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Are You Running an Environmentally Friendly Restaurant?

6 Sustainability Practices for Going Green at Your Restaurant

When looking for a place to eat, today’s diners crave something green. From where their meal was sourced to the ingredients used to make it, restaurants are shifting to eco-friendly options – and it pays off. According to TDn2K, 72 percent of millennials are willing to pay more for sustainable products and services. Whether you run a small café or a bustling local diner, incorporating sustainability into your restaurant practices may be essential for long-term success.

To help your restaurant go green, we talked to The Green Restaurant Association and ENERGY STAR. Here are 6 basic ways your restaurant can reduce its carbon footprint and take the initiatives your customers are looking for.

How to Go Green at Your Restaurant

1. Find Sustainable Food Options

Sustainable foods are locally sourced and organic. Purchasing local food keeps money in your community and reduces the distance food travels before being eaten. This farm-to-table philosophy is growing in popularity, especially with millennials, who often prefer to know where their food is sourced. 

Organic foods have a reputation for being pricier than other alternatives, but this isn’t always true. Many factors affect the cost of organic foods, from growing seasons in your location to the type of produce. Plan your menu around these factors and offer seasonal selections when possible.

2. Reduce Food Waste

According to ReFED’s Restaurant Food Waste Action Guide, the restaurant industry alone sends about 11.4 million tons of food waste to landfills per year, costing about $25 billion annually. Reducing your restaurant’s food waste can cut food costs by two to four percent. 

Here are a few ideas to make your kitchen less wasteful:

  • Use imperfect produce.
  • Recycle your cooking oil.
  • Repurpose food prep trim.
  • Compost unusable food scraps.
  • Participate in a local food sharing program.
  • Offer full and half-plate options to customers.
  • Plan menus to reduce the number of ingredients.
  • Donate leftover food to shelters or local non-profits.
  • Use smaller plates in buffets and self-service settings.

3. Source Sustainable Restaurant Supplies

From straws to takeout containers, almost all of the utensils in your restaurant can be made from recyclable materials. Using supplies that can be reused, recycled or composted is more environmentally responsible than disposable alternatives. Implement the following sustainable restaurant practices to reduce your paper and plastic waste. 

  • Offer reusable napkins and silverware for dining in.
  • Train wait staff to ask customers before giving a plastic straw.
  • Order compostable to-go containers, napkins and utensils for take-out.
  • Reduce shipments of restaurant supplies to once per week to cut fuel emissions.

Green Restaurant Association Logo
“Today’s consumers are so discerning regarding sustainability issues that it’s shifting from a niche interest to an expectation and that will shape the industry over the century.”

Michael Oshman | Founder & CEO, Green Restaurant Association


Use the Green Restaurant Association’s Certified Green Products Guide to find supplies that meet their environmental standards.

4. Save Energy with Eco-Friendly Restaurant Equipment

According to Alliant Energy, restaurants in the U.S. use an average of 38 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity and 111 cubic feet of natural gas annually per square foot, making them one of the highest energy-consumers in the commercial sector. But with so many sustainable equipment options available, it’s easier than ever to save water, energy and resources.

  • Use ENERGY STAR certified commercial kitchen equipment.
  • Clean and maintain your equipment regularly.
  • Turn appliances off when idle.
  • Install low-flow toilets and faucets in restrooms.
  • Encourage staff to turn off water during rinsing cycles.
  • Fix leaky pipes as soon as possible.
  • Install hand-dryers in bathrooms to reduce paper use.
  • Use energy-efficient lighting.

ENERGY STAR Logo“ENERGY STAR certified equipment is up to 70 percent more energy efficient and uses as much as 90 percent less water than standard models, depending on the product category. A commercial kitchen equipped with a full suite of ENERGY STAR certified commercial kitchen equipment could save restaurant owners about $5,200 a year in energy costs, when compared to a kitchen with non-ENERGY STAR models.”

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency | ENERGY STAR Program

5. Remodel Your Restaurant with Sustainable Materials

Going green doesn’t end at the kitchen. Using sustainable building materials when it’s time for an update is another step you can take towards greater eco-friendliness. Consider the following sustainable restaurant design choices.

  • Use low-VOC paints and stains.
  • Design accent walls with reclaimed wood or upcycled art.
  • Tint windows or install shades to reduce cooling costs.
  • Find locally-built tables and chairs to furnish your dining area.
  • Clean with eco-friendly products.

6. Become a Certified Environmentally Friendly Restaurant

To show potential customers that you truly are an ecofriendly restaurant, consider going through the Green Restaurant Association’s certification process. Their consultants help you identify where there is room for improvement and connect you to the proper resources to make those changes.

Is Your Restaurant Going Green?

Finding new and creative ways to green your restaurant will help ensure a healthier planet. Not only will you satisfy current guests, but your sustainable outlook can help attract new customers and even cut costs down the road.

Going zero-waste? Ramping up your recycling plan? Visit the Sustainability section of our blog for more tips.