Today’s restaurant goers care more than ever about where their food comes from, responsible business practices and social responsibility. In short, they care about restaurant sustainability and they speak with their wallets. Sustainable practices are not only good for the environment, they can also save you money. With this in mind, we took some time to scour the web for the easiest ways to improve restaurant sustainability and have aggregated the best ones for you!
Restaurant Sustainability: Best Practices
Source Local: According to lightspeedhq.com, “purchasing food from a local vendor or farmers’ market means that the trip to your restaurant is shorter and less gas has been used on the journey”. In addition, this supports local farmers and suppliers, and customers view this in a positive light.
Cook What’s in Season: Openforbusiness.opentable.com suggests changing your menu four times a year (once for each season) and rotating new dishes in every six weeks or so to accommodate ingredients with short growing seasons. In addition, if you can grow it yourself, do it!
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: This is a very simple way to not only cut costs, but to improve your restaurant sustainability. According to buzztime, you can: buy kitchen and bar mats made from 100% recycled materials; recycle wood boxes, cardboard and glass bottles; and opt for beverage and takeout containers made from recycled paper or compostable materials.
Recycle Fryer Oil: You may not even have to go anywhere to do this. According to starchefs.com “there are biofuel companies across the country that will pick it up and convert it”. The win is two-fold here. You recycle your old oil, and you provide a cleaner source of fuel.
Don’t Waste Ice: It takes energy and water to make ice, so don’t just automatically refill ice bins. Starchefs.com suggests waiting until the bins get truly low, and only adding as much as needed to get through.
These tips are among the easiest to implement and can begin having a positive impact on your sales and reputation in the community. Little steps add up and make a big difference over time, so keep it up!
The foodservice industry is constantly evolving. One minute we’re focused on one thing, then six months down the road something new pops up. In our 2011 “end of year” foodservice trends and predictions review, quite a few trends have really stuck such as mobile ordering devices, local food and double-sided menus (menus that separate healthy and unhealthy, such as McDonald’s recent “Favorites Under 400“). Then there are other trends we haven’t heard much about such as plate shapes.
So as you can see, a lot can change in eight months. Here are some of the latest trends, and we hope you will share what you are seeing in our comment section below.
Food trucks aren’t the only form of mobile food, pop-up restaurants are too. A pop-up restaurant is a temporary dining experience that can be used for a chef to try out different menu items, a landlord wishing to rent out space during downtime or a dining experience for an event such as the pop-up Goodness, which lasted the duration of New York’s fashion week in February.
However Intuit doesn’t say pop-ups are anything new, because they have been around for quite a long time. They are starting to show true staying power though. Perhaps it’s because it’s cheaper to start a pop-up than to open a restaurant, it’s a great way to test out an idea or maybe there is something to be said for the power of social media to draw customers.
Upscale Kids Menus
Quinoa, black bean and corn salad, stuffed zucchini boats, pesto pasta, apple oat balls and felafel wraps are just five of the 54 winning entries of the first Kids’ State Dinner hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama on August 20. Just to reiterate, these ideas weren’t whipped up by professional chefs with years of experience, but just children. With the new USDA guidelines for schools and an overall push for better eating habits, restaurants have started to pick up on revamping kids menus and provide out of the box menu ideas. For instance Applebees offers a grilled chicken sandwich with a variety of sides (the side advertised being broccoli) and Ruby Tuesday offers kids chop steak with broccoli and white cheddar mashed potatoes. These menus are much more advanced compared to the days of cheeseburgers, chicken nuggets, french fries and macaroni and cheese.
Gen Y Changing the Game
A recent Food Management article looked closely at Packaged Fact’s “Collegiate Gen Y eating: Culinary Trend Mapping Report” and it appears that college-aged Gen Y’ers (18 to 22) are starting to define new trends in food. According to Food Management, it’s because of the way they are exposed to new foods and they predict these trends will stay because the foodservice industry will have to adapt once all these students enter the workforce.
The report found students “are nutritionally minded, crave flavorful foods, look for comfort and indulgence and need speed and convenience.” Some recent foods or trends that have been introduced in college foodservices have been going meatless, chickpeas, different fruits and vegetables, Asian cuisine, comfort foods (such as Italian or Mexican) and foods one can eat while on the go.
Awareness of Food Allergies and Diet Restrictions on Menus
This section isn’t necessarily a trend, but restaurants are starting to pay more attention to food allergies and dietary restrictions and take them more seriously. Even as far back as a couple years ago, people weren’t thinking about gluten-free. Today? Several restaurants include gluten-free items on their menu. But food allergy awareness extends further than the menu. In the back of the house, restaurants have to ensure people with severe food allergies remain safe. Many restaurants have put procedures in place while others are still learning and take food allergies on a case by case basis. To help, manufacturers of foodservice products have begun to create products to help with food allergies, such as San Jamar’s Allergen Saf-T-Zone cutting boards. Then when it comes to just health or dietary restrictions, restaurants are including nutritional information or helpful guides to help diners make informed choices on the food they eat. For instance noting an entree is low calorie or low fat. Others may let customers know an item has a low amount of sodium.
