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This Isn’t American Idol: How Chipotle Went Platinum

This Isnt American Idol: How Chipotle Went PlatinumA Chipotle restaurant in Gurnee Mills, IL recently gained Platinum level certification through the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, which is run by the United States Green Building Council.  The restaurant was built on the cutting edge of environmentally sustainable technology, boasting a six-kilowatt wind turbine, a 2,500 gallon cistern for storing and reusing rainwater for sprinklers, and a building built using various recycled materials.

LEED is a voluntary program, and participants are independently certified by the Green Building Certification Institute.  The program focuses on sustainability and green practices in several areas, including site selection, water conservation, energy efficiency, building materials, and design innovations.  Buildings are evaluated on a point system and then awarded different levels of certification.  The Gurnee Chipotle has achieved the platinum level, which is the highest available.

To get platinum certification, Chipotle had to score at least 80 points on a 100 point scale in the different areas of emphasis in the program.  More and more restaurant chains are looking to LEED certification and other green practices as consumers continue to indicate they prefer companies that do so.  Chipotle has long been a leader in sustainability, including sourcing food locally, using recyclable materials, and minimizing packaging waste.

For small independent restaurants, things like LEED certification probably seem like a pipe dream reserved only for the rich big chains that can afford a PR stunt.  But in reality consumer expectations are changing fast, and sooner or later smaller restaurants will be expected to belly up to the green movement trough by their customers.  Starting that transition now makes it easier to finish later, and besides it’s great publicity.  Just ask Chipotle.   The Back Burner has all kinds of green restaurant and sustainability tips.  You might as well start digging in now, because green is here to stay.

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7 Sustainability Tips For Your Restaurant

7 Sustainability Tips For Your RestaurantMore 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.7 Sustainability Tips For Your Restaurant

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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4 Steps For Building An Effective Sustainability Plan For Your Restaurant

4 Steps For Building An Effective Sustainability Plan For Your RestaurantMaking 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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The Conflict Between Local Food And Local Government

The Conflict Between Local Food And Local GovernmentAs 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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Dipper Wells: Why You Should Turn Yours Off TODAY

Dipper Wells: Why You Should Turn Yours Off TODAYThe 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: Why You Should Turn Yours Off TODAY

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.

Dipper Wells: Why You Should Turn Yours Off TODAYWhat 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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Boulder Spotlight: The Kitchen Cafe’s Sustainable Restaurant Ethos

Boulder Spotlight: The Kitchen Cafes Sustainable Restaurant EthosThe Kitchen Café community bistro takes the community part of their name very seriously.  The Boulder, Colorado restaurant provides a simple, rustic setting where friends, families, and neighbors can gather to enjoy great tasting, unpretentious food and a world-class beer and wine list.  Meals can be ordered family style any day of the week and weekday “community hours” feature shared plates and drink deals.  Everything about this place invites you to enjoy the atmosphere of togetherness.

But The Kitchen’s commitment to community doesn’t end there.  The restaurant is 100% wind powered.  Almost 100% of leftover food and food scraps are either given to staff at the end of their shift, composted, or recycled.  And the menu evolves with the seasonal availability of mostly local herbs, greens, vegetables, and meat.

“Depending on the time of year, upwards of 70% of our ingredients are sourced locally,” says Adam Watts, a Kitchen chef.  “We change our menu to what’s available.”  These local ingredients are fresher, save hundreds of food miles, and compost created from the scraps ends up back on the farmer’s fields.  “The quality is absolutely better,” Adam says.  “When you have to wash off the dirt, you know it’s fresh.”

Sustainable practices and a community oriented atmosphere gives The Kitchen a lot of credibility when they call themselves a “community bistro.”  The great thing about The Kitchen, however, is just how serious they really are about their Boulder neighborhood.  They have partnered with local non-profit The Growe Foundation to help sponsor the Garden To Table initiative, which educates local kids about the cycle of food, from planting seeds to harvest to the final product on the dinner table.

Garden To Table takes a hands-on approach with 9 schools from the Boulder Valley School District.  Each school plants a garden, harvests vegetables and greens, and then, with the help of The Kitchen chefs, create salads and dishes to be eaten at school benefit functions.  To chef Adam Watts, it’s all about educating future generations about where food comes from.  “We want to create a new culture that understands garden-to-table ethics,” he says.

The Kitchen represents a new movement in food service, one that focuses on the benefits of not only serving good tasting food, but sustainable food as well.  To The Kitchen, it’s just another part of being a member of a community.

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10 Energy Efficiency Tips for Your Restaurant

10 Energy Efficiency Tips for Your RestaurantIt’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.10 Energy Efficiency Tips for Your Restaurant

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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