For restaurants it’s not easy being green, but it certainly can pay ff in the long run. Better health and environmental awareness for your customers, help for local farmers and producers, and benefits to the earth. Back when I worked in restaurants, it was all about making the bottom line. I remember one year at a particular chain that I worked for, we switched suppliers every few months if we could get a better deal. Sometimes portion control even took precedence over customer satisfaction. Lord help you if you gave away a slice of cheese or an extra packet of salad dressing without charging for it.
Today some restaurants are willing to pay a little bit extra up front to save money in the long run, shore up their image, and attract new customers. The fact that local suppliers and the environment benefit doesn’t hurt either. In the end, most restaurants that go green don’t lose money. You can build the cost into what you’re serving and attract a higher-end, more loyal customer base with a greater check average. And it’s the right thing to do.
When Schlafly Bottleworks opened a restaurant here in Maplewood, Missouri (right outside of St. Louis), they set back part of their parking lot to create a community garden. The half-acre garden space allows them to grow almost all of their herbs and supplemental produce for their seasonal specials. They also buy fresh meats and produce from local farmers, (their bison burgers and meatloaf are delicious). By purchasing local and growing some of their own, they are able to cut down on the amount of fossil fuels needed for delivery, not to mention that produce from California and Florida is some ten days old by the time it arrives at the restaurant. The garden also allows them to compost most of their brewery and kitchen waste. The Bottleworks restaurant not only purchases locally, but also goes one step further by holding a Wednesday farmer’s market on their parking lot where local farmers can come and sell their wares. They also share their garden with local residents who want to grow their own produce.
A couple of other restaurants like Fresh Gatherings at St. Louis University and Terrene in the Central West End, have also gone “green.” Fresh Gatherings only uses organic grains and meats that have been raised humanely. Terrene’s only use managed, sustainable seafood and avoids serving any endangered species. The restaurant also takes its used fryer oil to a neighbor to be turned into biodiesel.
The local Whole Foods market uses a special container made out of a corn-based resin to replace landfill clogging plastic and Styrofoam. They also donate their expired, but still perfectly edible, grocery and bakery products to a local food pantry. They estimate this comes to about $6,000 to $10,000 a month donated to the pantry.
For those restaurants that would like to consider becoming green, there are several organizations such as GRA in San Diego, California that can help. They have consulted and certified hundreds of restaurants across the country with their Certified Green Restaurant Guide.
With a little more upfront expense and effort, it just might be easier to be green than you might think.