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Going green is a huge buzzword these days, but the great thing about it is, going green can also save you money. Learn how here.

4 Steps For Building An Effective Sustainability Plan For Your Restaurant

Sustainable restaurantsMaking the decision to make your restaurant a more sustainable operation has gotten considerably easier in the last few years.  That’s because as consumer awareness grows there are more and more benefits associated with “green” restaurants.  If you’re in doubt, simply look at the National Restaurant Association’s sustainability efforts, or see how Chipotle has succeeded in a down economy without significantly lowering their prices.

If you’ve set a sustainability goal for yourself, then the next thing you need is a plan.  How are you going to make your operation more sustainable?  What are the areas that can provide the maximum benefit with the least amount of investment?  How do you plan to market your efforts to your customers?  All are good questions, and you’d better have answers before you start spending time and money.

Here’s four steps to get you started towards a greener, more profitable future:

Improve energy efficiency. In most restaurants, this is the easiest place to cut costs with minimal investment.  The added bonus is that you get to tell your customers how committed to sustainability you are after you’ve cut energy bills.  Simple improvements like training your staff to manage equipment efficiently, cutting heating and cooling bills, and investing in energy efficient water heating can make a huge difference.

Of course, every restaurant is different, and the strategies that work in your restaurant aren’t going to work somewhere else.  When you’re making your sustainability plan, identify where you can improve efficiency then estimate how much you’ll save on future bills versus how much it will cost you to implement your plan.

Come up with a program. Another key to a successful sustainability plan for your restaurant is figuring out ways to reduce waste.  Recycling and composting programs are the two most common ways to address this.  Unfortunately, unlike energy efficiency improvements these waste reduction programs are either cost neutral or increase your operating expenses.

That doesn’t mean they don’t provide benefits.  The public relations mileage you can get out of a good recycling or composting program can prove invaluable.  Remind customers you recycle or compost waste.  The local newspaper in your neighborhood is also another great way to get the word out about your program.  Newspapers run stories like this all the time, and it can be great free advertising.

Change your buying habits. You’re a consumer just like everybody else.  The purchasing decisions you make for your restaurant say a lot about how you run your business.  Making sustainable decisions will also make your operation a lot greener.

Some places to start:

Don’t be bashful – talk about yourself! Implementing a successful sustainability plan doesn’t do you a bit of good if no one knows about the hard work and money you’ve invested.  As you put this plan into action, don’t be afraid to tell everyone you can think of about what you’re doing.

This isn’t just a one-time announcement.  Your sustainability plan will likely take some time to implement, and you should turn that effort into an ongoing conversation with anyone who will listen, especially customers.  Use multiple channels ranging from banners in the front of the house to social media to announce your new, sustainable self to the world.

You’ll be amazed how interested people will be in what you’re doing.

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Use Edible Scraps To Create Restaurant Family Meals

Restaurant Family Meals Boost MoraleThe “restaurant family meal” is a central event in many well-run restaurants.  Just before the dinner rush front of house and back of house staff gather to enjoy a well-cooked meal prepared by the chef.  The family meal is a great way to foster positive interaction and a feeling of camaraderie among your employees.  It also gives you a chance to get on the soapbox and talk about issues and work on training.

During the year that I worked as a server in Indianapolis, I was never lucky enough to work in a restaurant that supported a family meal.  In terms of improving employee morale and retention, the family meal has some real benefits for your business.

While this may seem obvious, there’s another, less apparent benefit to the family meal: you can reduce your food waste by investing in them.  Smart restaurateurs take the perfectly edible leftovers that are inevitably created while preparing meals and save them for the family meal.  This means your investment is minimal and the benefits can be immediately realized.

Saving for the family meal also gives you a chance to get your line thinking about everything that can be saved while they cook.  In the process of getting creative for the next meal, kitchen staff will inevitably become better at reducing food waste in general.

Your restaurant’s family meal doesn’t have to be anything fancy: many restaurants, even fine dining establishments, keep the meal for staff firmly in the realm of comfort food: sloppy joe’s, casseroles, meatloaf, etc.

Nothing appeals to the basic human sense of community like sharing food.  And nothing you do for your employees will create as much goodwill for as cheap of a price as using your leftovers to create a hearty meal before the shift starts.

