A few easy ways for restaurants to save money while lowering their impact on the environment


Last week I was out at a pub with Mike enjoying a sandwich when the server came over to us with two glasses of water unsolicited. Great service you might think. The problem was both glasses of water were served with a straw and a lemon.  I politely informed the server of the environmental impact of his action.  “That plastic straw will be with us for 600 years, that lemon travelled 3000 km to get here, and you’re going to end up dumping that water down the drain”.

This is a common practice in restaurants as servers work hard to add value to the customer experience, but this action really needs to be questioned by restaurant operators.  Beyond the environmental impact there is a financial cost to the lemon and straw that can add up to hundreds if not thousands of dollars annually.

This was not the only interesting observation we have made about waste in restaurants in the last year. While conducting a study on food waste in restaurants last winter we came across another common contributor to both food and financial waste, the ‘auto tartar sauce’.  One of the restaurants we were studying sold a lot of fish and chips which was served with an automatic ramekin (small cup) of tartar sauce.  In our estimation more than half the tartar sauces came back untouched.

During the same project we were also studying food waste at a quick service burger concept with a take-out window. While observing in the kitchen we noticed the employee working the drive-thru putting a handful of ketchup packages in most of the orders.  When asked what she was doing she said that the customers had asked for ketchup.  It was obvious to us that all this ketchup was not going to be used and even if the customers take it home and eventually use it those small packages are mostly all plastic packaging, let alone the cost to the operator.

These three situations have something in common, they could have easily been prevented if management were focused and made a priority of minimizing their waste. Here are a few tips on how a restaurant can do this and save lots of money.

  1. Audit your garbage, you will be surprised at what you find. My own experience in doing this many years ago led me to realize how much cutlery was being thrown away in the dishwashing area.  A year after putting a plan in place to counter this my cutlery costs dropped nearly 70%.
  2. Train, educate and communicate with your staff about waste. This is not a hard thing to do. Make ‘limiting waste’ one of the values of your organization.  Introduce a module on limiting waste in the employees initial training. Post information in work areas about the impact of wasting certain items.
  3. Reward and recognize employees that bring waste issues to your attention and especially those that provide innovate ideas to limit it.

Best yet, form a green team of both management and employees.  Do a self-audit on your restaurant (including waste) and we guarantee you will not only lower your impact on the environment but you’ll save money while doing it.  And don’t forget to track your progress, measurement is an important part of the process.