Local and Sustainability
Consumers are really starting to care more about where their food comes from, how it’s grown, what the animals they may consume are eating, etc. Over the last couple years there has been a rise in locally sourced food. This rise went as high as restaurants going “hyper-local,” where they grow their own food. It provides customers with a fresh product while keeping it in a community.
Then there is the other side of the spectrum where people and/or restaurants care about where their meat comes from and what the animal is eating. There are some individuals that can tell a difference in taste between a grass fed cow and corn fed cow. In a Forbes article, they said people “can now buy specialized breeds, meats raised on different diets, and those without antibiotics or hormones in just about every major city.”
What changes are you seeing in the foodservice industry? Restaurants, schools, etc.? Please share below!
While local food tops some trend lists, perhaps it’s not a trend at all, but something that’s here to stay. Going local has benefits for both an establishment and a community.
Whether you would like to make drastic changes, or just would like to make a few minor tweaks, there are a variety of ways to go local at your foodservice establishment.
Besecker’s Benefits for Going Local
1. Know Products First-Hand: Buying local provides a more thorough understanding of the quality, care and contents of your ingredients.
2. Reduced Food Miles: The expenses to have food delivered to your establishment will be lower with local suppliers. Also, your customers will be provided with a fresher meal.
3. Safer Food: Buying food locally allows for a more accurate ability to deter the inclusion of by-products and additives that can lead to detrimental health issues and side effects. (For instance… ever heard of a little thing called pink slime?)
4. Shorter Supply Lead Times: Shorter lead times reduce the cost associated with stocking food. Why? By reducing storage needs, you will be able to keep fewer foods in reserve and can have more frequent deliveries.
5. Reduced Impact on the Environment: Buying local will decrease the amount of time the food coming to you will be on the road. This will reduce the amount of strain placed on the environment to supply that food. Also, potentially harmful side effects will be eliminated as many of the processing procedures associated with long term food handling will be done away with.
6. Stimulate Your Local Economy: If you pump more money into your local economy, you are effectively ensuring those around you have the resources to patronize your business with a greater frequency.
Turn “I Can’t” into “I Can”
It’s easy to make assumptions or excuses for why it might be too difficult for a foodservice to go local. But there’s a challenge to everything and sometimes a certain challenge isn’t as challenging as one might think.
Besecker said the first excuse foodservices make as to why they can’t go local is time and effort.
“The foodservice industry is often already a very labor and time intensive endeavor,” he said. “The added burden of providing yet another link in that food supply chain is a distinct possibility but no more so then researching the lowest cost, best quality provider in a more traditional supply chain.”
He added that in the end, it all comes down to the amount of energy you feel comfortable utilizing and how that cost and out pour is managed within your business model.
“With a small investment, one can easily find the means to capitalize on a local food chain to great benefit.”
A second hurdle that turn many foodservices off to the idea of going local is foodservice regulations and restrictions of locally sourced food.
Besecker said one concern may be whether or not local, state or national health codes restrict the use of local foods.
“Nearly all the same rules apply in utilizing locally-sourced foods as well as those governing their safe handling,” he said. “In most cases, a greater sense of security in the quality and safety of the local foods exists merely because of a more thorough attention to their growing and handling.”
How Your Restaurant Can Go Local
According to Besecker, there are several levels of involvement in which a foodservice can go local. So whether it be big or small, if you are interested in going local, there is a way.
1.Traditional Food Suppliers: After realizing the importance of local, Besecker said many of the traditional food wholesale suppliers have adopted locally sourced product lines to include with their other typical foodservice offerings.
2. Local Food Wholesalers: Cut out the number of miles and potential “middle men.”
3. Farmers Markets: These provide fresh, locally-grown foods that Besecker said can often be brought right near your delivery dock or even right to your location.
4. Local Farmers: For many instances, a solid farm operation is never too far away–even in larger cities. In fact, Besecker said New York City foodservice operations rely more per capita on local farms than any other food service market in the country!
5. Community Gardens: Grow along with your neighbors and customers. It can help benefit your bottom line and also the way your customers view food. Working with community gardens can even help your customers set new standards for their own way of life.
6. Restaurant Gardens and Farms: Many restaurants have created their own garden or farm to help supplement their food supply.
(Image at left provided by Greenville Community Gardens).
Local food was on the top of many food and restaurant trend lists for 2011 and 2012, but perhaps this isn’t a trend at all. From buying locally to actually growing food, the emphasis for restaurants has been higher.
This week we worked with Jeffrey Besecker, executive chef of Ozro & Ray’s and executive director of Greenville Community Gardens (GCH) in Greenville, Ohio to learn more about going local and how restaurants can benefit from it.
Why Go Local?
“A return to a local food system may not just be the latest fad, or merely jumping on the band wagon,” Besecker said. “It may very well be the wave of the 21st century as well as a necessity for survival.”
Cost (supply chain), quality control (increased freshness, improved taste), sustainability and marketability are Besecker’s reasons for restaurants going local.