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The Conflict Between Local Food And Local Government

Restaurants Using Urban GardensAs I have noted on The Back Burner before, more and more restaurants are sourcing their food locally.  And restaurants in urban areas are even turning vacant lots, empty roofs, and bare terraces into herb and vegetable gardens, yielding fresh produce for their customers.  The trend has taken off quickly, and, at least in Culver City, CA, the municipal government is grappling with how to regulate urban gardens.

The problem started when the owner of the Bluebird Café approached the owner of a long-vacant strip of land near the restaurant that was formerly part of a railroad spur.  The restaurateur soon convinced the developer to let him use the land to grow crops that would supply fresh produce for the restaurant, including 535 tomato plants and 40 fruit trees.

Everything was going fine until municipal officials caught wind of the operation and pointed out that city zoning laws prohibited the pair from selling any of the produce that came out of their impromptu garden.  Anything used for personal consumption was fine, but for sale was illegal.

As cities and suburbs have grown bigger they have covered more and more farmland, and as consumers demand locally sourced, organically grown produce, a conflict has arisen between antiquated zoning laws and the realities of the modern landscape.  The result is a growing need for more progressive municipal laws that allow both citizens and local businesses to maximize land use in their communities.  Such progressive thinking not only addresses the growing desire for locally sourced foods but improves the municipal scenery and helps the local economy.

Concerns over water use, toxins and pollutants in urban soil, and the taxation of sold produce are all things that can be readily addressed by revised zoning laws.  It’s merely a matter of pushing those changes through the bureaucracy of local government.

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7 Sustainability Tips For Your Restaurant

More and more restaurants are exploring ways to make their operations “sustainable.”  Yes, it’s a buzzword, and yes, it’s a trend most commonly associated with San Francisco restaurants and other yuppie hideouts.  That doesn’t mean most of the restaurants out there can’t utilize sustainability in their operations.

Trends show that consumers are increasingly educated about the benefits of sustainability and advertising your green practices will help reinforce positive images of your brand.  And, of course, you can feel good about the food you serve, which can be a reward in itself.

Some tips on making your restaurant sustainable:

Who Wants Some Iridescent Shark? – As world fish populations face serious decline, the demand for seafood has only risen.  The striped pangasius, a type of catfish native to southeast Asia, has become a great farmed alternative to white fish species like orange roughy.

Serve Sustainable Seafood – The Monterey Bay Aquarium has developed a list of sustainable fish species so that consumers and restaurateurs can make informed choices when it comes to serving and eating seafood.

Restaurants and Farmers Work Together To Reduce Food Waste And Improve Crop Yields – A collective of San Francisco farmers and restaurants have developed a system that works to everyone’s benefit: taking food waste and using it as a very effective fertilizer on local farms.

Greener And Cheaper: Restaurants Grow Their Own Food – More and more chefs are investing time into their own personal gardens to help supplement the fresh produce available in their kitchen.

Darden Group Driving Sustainable Seafood Practices – The Darden restaurant group, owner of the Red Lobster chain, has taken a serious interest in using seafood sustainably.  They view it as a vital long-term business decision.  Learn more in this post.

Sardines: Sustainable AND Delectable? – Most people associate the sardine with oily tin cans full of a mushy fish.  But fresh sardines are actually very good, and a sustainable fish population as well.

The Kitchen Cafe’s Sustainable Restaurant Ethos – The Kitchen Cafe in Boulder, CO, takes it’s role in the community very seriously, and they view part of that role as promoting and using sustainable practices.  Learn how in this post.

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Chefs Make Their Own Honey

Chefs Raise HoneybeesWe’ve been hearing more and more about the local sourcing of ingredients in the food service industry.  By far the most common form local sourcing takes is a small independent restaurant working out a deal for locally grown vegetables and herbs, or maybe even some locally raised meat.

Of course, restaurants in large urban areas have a much harder time finding local sources because farms are so much farther away.  Some have turned to growing their own food in small rooftop gardens or on empty lots near the restaurant.  These little chef gardens are a great way for a restaurant to get premium fresh ingredients from a truly local source.

