Best Eco-Friendly Practices for Organic Restaurants

While other areas of consumer product lag, organic food sales continue to grow because of consumer demand. So, serving organics at your restaurant is a great idea if you want to increase restaurant profits.

However, it's also important to note that consumers think organic and eco-friendly is better than organic alone or eco-friendly alone. You should consider combining the two elements to maximize your restaurant's potential.

For example, recent surveys show that consumers are willing to pay more for "green" dining, with a full seven out of 10 consumers noting that they are "very interested" in restaurants that try to protect the environment.

Even better, 65% of consumers will pay up to 10% more to dine at a green restaurant versus a restaurant that simply serves organic food. With this in mind, check out the ideas below to see all the different ways you can green your restaurant.

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Green Your Food Offerings

Spanish tapas with spinach, soft cheese and pomegranate seeds on flatbread
RUSS ROHDE / Cultura / Getty Images

Being a restaurant, you'll want to start by greening the key element - the food you serve. As you're already serving organic food, that's a positive step, but organic is not the only factor that affects food sustainability. In fact, organic and sustainable don't always go hand-in-hand, so you'll need to up your game. Other food options and practices you should consider include the following:

  • Many consumers consider local food to be a sustainable choice so when you can, serve organic food that's locally sourced at your restaurant.
  • Cut back on food packaging, serving food that produces minimal packaging waste or comes in recycled content packaging.
  • Serve many vegetarian and vegan options. Not only is vegetarian food growing in popularity, but it's eco-friendly to boot. Meat is eco-intensive, while whole, plant-based foods cut back on environmental damage. Make sure you offer plenty of plant-based choices.
  • Seafood cannot, at this time, be certified organic. If you serve fish, consider sustainable seafood options such as the choices listed on Blue Ocean Institute or Monterey Bay Aquarium’s “Green” lists.
  • Consider on-site food production. For example, if you serve jam on your breakfast menu, make it yourself in-house with fresh local organic berries versus shipping jam in.
  • Go GMO-free and look for other sustainable food labels. Just be sure you're not promoting shady, not-so-green or unethical labels. 
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Practice Water Efficiency and Conservation

There's much you can do to not only increase water efficiency but help conserve the water resources this planet has. Try the following:

  • If you have landscaping, use plants that require less water. Set sprinklers on a timer and don't allow sprinklers to water the sidewalk vs. actual greenery.
  • Consider setting up a water catchment and reuse system such as a rain barrel.
  • Install low-flow faucets in the kitchen and bathrooms. Consider on-demand, touchless sensor faucets as well.
  • Use Energy Star qualified dishwashers, ice makers, and steamers.
  • Install dual flush handle toilets or high-efficiency toilets and waterless urinals.
  • Use a linen service that's qualified as water-saving or wash linens in-house with an Energy Star qualified washing machine.
  • Only serve drinking water to customers upon request.
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Reduce Waste

There are dozens of small ways to reduce waste in a restaurant.

  • Compost leftover food. If you don't grow any of your own food and have no outside area, donate your compost over to a local community garden.
  • Serve proper servings which will result in less food waste. Donate leftover food to local shelters.
  • Go paperless by taking online reservations, keeping customer info on the computer, creating paperless billing for all vendors and employees, and paying your bills online.
  • If you renovate or redecorate, recycle or donate old items.
  • In the restrooms use real towels instead of paper towels or air hand dryers. Use refillable reusable soap containers with bulk, natural hand soap.
  • Always print on both sides of the recycled content paper and reuse or recycle ink cartridges you use in your printers.
  • Try easy steps like staple-free staplers, reusable coasters, reusable menus, reusable coffee, and tea filters, and sign up for junk mail reduction.
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Have Strict Recycling Policies in Place

Check with your local waste and recycling companies and then recycle everything you can. In most states, plastics, glass, paper, cardboard, and aluminum can all be recycled. Many states offer to recycle other items too, such as old electronics, broken kitchen equipment, batteries, light bulbs, paints, chemicals and more. Some areas also offer grease recycling, turning what might be simply waste, into biodiesel or reusable energy. 

If you're not sure what recycling options are available in your area, Earth 911 is an invaluable resource.

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Clean Green

Cleaning green is one of the easier steps any eco-establishment can take. Try out these green cleaning tips below.

  • Use reusable towels for cleaning instead of paper towels.
  • Use environmentally friendly cleaners.
  • Try steam cleaning your floors and carpets with hot water versus using harsh chemicals.
  • Wash dishes and cloth items in eco-friendly detergent and avoid sending uniforms or cloths to cleaners who use harsh chemicals.
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Ditch Disposables for Takeout

For dine-in customers, it goes without saying that you should use real, not disposable dishes, but what about for takeout?

