"A fully engaged team, motivated to do the right thing, can be the single biggest force for good."
Each year, the restaurant industry loses billions of dollars to food waste. Along with a significant loss of profit for businesses worldwide, the dire consequences on our planet's environment and natural resources are hit with the impact. Thankfully, many restaurants are taking steps to put eco-friendly practices in place and build a more sustainable future.
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One of the major organisations working to transform industry practice is the Sustainable Restaurant Association a not-for-profit, membership organisation assisting UK food-service businesses to work towards sustainability in their sector, while guiding customers towards more sustainable choices.
iVvy spoke with the Sustainable Restaurant Association on the challenges and opportunities faced by restaurants, and what venues can do to make the most significant sustainable impacts.
Q: Tell us more about how the Sustainable Restaurant Association was formed
A: Restaurateurs Henry Dimbleby, Co-Founder of Leon, and Mark Sainsbury, then owner of a number of London hotels and restaurants including The Zetter, teamed up with sustainability specialists Giles Gibbons and Simon Heppner, of Good Business. They recognised that while many in the hospitality sector wanted to take action on the big sustainability issues, there was no formal framework, support system or means of assessment.
Busy, well-intentioned restaurateurs needed a structure and someone to guide them on their journey to serving up a better food future. Identifying also that the sector had a huge role to play in shifting food culture, influencing what we eat and how much we waste, they established the Sustainable Restaurant Association.
Q: What are the biggest challenges to sustainable practice in the hospitality industry?
A: Right now, at a time when adopting sustainable practices could not only reduce a business’ impact but also save it serious money, pressure on staff time has never been greater. A fully engaged team, motivated to do the right thing can be the single biggest force for good. That’s what makes engineering sustainability into every facet of the business so important.
Q: How can venues find balance between acting sustainability, while ensuring the quality of customer experience is not impacted?
A: I’d prefer to flip this question on its head. As it is, it sounds like a customer’s experience is going to be somehow diminished if a restaurant focuses too closely on sustainability. Surely, a menu that focuses on quality seasonal ingredients, sourced from a network of mostly local producers, to the highest environmental standards, designed to waste as little possible and cooked and served by a happy team that’s treated well, is a recipe for the best possible eating out experience.
Q: Why is it so crucial for restaurants to invest in sustainable practices? How will non-compliance affect restaurants in the future?
A: With energy, food and staff costs soaring, there has never been a time when the interests of the planet and profit have been so closely aligned. Smaller, more veg-focused menus, requiring fewer kitchen staff, designed to use less energy are one way of helping restaurants weather the economic headwinds and protect the planet. Additionally, two thirds of diners say they’re concerned about the environment.
Q: Do you believe technology plays a role in the hospitality sector’s journey towards a sustainable future? If so, in which ways?
A: From smart procurement platforms to induction hobs, light sensors to energy smart meters, restaurateurs have never had so many technological aids to help them reduce their impact. Many of the UK’s largest and best known restaurant names have used smart inventory systems to drive down operational food waste to historically low levels as well as find new customers to consume leftover food via redistribution apps like Too Good To Go.
Q: What are the most important first steps a venue should take to become more sustainable?
A: The old adage that you can’t manage what you don’t measure certainly applies to restaurants aspiring to be more sustainable. If you want to reduce your energy usage or waste production, you need to establish baselines. Similarly, to work out what steps are required to improve your sourcing, you need to work out the proportion of your produce that’s produced to the highest environmental and welfare standards. The most comprehensive way to set those baselines and understand where more work is most needed, is to complete the SRA’s Food Made Good Rating. Then, to engage all team members in an improvement plan.
Discover practical ways to make your venue more sustainable - click here.