Now some chefs have taken the grow-it-yourself trend to a whole new level: they’ve become beekeepers.  Two large urban hotels have allowed their chefs to keep beehives on the rooftop, one in Washington, D.C. and one in Atlanta.  The resulting honey is put to good use in the restaurant, where it makes a much more intricate and interesting sweetener than refined sugar.

Honeybee colonies all over North America have been suffering from a mysterious disease called colony collapse syndrome.  The honeybee pollinates at least a third of the vegetables and herbs humans eat and plays a vital role in the pollination of many other plants.  While a couple executive chefs aren’t going to make much of a difference in the overall bee population, it’s just another example of how the local sourcing of all types of ingredients has become an interesting trend in food service.

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Restaurant Energy Efficiency: 10 Tips

Energy Efficiency RestaurantsIt’s such a buzzword these days it has almost become cliche, but nevertheless green restaurants are an important and lasting trend.  Customers are the main force driving this, and consistently they say they value restaurants with green practices.  Giving customers what they want while reducing your operating costs through more efficient (“green”) practices seems like a win-win for almost any restaurant.

These posts focus on how to improve your restaurant’s energy efficiency:

1. Manage Equipment Effectively – The cooking equipment in your kitchen are some of the biggest energy consumers  for your business.  If you can cut energy use here, you will see a considerable improvement to your bottom line.

2. Energy Efficiency: Look Past The Kitchen – Now that you’ve used post #1 above to improve the energy efficiency of your kitchen, you can start working on the rest of your building.  Again, some very simple steps can result in significant savings.

3. Manage Hot Water Efficiently – Another energy hog is your hot water heater.  Your restaurant goes through a lot of hot water, and anything you can do to improve the efficiency of heating water will also help you save money.

4. Use Efficiency Rebates! – Sooner or later you’ll need to update restaurant equipment, and the sooner you do so, the faster you’ll improve your kitchen’s energy efficiency.  Depending on where you live, you can take advantage of some significant rebates from local goverment and utilities to help offset the cost of new equipment.

5. Understanding Product Packaging Terms: Compostable, Biodegradable, Recyclable – Just because packaging sounds green doesn’t mean it is.  The companies that market and package products your restaurant uses are trying to sound green just like everyone else, and it’s improtant to understand the nuances of the language they use on the products you buy.

6. Green Technology: Energy Management Sytems – Chain restaurants are starting to use energy management systems to control energy use in multiple locations.  It’s only a matter of time before this technology can be applied in indepenedent restaurants as well.

7. Why Recycle? Because It Feels Good – Recycling is one of the few tips on this list that won’t result in you saving money.  But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.  Customers who see a robust recycling program in a restaurant feel good about your establishment, and that can mean a lot more than the cost of recycling.

8. Green Consumers Going Strong – Despite recession and financial pressure, studies show that consumers till want green products and services, even if they have to pay more for them.An Energy Efficient Steamer

9. Buy An Energy Efficient Steamer – Investing in a commercial steamer is a great way to improve the efficiency of your kitchen and the taste and quality of your product.  Learn more in this post.

10. Tech Talk: Replacing Refrigeration Door Gaskets – Get some practical, do-it-yourself advice on one of the easiest ways to increase energy efficiency in your restaurant: by replacing worn door gaskets.

Check out more articles on Tundra’s Resource Center for Restaurant Energy Efficiency

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Dipper Wells: Why You Should Turn Yours Off TODAY

Dipper WellThe dipper well is a small countertop sink that uses a constant flow of water to clean utensils like ice cream scoops and barista thermometers.  The sink fills up to a certain level and then drains away, so a dipper well acts like a constantly filling pool.  The in and out flow of water makes it convenient to clean utensils because any residue drains out automatically as the pool continues to fill.

The problem is that many coffee shops and ice cream parlors leave their dipper wells on regardless of how much business they’re doing.  That means water is constantly flowing, and it adds up very quickly.  As restaurants explore sustainable and environmentally friendly practices, partly out of personal conviction, partly out of the need to cut costs, and mainly because customers are demanding it, things like the dipper well have become more and more obsolete.

