Outside of the U.S., countries have been enacting strict measures in an effort to reduce food waste. For example, in France, in 2016, lawmakers issued a ruling that forbade restaurants “to destroy unsold food products and were compelled to donate it instead,” says this article from Zero Waste Europe. But that was years ago, and the question now is, is it working? According to an investigation by PBS, France’s National Environmental Agency reports, “retail and distribution — including grocery stores — only accounts for 14% of food waste in France,” suggesting that, France’s extreme sustainability efforts are making a difference.
In the United States, our governance is different, but that doesn’t mean that the consumer mentality isn’t changing, even if the laws aren’t. According to this NRN article, “About 62% of U.S. consumers surveyed in 2022 said they would reward restaurants that showed a sustainability commitment.” NRN quoted Alex Nicolaou, the Coca-Cola Co.’s senior manager for sustainability customer strategy, who says, sustainability is a trend that’s “here to stay.”
And it isn’t just an “of the moment” trend that appeals to certain groups or generations. Further analysis shows sustainability is a growing trend. “In 2019, for example, 58% of operators said sustainability activities were necessary to remain competitive in foodservice. In 2022, that number had grown to 65%, Nicolaou said.”
Considering the pandemic, some sustainable and eco-friendly measures may have fallen by the wayside for a time. To meet health regulations and COVID-related standards, many restaurants opted for disposable cutlery, serving tools, menus, and the like. With health regulations settling back to pre-pandemic levels, many restaurants are re-focusing sustainability efforts.
These efforts exist beyond customer service items and serving tools. The conscious consumers are focused on sustainability efforts from top to bottom, including the food itself. “Nicolaou cited A&W Canada, which pioneered programs to switch to steroid- and antibiotic-free beef, chicken and pork and offered compostable cups and removed plastic straws, and Chipotle Mexican Grill, which instituted programs to ethically and locally source ingredients and introduced new restaurant designs to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030,” reports NRN.
Consumers are eager for the sustainability “trend” to become part of the restaurant industry “ethos”. Opting for compostable to-go containers but not conscientiously preparing foods is no longer enough to satisfy what is the growing value system of the consumer. Sustainability should become integrated into restaurant operations and food and service should be approached with a mindfulness that many consumers are weaving into their own daily lives.
“Sustainability may not just be a guest demand but may very well become a requirement,” notes Richard Weil, owner and principal of National Restaurant Consultants (NRC). “Many operators are organizing small groups of staff both from the Front of the House and Back of the House to talk, not just about sustainability, but to create meaningful programs around the topic.”
How sustainable is your restaurant? Our expert restaurant consultants can work with your menu and operations to improve your restaurant’s sustainability to meet the consumers’ needs and for the greater good beyond.