Three Ways to Create a More Sustainable Chain Restaurant

Creating a sustainable chain restaurant is a concept that’s become increasingly popular over the last decade. The reality, though, is we’re just scratching the surface of this movement. According to industry-leading trends reports from Technomic, sustainability and environmental stewardship will inform the direction of the restaurant industry more than ever.

More critical than industry forecasters, though, are today’s foodservice customers. They’re the ones who drive demand and, ultimately, profits. According to the Business of Sustainability Index, 66 percent of all U.S. consumers and 80 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 34 are willing to pay more for products that are considered to be sustainable or help cultivate sustainability.

For restaurant chains across the country, this is an enormous opportunity to create some differentiation and separation from the competition. Whether it’s ingredients that are farmed sustainably or cooking practices that reduce environmental impact, sustainable restaurants stand a better chance of attracting today’s consumers than those who don’t consider the importance of sustainability.

What Is Sustainability?

That’s a real question and can mean different things to different people. In most cases, sustainability in restaurants is attributed to social causes that can reduce environmental impact, consume fewer natural resources, result from ethical farming and livestock practices, and even help reduce the frequency of food insecurity. As mentioned by Technomic, sustainability is traditionally an issue for forward-thinking chefs. But now it’s also one for major global chains.

Which chains? Only the biggest names in fast food and fast casual foodservice. McDonald’s, Starbucks, Yum! Brands, Chipotle, and many more of the most iconic names in foodservice are investing in ways to become eco-friendly restaurants in the future. While fast food has often been a segment that most contributes to pollution (think packaging), these companies are now looking for ways to lower their carbon footprint.

One way they’re becoming eco-friendly is by offering plant-based protein options. Both McDonald’s and Yum! Brands work with Beyond Meat for non-meat options. Radical for companies founded on serving hamburgers and fried chicken! Chipotle has made a name for itself by concentrating on using local ingredients at its restaurants. So the tomatoes you get for your burrito in California won’t be the same ones on a taco salad in Chicago. By supporting small farms and buying local produce, the carbon footprint for ingredients is smaller than if every location were shipped items from one central warehouse.

Ideas for Creating a Sustainable Chain Restaurant

1) Use technology, and you’ll use less.

One of the easiest ways to create sustainability in any business is to leverage technology. In restaurants, cloud-based monitoring and reporting like Open Kitchen from Powerhouse Dynamics lets operators know in real time what resources are being used. Internet of Things solutions is critical to connecting operational data to decision-makers in ways that reduce the impact on staff. Simply put, smart kitchens are the kitchens of the future, and those operations use fewer resources to achieve more.

2) Choose great food supply partners.

Transparency is key. We’ve seen that proven over the last few decades. The success of make-to-order in front of the customer concepts allow consumers to literally see everything going into their meals. There’s more to transparency than just the point-of-sale, though. Food suppliers, vendors, and other partners are also critical to this concept. When a chicken vendor can detail exactly how his product is raised and processed, it allows the operator to turn those things into positive marketing messages that underscore the operation’s values of sustainable sourcing.

3) Use equipment that favors conservation.

The fewer resources an oven or refrigerator uses, the less impact the operation will have on the environment. Restaurant sustainability practices most certainly extend to the equipment used in the restaurant, so finding units that use less water, provide greater gas or electricity savings, or operate only when required is advantageous for reducing utility costs and attracting environmentally conscious consumers.

Using automation to help build sustainability can also help with labor costs. See where your restaurant stands compared to others with our labor costs calculator.

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Topics: Automation, IoT, Restaurants