The sad fact is that we can hardly afford the convenient luxury of a dipper well any more.  A UNLV professor in Las Vegas conducted a study of water use as a direct result of dipper wells, and the results were pretty shocking, especially for a city located in the middle of a desert that is susceptible to drought: 2,453 dipper wells in 1,134 food service locations used 106.4 million gallons of water in a single year.  The professor says the numbers are pretty conservative and the real totals are probably much higher.Dipper Wells Waste Water

Starbucks has taken a lot of flack for their use of dipper wells as well, particularly in England, where a news article was recently published with similarly shocking numbers: 5.85 million gallons of water are used in the 10,000 global Starbucks locations every day.  Starbucks has pledged to remove dipper wells from their U.S. locations by the end of this year, and international shops will follow suit soon after.

Dipper wells became so ubiquitous because of food safety concerns.  A constant flow of water helps prevent bacterial buildup, and they are so easy to clean and use that even the greenest employee can be put to work while minimizing contamination problems.  Plenty of other methods address the food safety issue and are almost as easy to implement, however.

Besides the ethical issue of wasting a precious resource like potable water, dipper wells are also a drag on any business’ bottom line.  It’s a deceivingly large monthly expense that’s easy to miss since your water bill also includes dishwashing, food prep, beverages, ice, etc.  Depending on how many dipper wells you use, turning them off could add up to several hundred dollars a year once you account for water and wastewater charges.

An Efficient Undercounter DishwasherWhat are some alternatives to dipper wells?  Starbucks has started using a one scoop, one pitcher policy in some stores, meaning the scoop and pitcher are used once before being washed.  A commercial undercounter dishwasher could easily replace a dipper well and significantly reduce water usage since many models use less than a gallon per rack.

Many other options exist; just make sure you consult with your local Board of Health to ensure you are minimizing contamination risks before shutting down your dipper well for good.  Replacing the dipper wells in your establishment will save you money, save you face, and earn you some green restaurant credibility with your customers.  And you just might be helping the environment along the way, a very marketable side effect to a smart business decision.

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Sardines: Sustainable AND Delectable??

Sardines Can Be A Sustainable Seafood OptionSardines don’t exactly evoke thoughts of fine seafood to most Americans.  Instead, many think of tin cans packed with greasy, mushy fish and some kind of sauce.  Growing up, I only ate sardines on camping trips, and then only reluctantly.  I doubt anyone would look at sardines on the menu and think “That looks good!”

But in fact fresh sardines can be delectable.  Long a favorite fish on Mediterranean menus, sardines can be grilled and then served with lemon and olive oil, mixed with pasta sauces, baked, or braised.  Americans on the west coast are rediscovering the lowly sardine since local populations have made a comeback in places like Monterey Bay.  During the 1950s, chronic overfishing caused the collapse of the fishery, and sardines have taken years to recover.  Now fish merchants are selling sardines to local restaurants at a brisk pace.

Customers who try sardines will be surprised by the taste and happy about the abundant omega-3 fatty acids, which are a very healthy addition to any diet.  But the best part about sardines is the sustainability of the fishery.  The sardines living in the waters off the Californian coast are carefully managed, with only three short fishing seasons allowed every year, and the fish has been certified sustainable by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program.

That means restaurants can get the best of all worlds: marketing a great tasting fish that comes from a sustainable population and is healthy to eat.  As other once-popular fish selections like orange roughy, swordfish, and grouper decline because of overfishing and mercury contamination, once snubbed fish like the sardine start to look much more appealing.

Consumers value healthy, “green” menu choices.  And while the sardine probably won’t hit menus nationwide, the story is an encouraging one.  Surely more smart menu choices like the sardine await restaurateurs willing to look.

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10 Energy Efficiency Tips for Your Restaurant

Energy Efficient RestaurantsIt’s such a buzzword these days it has almost become cliche, but nevertheless green restaurants are an important and lasting trend.  Customers are the main force driving this, and consistently they say they value restaurants with green practices.  Giving customers what they want while reducing your operating costs through more efficient (“green”) practices seems like a win-win for almost any restaurant.

These posts focus on how to improve your restaurant’s energy efficiency:

1. Manage Equipment Effectively – The cooking equipment in your kitchen are some of the biggest energy consumers  for your business.  If you can cut energy use here, you will see a considerable improvement to your bottom line.

