The sustainability question


When people head out for a bite to eat or drink, what are they looking for?

Delicious food… a great experience… atmosphere… something familiar… something new… or maybe even a status update?

Yes, probably all of these things, but today’s consumers often have another box that needs ticking – sustainability.

As the plight of the planet has become a permanent fixture in our newsfeeds, questions around sustainability are increasingly influencing how the hospitality industry goes about its business. Among the top issues are waste management, sustainable sourcing of produce, carbon footprint and plastic reduction. These are things people really care about and, for a restaurant, café or bar, joining the conversation has to go further than demonstrating a bit of goodwill. For these types of establishments, a commitment to sustainability can directly influence the bank balance and be key to future-proofing the business.

Beyond the obvious quick-wins like replacing plastic straws, here are three areas where hospitality businesses can and should be working on their sustainability:

Waste

“Roughly one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally, which amounts to about 1.3 billion tons per year.”
(Save Food: Global Initiative on Food Loss and Waste Reduction)

Now that’s a mind-blowing figure! Aside from the distressing thought of 1.3 billion tons of food winding up in the trash while elsewhere people go hungry, think about what it’s taken to produce that food in the first place – energy, resources (and emissions) all used up for nothing.

To help address this, forward-thinking hospitality businesses are implementing various waste management protocols, for instance:

– Setting internal food loss reduction targets and training staff accordingly
– Improving food storage methods and systems for ‘shelf-life’ alerts
– Upcycling or creatively re-using leftovers (e.g. Brighton-based restaurant, Silo operates a zero-waste policy and turns leftover bread crusts into miso soup)
– Redirecting surplus food to charities, community organisations or individuals (using the Foodbank network or via food redirection services such as Fareshare)
– Operating with data-driven inventory management processes (e.g. using the inventory management software inbuilt into today’s POS systems to monitor stock levels and usage, create shopping lists that focus on what sells and avoid over-ordering)
– Composting food that cannot be re-used.

Seasonal and local

The environmental impact of corporate farming and long-haul distribution of foodstuffs and beverages is fairly obvious to most of us. So, as sustainability tips come, this one’s pretty obvious too – go local and go seasonal.

New York’s first 100% sustainable sushi restaurant, Mayanoki, seems to have this down to an art. Based on seasonal availability, the restaurant rotates its menu daily and the chef spends time with diners to educate them about the ingredients they’re using each day.

While daily changes might not be possible for all, going local/seasonal makes good business sense. Firstly, it doesn’t mean having to ditch all your regular suppliers. You could start by sourcing seasonal goods from just a few local farms. Not only can this help with reducing emissions, but it’s also a strategy that fills your menu with produce that is fresh, tasty and meets the growing ‘farm to table’ trend. The good news is that, because of its abundance, seasonal produce is also usually cheaper than the shipped in alternatives.

The vegan trend

In 2018, a study by researchers at the University of Oxford claimed that veganism could be the ‘single biggest way’ to reduce your environmental impact and that cutting out meat and dairy reduces your carbon footprint from food by nearly three-quarters.

While there are some who question the long-term sustainability of veganism in relation to land usage, the benefits in terms of reducing greenhouse gases appear to be the over-riding argument right now. It’s also a concept that the general population seem to have taken to heart.

Veganuary 2019 saw 250,000 people pledge to eat only vegan foods worldwide, the highest number since this campaign began. As well as those who are switching to a vegan diet, the UK now has an estimated 22 million people dubbed ‘flexitarian’ – those who want to reduce their consumption of meat rather than give it up entirely.

From a restaurant point of view, going vegan (or adapting the menu to include more vegan options) not only helps your business improve its sustainability but also ensures it can cater to this burgeoning market.

Becoming part of the solution

If you’re looking for ways to improve sustainability within your establishment, these tips offer a great starting point. You don’t have to do all of them at once but you also don’t have to limit your efforts within just these three areas. View it as an evolving process and keep up with the latest research to identify the best approach for your business.

However, if the thought of making changes to menus, suppliers and working practices is putting you off from getting started, don’t forget that a POS system like The Good Till can make the process much easier. As well as using it for inventory control/ waste management, its reporting features can help you monitor the performance of any local farms you add to your supply chain and its easy-to-use interface makes simple work of changing the menu or trialling new options.

Addressing sustainability is one way you can satisfy business goals – it can help you meet consumers’ growing expectations, attract new customers and improve your profitability. It’s a smart move and the planet will thank you for it!

Share your sustainability tips with us on Twitter @TheGoodTillco.