“One of the chief reasons to “Go Local” may well be the increase in marketability in your product line or business,” he said. “An area that is often overlooked in general in the foodservice industry is building a brand name which will assure the sustainability and success of your business model.”
Looking deeper, Besecker gave three key reasons why locally sourced products impact marketability.
1. Local foods provide added market value. They are fresher and taste better, which customers will come back to. Also, working with food producers directly can enable restaurants to expand menu options.
2. Buying local food increases customer awareness. Collaborating with other local businesses increases exposure because essentially client bases are combined.
3. There is a heightened client perception. Besecker said by investing the caring, time and energy to increase the value of your business through locally frown foods, you relay a greater level of caring for your customer base.
Importance and Crucial Factors
“As a foodservice business, the two main concerns which stand out above all else are the relative freshness factor of food products sourced within a close radius to your business and the relative reduction in cost which can be associated with sourcing your food locally,” Besecker said.
Supply chain pricing is affected by the distance food has to travel from the producer to the restaurant, also known as “food miles.” The further the food, the more expensive it is because factors such as fuel, storage, handling costs, etc.
“Does it not make perfect sense then, to consider sourcing your supply chain as closely as possible to your business with fewer stops and hands in your pockets in between?” Besecker asked.
Looking into the food itself, frozen and preserved foods tend to lose their freshness and flavor as well as vital nutrients. Fresh foods will taste better and have more flavor.
“As any good chef will know, if one wishes to achieve maximum freshness and flavor from product and other products, then minimal delay from harvest to table will yield the best results.”
For Ozro & Ray’s, an authentic home style bagel shop, Besecker said they are using a locally sourced food model.
Image: Ozro & Ray's Facebook
“We are utilizing a combination of small, local farms, local farmers markets within a 100 mile radius of our business, community gardens and a collaborative with another local restaurant operation with their own farm to source our food supply needs,” he said.
Also, they have local food wholesalers who have adopted their own versions of locally sourced food programs.
Besecker said their long term goal is to develop a business plan to tie a local goods restaurant concept which ties in with a general store concept that focuses on local Ohio product lines.
In 2009, the (lousy) economy will be the driving force behind trends we saw emerging in 2008, including energy conservation and sustainability, health and nutrition, and new technologies like online ordering, mobile applications and social networking.
Tough times inspire change
According to a poll conducted by the National Restaurant Association, the issue that had the greatest effect on companies in 2008 was –surprise!- the economy, followed closely by rising food costs, food safety, and nutrition and calorie legislation. So, although these are not new concepts, I think they’ll be back with a vengeance in 2009.
Not just about saving the planet anymore
Foodservice operators are scrambling to improve efficiency and productivity in light of the economic downturn (can we finally just call it a recession?), so I think sustainability and energy conservation will continue to be at the forefront of foodservice trends in 2009; now, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because our livelihood may depend on it.
According to the Associated Press, restaurants, colleges and other institutions are coming up with new, innovative ways to cut waste. We’re beginning to realize that these practices are good for more than just saving the planet—they’ve also helped improve the reputation and bottom line of many dining establishments.
I think it’s kind of a shame that it took some –but not all!- of us an economic crisis to become interested in “green” business and conservation. But, regardless of the reason, it can only help keep the industry afloat during these tough times.
Healthy eating trend sparks conversation and controversy
In the same way that we’re learning about the importance of conserving energy, we’re realizing that promoting health and nutrition will be crucial to staying prosperous in the foodservice business.
The controversy surrounding menu labeling, and the efforts of restaurants to introduce more healthful menu items, are just two examples of America’s new interest in healthy eating. And a 2008 investigation that found some restaurants had published inaccurate nutrition information, shows just how seriously consumers and federal regulators are taking it.
Niche Web communities maturing
It also shows just how much the Internet, and the developing trend of social networking has affected the industry. Whereas once, an obscure report in a trade journal would be overlooked by just about everyone, most consumers now have the tools to research and share just about any piece of information that’s out there.
And whereas, in 2008, we dabbled in social media, and restaurants began publishing menus online and a few even created the capability for online ordering, in 2009, this is a trend that the lagging economy will force everyone to embrace.
Not only will businesses have a web address, but they will become more conscious of their online presence; they will be more saavy when it comes to search engine optimization and PPC marketing. They will use the Internet to promote special events, catering, promotions and merchandise. They will offer applications for customers to download to their mobile phones. They won’t do it because it’s trendy; they’ll do it because they have to.
According to Food-Management.com, “Web community is important to more than just the ‘geeks’ among us. It also matters in personal and professional group life, and the food service industry — where networking is such a critical activity — is no exception.”
In closing, I think there are tough times ahead, but I think we as an industry are innovative –and perhaps, desperate!- enough to continue to develop new ways to prosper.
The economy is forcing us to save money by eliminating waste and conserving energy; the obesity epidemic is helping us realize that we can serve healthy food and that our customers will appreciate it; and the Internet is allowing us to do it together, using our growing network of online customers, colleagues and friends.
I think 2009 is going to be a great year for foodservice.