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Best Practices for Restaurant Sustainability

Restaurant sustainability is a hot topic these days for many reasons and it should not be ignored. Not only does a commitment to sustainability attract clients from a brand perspective, but it also improves client comfort and the quality of food. Any business, but especially a restaurant, will do well to stay focused on positive client experiences and sustainability can help you achieve that goal.

Client Comfort

My local neighborhood has a real gem in a coffee shop that is incredibly spot on in terms of sustainability. They use locally roasted coffee, make small plates and pastries in their own kitchen, and are a neighborhood staple. However, they are a terrible place to sit down during cold or hot days. As much as I might want to head over there to enjoy a coffee and work for a few hours in the winter, it is incredibly cold and uncomfortable.

For sustainability to be done right, you will do well to stay focused on client comfort. In fact, heating and cooling issues are often centered around drafty spaces or an imbalance in the kitchen exhaust fans.

Start by asking your clients and staff how they feel on hot and cold days – are they comfortable, and are there any issues. Clients love to know that ownership is focused on their comfort – but be prepared to spend some time and money on solving the issues.

Heavy air flowing in or out of an exterior door when opened typically means the interior is not “balanced”, creating a vacuum. You can notice this if a door is hard to open or close.

In restaurants, this is typically caused by too much air flow out of the exhaust fan above the cooking equipment. Variable speed motors can both use less energy and solve this issue, by ramping up and down based on actual cooking demands. It is important to remove smoke and particulate matter from a kitchen for safety, but you want to avoid pulling too much-conditioned air out at the same time.

Entry doors are classic culprits for sources of cold or hot air, so consider an entry canopy to both mitigate that and attract customers at the same time. While this won’t solve your issues (you should still get to the bottom of balance issues), it can help.


Lighting can play an important part of your dining experience in two ways.

First, when a bulb is out in your customer-facing area, it reflects poorly on your commitment to maintenance. Light Emitting Diode lamps (or LED) last longer, so that is far less likely to occur after you upgrade the dining area to LED. LED lamps historically struggled to hit the warm colors and tones that dining required. However, that argument can be easily overcome with quality brands that include warm glow technology, moving the light toward a warmer hue as you did.

Additionally, kitchen LED upgrades are important for providing improved lighting for where it matters most. Fluorescent lamps, traditionally found in kitchens, degrade over time to put less light out than originally designed. However, LED fixtures degrade far less and provide a more consistent color temperature throughout. This can be incredibly important when looking for consistency in presentation and doneness of food.

In addition to each of these benefits, LED lamps and fixtures use 60-70 percent less energy than traditional lamps and fixtures, last twice as long, and do not have toxic Mercury in them during disposal (as fluorescent lamps do).

Organic and Locally Sourced Food

Local and organic food are definitely a hot topic these days in food trends. Not only does organic and local food have a lower carbon footprint, but it also tastes better and will make your clients happier.

I also remember a story of one of our first restaurant clients who had switched to a more sustainable chicken source. While it was more expensive, they found that they traditional chicken had so much injected liquids into it, that a serving of cooked organic chicken actually costs less than the traditional at the end of the day. Clients desire this product, are willing to pay more for it, and it is a huge part of sustainability.

Promote Your Investments

Clients of your restaurants will want to hear about investments around sustainability. Best practices are to make a strategic and concerted investment around your restaurant's sustainability and then shout it from the rooftops (maybe your rooftop organic garden).

It can make for great social media content, as well as a subtle way to integrate your commitment to your clients in your menu, branding, and advertising.

Finally, your staff will enjoy seeing your commitment to sustainability. Often, younger employees value this type of commitment as much, if not more, than pay increases. Retaining top talent in your staff will pay dividends for years to come, in addition to your energy and cost savings.


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