Sustainability in restaurants

Alliance of Independent Restaurants

When facing endless rises in variable costs alongside the impending issues brought on by the B-word, being forthcoming with sustainable practices is often put on the back burner.

The recent lightbulb moment and external pressures have seen a sweep in plastic straws being replaced by cornstarch, as well as a novelty saving to the consumer when they bring in their Keep Cup for their coffee – never has it felt so smug to carry around a reusable mug. It’s not enough anymore to write a pretty blurb on the menu citing the happy life of the pre-steak cows, fit for a child’s bedtime story. Consumers want more – they know more too – but what does it really mean to be sustainable and how can it be done?

The next generation

Firstly, let’s look at the younger age groups and the burgeoning pressure that will only heighten with the wash of new generations. Children in primary schools are taught about the different bins for the separated rubbish, whilst some adults are still slow to recycle their waste. 9 out of 10 Gen Z students believe that restaurants should create a menu that helps them make sustainable choices and 81% of them will choose a restaurant based on the environmental impact of the menu, according to a Hardens survey done on behalf of the SRA. For a generation whereby social media and all things digital will be part and parcel of their lives, recycling and their environmentalism will also be ingrained. People are finally ‘woke’ as consciousness and social awareness hits the mainstream.

“81% of Gen Z will choose a restaurant based on the menu’s environmental impact”


To be a successful restaurant in 2018 and beyond, your business plan needs to have a CSR section, as it would marketing or finance. Sustainability covers everything from how you treat the planet, to what’s on your plate as well as how you treat those people who are in your business, either visiting or working. It’s good for the environment and it is good for your business in the long term.

The latte levy

The ‘latte levy’ was declined which seems strange considering single-use plastic bags usage reduced by 85% in the first 2.5 years following the 5p charge, according to the Guardian, showing that the general public listen and, collaboratively, is a force to be reckoned with. Habits are altered and benefits are manifested. You only need to read the stats behind the 156.6% rise in reusable cups in the first six weeks of a Starbucks trial that charges customers 5p for ordering drinks supplied in a paper cup, according to Propel.

Food wasters

Food waste is another bigger, and rightly so. However, use this to your advantage and see commercial gains, like Skye Gyngell at Spring. Her 3-course scratch menu is just £20 a head, giving a lower entry price point to an otherwise premium menu, opening Spring up to the price-conscious theatre-going audience, selling them creative reincarnations of food otherwise destined for the bin. This menu alone has resulted in 40-60 additional covers between 5.30-6.30pm – a time when the restaurant was previously empty, according to Big Hospitality. Apps like Olio can also help you dispose of your food waste ethically and easily. They will arrange for their ‘food waste heroes’ to pick up your leftovers and will distribute accordingly. Food waste can also be avoided when cooking nose to tail like Neil Rankin who is leading the way in his no holds barred approach to cooking an animal.

“9 out of 10 Gen Z students believe that restaurants should create a menu that helps them make sustainable choices.”


On the other end of the spectrum, you could increase the amount of veg on the menu and each individual plate. Eating more plant based is friendlier for the environment and is growing in popularity for those opting for vegan and flexitarian lifestyles as it’s healthier too.

Reducing your restaurant’s carbon footprint can be done by offering more local produce. We’re an island nation so appreciate that the monotonous UK climate does not afford many everyday items such as lemons, olive oil, oranges – to name just a few. However,  shopping seasonally, where possible, can result in locality. It also encourages regular menu changes, giving consumers choice and diversification – necessary in this world of reduced attention span and the constant need for renewal.

Be kind

Kindness is king: Hackney coffee shop, Second Shot, employs people who have been affected by homelessness, they train them up and help transition them on to long-term employment elsewhere providing an apprenticeship that serves everyone. Redemption Roasters is another socially responsible company, giving ex-offenders a step up and training to reduce their chance of reoffending. They were approached by the ministry of justice to help with this initiative. These are just two examples of businesses giving people a leg up.

Packaging is such a minefield and needs to be tackled with often a lot of research and defiance; Research to find suppliers offering products in recycled AND recyclable packaging as well as defiance to insist that your key suppliers understand and offer this. A good company for this is London Bio Packaging who offer a range of quality compostable and recyclable products.

It’s enjoyable to see timely and relevant pop-up cafes emerge to wave the environmental flag. Most recently, Ecover’s Rubbish Cafe and Percol’s ‘most sustainable coffee shop’. These interesting concepts included (respectively) payment with plastic – packaging not cards – and a hooked up pedal bike demonstrating, to any willing participant, the energy needed to power a coffee machine for just one cup(it’s a lot and completely exhausting, in case you’re wondering).

It’s a journey so start slowly. Organisations are there to help, like the Sustainable Restaurant Association. There’s that old adage of ‘not eating ingredients that your grandmother wouldn’t have heard of’ – let’s flip that on its head and contemplate ‘what would our great grandchildren do’ as, after all, the future is theirs.