2. Energy Efficiency: Look Past The Kitchen – Now that you’ve used post #1 above to improve the energy efficiency of your kitchen, you can start working on the rest of your building.  Again, some very simple steps can result in significant savings.

3. Manage Hot Water Efficiently – Another energy hog is your hot water heater.  Your restaurant goes through a lot of hot water, and anything you can do to improve the efficiency of heating water will also help you save money.

4. Use Efficiency Rebates! – Sooner or later you’ll need to update restaurant equipment, and the sooner you do so, the faster you’ll improve your kitchen’s energy efficiency.  Depending on where you live, you can take advantage of some significant rebates from local goverment and utilities to help offset the cost of new equipment.

5. Understanding Product Packaging Terms: Compostable, Biodegradable, Recyclable – Just because packaging sounds green doesn’t mean it is.  The companies that market and package products your restaurant uses are trying to sound green just like everyone else, and it’s improtant to understand the nuances of the language they use on the products you buy.

6. Green Technology: Energy Management Sytems – Chain restaurants are starting to use energy management systems to control energy use in multiple locations.  It’s only a matter of time before this technology can be applied in indepenedent restaurants as well.

7. Why Recycle? Because It Feels Good – Recycling is one of the few tips on this list that won’t result in you saving money.  But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.  Customers who see a robust recycling program in a restaurant feel good about your establishment, and that can mean a lot more than the cost of recycling.

8. Green Consumers Going Strong – Despite recession and financial pressure, studies show that consumers till want green products and services, even if they have to pay more for them.An Energy Efficient Steamer

9. Buy An Energy Efficient Steamer – Investing in a commercial steamer is a great way to improve the efficiency of your kitchen and the taste and quality of your product.  Learn more in this post.

10. Tech Talk: Replacing Refrigeration Door Gaskets – Get some practical, do-it-yourself advice on one of the easiest ways to increase energy efficiency in your restaurant: by replacing worn door gaskets.

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Darden Group Driving Sustainable Seafood Practices

Sustainable Seafood is Vital To Future ConsumptionThe Darden Group, which operates both Red Lobster and Olive Garden national chain restaurants, is understandably also the largest purchaser of seafood in the U.S.  As concern grows over the dwindling seafood supply in the world’s oceans, Darden has made every attempt to stay out in front of the situation and look for solutions to a growing problem.

Darden spends an estimated $800 million annually on seafood for its restaurant chains.  In order to keep their restaurants supplied with product, the company has gotten involved with several initiatives, primary among them the development of aquaculture, or fish farming.  The problem with fish farming is that, if done improperly, it can have just as detrimental effect on the environment as trawling.  Fish farms are water-intensive and produce a lot of waste, which often ends up in local water supplies.  There is also the danger of disease cross-contamination between farmed and wild populations.  The Global Aquaculture Alliance, which Darden helped found, has set guidelines and standards for global aquaculture.  The restaurant group began requiring that all farmed shrimp suppliers adhere to the Alliance’s standards in 2006.

But aquaculture can only satisfy part of America’s constant appetite for seafood.  When it comes to the harvesting of wild seafood, Darden has made moves to ensure the product they buy is coming from sustainable populations.  The company also heeds an advisory group that makes recommendations on problematic fish populations, like swordfish and orange roughy.Lobster Is Regulated

Perhaps the best known sea creature sold by Darden is lobster, and the crustacean is also unique in that it is almost entirely wild-caught.  Darden has made moves to block the unregulated import of Caribbean lobster that are not of reproductive age, a key requirement for lobster populations in U.S. waters that help sustain the population.

However, Darden does still struggle with sustainable seafood issues.  Swordfish, which Red Lobster stopped serving several years ago, is still on the menu at the Capital Grill, recent Darden acquisition.  And many fish species, like salmon and red snapper, are purchased from unregulated fish farms with questionable environmental practices.

But overall Darden’s mission to pursue sustainable seafood is recognized as industry-leading, which is an important role for the biggest kid on the block, and one that can be extremely influential.  With scientists predicting the collapse of the world’s fisheries by 2050 if they are harvested at today’s rates, Darden views their efforts to move towards sustainability as vital to their survival.

For more info on serving sustainable seafood in your restaurant, check out this Back Burner post.

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