This can be a problem and there's no perfect solution. Some restaurants offer reusable dishes that can be refilled, washed, and refilled again for return customers, but this isn't always practical, so your best bet is to go with the most eco-friendly disposables you can.

Consider recycled content takeout containers, bags, and boxes plus look into corn-based plastics, which are far from perfect and not—as you might believe—totally ​biodegradable, but are better than plastic made from virgin oil.​

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Reduce Pollution

You might think that pollution isn't something one restaurant can tackle on its own, but you'd be wrong. Though one restaurant alone can't solve climate change, you can do a lot to reduce your establishment's impact on pollution. For example:

  • Offer employees an incentive to bus, carpool, or bike to work and provide secure bicycle storage with a shower facility.
  • Offer some nice preferred parking spots for customers and employees who buy alternative fuel vehicles or hybrids.
  • Place a no-idling policy sign up in front of your restaurant and where delivery trucks park.
  • Offer an alternative fuel refueling station.
  • If you do have lawn landscaping use a manual mower.
  • Offer local customers food deliveries made by foot, hybrid, or bike.
  • Reduce indoor air pollution by using low-VOC paint, adhesives, and sealants plus use eco-friendly cleaners.
  • Open the windows to let fresh air in.
  • Place organically grown plants and flowers in your restaurant.
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Use Energy Efficiently

According to the Green Restaurant Association, restaurants are the number one largest consumer of electricity in the commercial sector. That's crazy but it makes sense. It takes a lot of energy to run a restaurant. Luckily, there are many practical and easy steps you can take to reduce your energy impact.

  • Keep indoor temperatures moderate, not too hot or cold and always use a programmable thermostat.
  • Use Energy Star-compliant roofing material and windows that help block temperature extremes.
  • Whenever possible use Energy Star appliances. You can find Energy Star furnaces, heating and cooling elements, hand dryers, washing machines, refrigerators, lighting, microwaves, exhaust fans, ceiling fans, ovens, dishwashers, and much more.
  • Use a heat recovery system.
  • If renovating or building use quality, energy-efficient insulation, duct sealing, and weatherstripping, plus make sure there are plenty of windows to allow daylight in.
  • Install a high-efficiency water heater.
  • Use energy-efficient lighting.
  • Consider installing occupancy sensors for lighting in various rooms.
  • Check out Energy Star qualified food holding cabinets.
  • Perform regular upkeep on all appliances including cooking equipment and place new gaskets on refrigeration units when needed.
  • Plug all your office equipment into one power strip that can be easily turned on and off.
  • For more intense energy savings, look into on-site renewable energy options like solar panels, wind turbines, geothermal, solar water heater, solar exhaust and so on.
  • Consider purchasing renewable energy credits.
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Consider Sustainable Interior Decor

Sustainable decor is best planned from the onset, but even if you didn't plan eco-minded decor early on, you can still incorporate many green attributes, such as:

  • Use all cloth linens, such as cloth napkins and tablecloths.
  • Use real, not paper or plastic disposable dishware.
  • Install Energy Star qualified windows.
  • Use salvaged or reuse decor items including tables, chairs, and more.
  • Buy furniture made with rapidly renewable wood like bamboo or FSC Certified wood.
  • Buy organic cotton, not conventional, cotton textiles.
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Resources and Certification for Green Restaurants

Once you go green or if you need more help putting eco-practices in place, you may want to check out the following resources:

  • The Green Restaurant Association (GRA): This national non-profit organization offers certification to restaurants that use sustainable practices. Beyond certification, GRA offers convenient and cost-effective tools that will help make your eco-friendly transition stress-free, so this is a great organization to check out.
  • The Green Business Network: Green America's Green Business site is a program of Green America, and their network is huge, comprised of 5,000 businesses. This organization offers business tools that can help your restaurant succeed in the competitive green marketplace. As a business, when you join Green America, you'll get a listing in their very well read National Green Pages, which can help you connect with eco-minded consumers.
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Tell Your Customers All About Your Practices

Going organic and green is good, but if you don't tell your customers, they may not know. Many green practices are things you can't see, so be sure to inform your patrons that you're doing all you can to protect the environment.

Offer recycled content pamphlets that explain what your restaurant is doing to incorporate green business practices and list all your perks on the company website.

Include your eco-practices in all your marketing endeavors, especially on social media, and be sure to celebrate eco-specific events like Earth Day at your restaurant, which gives you another chance to promote your initiatives.