this global issue as the industry attempts to solve it through prevention, recovery, and recycling efforts.

2. Shelf-life Extending Products

While food waste occurs everywhere throughout the supply chain, nearly 85% of it happens in consumer-facing businesses and homes. Restaurants have an opportunity to create less food waste by investing in products like shelf-life extenders. Given that around 45% of all fruit grown is wasted, products that allow more time for produce to get to eaters could have a huge impact. 

Luckily, these technologies are emerging. For example, Hazel Technologies created a shelf life extender that is the size of a packet of sugar that can be used in the supply chain during packing and shipping. The invention improves the quality of produce while it’s being stored by reducing the respiration rate and increasing resistance to ethylene. We should expect to see more of this type of innovative, waste reduction technology in restaurants.

For more 2020 restaurant industry trends, download our free State of the Restaurant Industry Report.

3. Elimination of Single-use Plastics

The restaurant industry has seen a plethora of legislation proposed that seeks to ban single-use plastics, such as grocery bags, plastic straws, and disposable cutlery. While your restaurant may not have legislation that mandates a ban on these items, it may be helpful to decrease your reliance on these materials to ease the transition as policy progresses. In the next year, restaurant operators can expect to see an influx of regulations on these materials, so it is wise to invest in reusable alternatives sooner rather than later.

restaurant sustainability single use plastics

4. Ugly Produce

2019 saw a proliferation of startups aiming to curb food waste by embracing “ugly” produce. Fruits and vegetables often go unpicked in fields or get thrown away at the store simply because they don’t meet certain aesthetic standards. Companies like Misfits, Hungry Harvest, and Imperfect Produce offer consumers the convenience and savings of produce that would have been discarded, giving these items a second life. 

At your restaurant, talk with your supplier about ways to utilize produce that may not be the most aesthetically pleasing. In-house, you can use these items in sauces, soups, or other menu items where the flavor of the ingredients is more prominent than the appearance.

5. Food Donation

Food donation is the easiest solution for businesses to donate their surplus food to people in need. By donating to communities in need, your company can help reduce food waste and hunger. Many local food banks will pick up food donations free of charge, saving you disposal costs. Apps like MealConnect make it easier than ever to connect donors with surplus food to their local Feeding America member food banks and their partners. 

While many restaurant operators are unaware, restaurants are protected from criminal and civil liability under the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act to encourage the donation of food and grocery products to non-profit organizations for distribution to individuals in need. Not only would this action increase restaurant sustainability, but you can rest easy knowing your company’s food waste is helping those in need. 

6. Sustainable Seafood

Sustainably caught seafood is less about being a trend and more about a way of life. The future of our oceans and entire species of fish are dependent on humans eating fish caught sustainably. Diners who enjoy seafood are paying attention to which fish are in trouble and which are not, so restaurants need to be too. 

Seafood Watch is a great resource for helping you make educated choices about the seafood on your menu. There has recently been a growth in the number of sustainable fish farms making it easier for restaurants to obtain seafood in a viable manner!

restaurant sustainability seafood

7. More Vegetables (Less Meat)

Wanting more veggies doesn’t mean that diners want to go vegetarian or vegan, but they may want to change up the proportions on their plate. Having dishes with a range of nutritious vegetables and smaller portions of protein are healthier for the consumer and easier on the planet. Some of the most popular food trends are vegetable-based, making it easy to incorporate more veggies into your menu. People are loving zoodles (noodles made out of zucchini), cauliflower crust instead of dough-based pizza crust, buddha bowls, along with a great deal of other trendy veggie dishes!

The state of the restaurant industry is ever-evolving, but nothing could have prepared restaurant owners and operators for 2020. Download our State of the Restaurant Industry Report for 2020 menu, sales, and holiday trends, plus stories from restaurant owners who managed to grow sales despite the pandemic.

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Written by   |  
Matthew S. Hollis is the co-founder and President of Elytus, a third-party administrator that helps clients streamline waste and recycling operations while becoming more sustainable in the process. As apart of its #WasteNothing motto, Elytus believes in saving time, money, and the environment.
Restaurant Insider