For a variety of reasons, people care about the environment. Research indicates that younger generations are willing to spend more on things that are sustainable and healthy for the environment, a trend that continues to increase. With environmentalism a growing concern, interest in sustainable restaurants has in turn increased. But how can you draw that crowd and what can you do to go green without breaking the bank?

Why Go Green? 

Crafting a sustainable restaurant is not only good for the environment, but can have a tangible and positive impact on your business. Aside from any ethical considerations, climate change is already having a palpable impact on the economy of restaurants. Environmental concerns are already driving up food prices, with some restaurateurs building those costs into their pricing. Evidence indicates that millennial (and many consumers) are invested in putting their buying power towards environmentally friendly products, so building that into your marketing can pay off.

As the effects of climate change become increasingly apparent, once-viable menu options may become difficult to obtain, driving up demand and thus price. The relationship between technology and the food supply will continue to develop. You can already see some of those symbiotic relationships in your available menu items, most notably in farm-to-table style restaurants, which lessen their carbon footprint by focusing on locally available food sources. 

Water Conservation in Your Restaurant

Water conservation is an increasingly important issue that comes in all shapes and sizes. An easy way to use less water is to join the Glass Half Full Movement and only fill customer’s water glasses half full. You can further minimize that consumption by smaller glassware, although that’s a bit pricier to accomplish. If you have the space or there is a community need, you can use leftover water from dishes, cleaning, or customers to water a garden.

On the more expensive side of things, you can look into water-efficient cleaning solutions that are designed with conservation in mind. You may also consider installing low-flow aerators, fix leaky faucets, or low-flow toilets as well. While the upfront costs may be higher, you will see a decrease in your utility bills, so there is a long-term pay-off beyond environmentalism. 

Go Paperless in Your Restaurant

Paper makes up 27% of the total waste in the United States. That includes wrappers, cardboard, receipts, napkins, and in some cases seating charts at the host stand and handwritten tickets for your wait and back of house staff. You can mitigate this in a variety of ways, like offering fewer disposable items overall or incentivizing customers to bring in their own carry-out containers

Like any business, you likely have a lot of paper waste to deal with, from receipts to general maintenance. You can eliminate paper tickets with the use of KDS and POS systems, which not only help create a more restaurant environment, but a more efficient one. Your host doesn’t have to scribble out notes that can get lost by using waitlisting/guest management systems that provide a streamlined, paperless solution to your patron needs.

Solar Powered Restaurant

While there are a variety of sources of alternate power, including wind and geothermal, solar energy is common and increasingly feasible for use in your restaurant. The solar industry is an increasingly growing industry. Part of that growth is in the continued development of better and more efficient technology, the sort that becomes easier and more attractive to employ in your business.

So while it may not be affordable for you at the moment, it could in the very near future become cheaper, and has already become more attractive. In the meantime, solar energy might be a little steep to start, but can send an effective marketing message to your patrons that fostering a sustainable restaurant space matters. 

Upcycling and You

At some point, you’ve likely encountered the expression “reduce, reuse, recycle,” which is upcycling in a nutshell. The general idea is to find creative ways to reuse your waste items, which is sometimes easier said than done. You may consider starting a compost pile for leftover foods, or as feasible with local codes, to donate food to homeless shelters.

For something a bit more direct, you can find upcycled art for the interior design, from planters to wall art. And when you graduate to a new piece of art, furniture, or utility device in your restaurant, consider advertising or even commissioning art projects for the community. Collaborating with your neighbors on a project will foster an environment of creativity and illustrate your commitment to a sustainable restaurant. 

Green Interiors Make for a Sustainable Restaurant

The interior design of your restaurant presents opportunities to go green, while showing those efforts off. You can shop for environmentally friendly products. You can use the natural space for ambience and utility, by using sunlight and a good breezeway to your advantage. When possible, some restaurants incorporate elements of their environment into their design, utilizing greenery and other things local to the area to enhance the space.  

Natural Lighting in Your Restaurant

Whenever possible, you can use the natural light in your space to offset electricity costs, and, during temperature appropriate times of the year, can even help with your climate control. By using window treatments, you can mitigate temperature changes throughout the year, while in turn setting the right atmosphere in your space.

Keep Cool and Go Green

As with lighting, you can keep your space cool or warm without breaking the bank. For example, lightbulbs can contribute to the heat in a space, so consider more energy efficient alternatives like incandescents. Use a fan to stimulate a gentle breeze and make sure you can open your windows when feasible to allow the wind to help guide you. If you can, consider an affordable and energy-efficient HVAC unity, some of which can reduce your bill by decreasing your energy consumption

Sustainable Menu Items

Making sure that the food you serve is environmentally-friendly is another big step in your process, and an excellent selling point to incentivize your menu options. Take an audit of your menu and consider taking steps to identify different ways that you can engineer a better set of outcomes, replacing ingredients and items out with greener options. Your staff can stay abreast of these changes with a recipe viewer, if one is available or through a short tutorial as needed. If possible, employing a little design sheen on the menu construction itself can help you draw attention to these items and optimize your sells. 

Meatless Options

Going meatless may not seem like an environmental issue to most, but it takes a lot of energy to house, feed, and maintain livestock. On top of feeding and tending to each animal, transportation and food safety concerns raise the cost of meat, which have had a tremendous impact on greenhouse gases. For example, cattle farming in the United States alone is estimated to generate approximately 20% of the methane emissions in the U.S. As such, offering vegan and vegetarian options caters to a burgeoning market while helping you craft a more sustainable restaurant environment. 


The success of the farm-to-table movement, which promises locally sourced ingredients, means that it’s here to stay. The immediate benefit for the trend is that it dramatically lowers your carbon footprint, while raising awareness to locally grown/crafted goods. While it may not be feasible to engineer your entire menu to that style, it’s reasonable to believe that you can employ local products whenever possible. Offering local ingredients give you opportunities to cross-promote with your brands, and introduce interesting pairing options, which can boost sales. 

Eco-Friendly Packaging To-Go

Take home packaging is usually styrofoam, which is destructive to the environment. Consider seeking alternative, eco-friendly packaging options for your to-go boxing needs. You may also consider a bring-your-own-container policy, preferably something that incentivizes consumers to pack their own doggy bags. Some operators are conflicted over this trend though over food safety concerns, as restaurants can control their own sanitation standards, but not that of their guests. 

Don’t Go Plastic

It takes plastic around 100 years to decompose, and right now, we use a lot of it. Instead of plastic implements or utensils, use reusable or biodegradable options like paper straws, potato starch utensils, or wooden coffee stirrers. For off-premise orders, ask customers if they want or need take home utensils like plastic forks or knives, rather than just throwing them in the bag; they may never be used, which is a lot of unnecessary waste. 

Going Green is the Future

Restaurateurs big and small are investing in sustainable restaurant spaces, and that will only continue as time goes on. While you may not be able to jump into the deep end immediately, you can ease into a greener restaurant space by implementing even one of the ideas above. Even though each carries an upfront cost, they all pay off in the long run, while drawing in more business through your marketing efforts in fostering a like-minded community.

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