Restaurant Experts Talk Sustainability Tips and Trends
12 Min Read
Sustainability continues to be a pressing issue for restaurants and the world. As we look to celebrate Earth Day, restaurant industry insiders offer their top tips and trends.
Aaron Allen, Executive Chef, Silas Creative Kitchen + Cocktails at Hotel Versailles, Versailles, Ohio
One of the penultimate responsibilities as a professional chef is learning to work sustainably. Sourcing local ingredients and producing more in-season vegetable focused dishes help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and contributes to improving our carbon footprint. To eliminate waste, I always make pickles or fermentations with excess vegetables and dry cure meats for our charcuterie program to utilize any excess proteins. I also actively participate in the Monterey Bay Aquarium sustainable seafood program to maintain an ongoing awareness of which species can be sourced safely.
Andy Arndt, Executive Chef, VEA Newport Beach, a Marriott Resort & Spa, Newport Beach, California
We try to stay within a 50–100-mile max radius for our purchasing of vegetables and proteins. This not only cuts pollution and greenhouse gases, but also supports the local. Working the season into the menus is another way to be mindful of the environment. We were also doing 100 percent sustainable seafood in partnership with Seafood Watch until the pandemic hit and we began undergoing our renovation. It was a wonderful opportunity to educate our guests on bycatch fish (which are the fish picked up in large nets that are typically thrown out) as well as smaller breeds and not the big-name fish (such as halibut, albacore, etc.), and offer an eco-friendly approach that doesn’t deplete the supply chain.
Amy Brandwein, Chef Owner, Centrolina & Piccolina, Washington D.C.
Buy locally at your farmers market or cooperative, specifically what is in season to limit the carbon footprint and support your local economy. When shopping, use canvas shopping bags instead of relying on disposable plastic bags.
Patronize local independent restaurants and cafes who are more likely to buy locally and less from centralized production facilities which may have unsustainable meat, fish and vegetable practices. Patronize restaurants that engage in sustainable food purchasing, whether that is vegetables, fish or meat. Ask questions about sourcing to your retailers, and by stressing the importance of this to you, it will encourage them to think more about sustainability and their purchases.
Lisa Dahl, Chef and Restaurateur, Dahl Restaurant Group
During the pandemic many chefs adapted new strategies based on necessity and in doing so they became much more conscious of the importance of cross refencing key items and sourcing. As a chef with multiple restaurants, I make sure to creatively maintain brand integrity while keeping quality control and communication about waste and environmental impact at the forefront of all cylinders within the company. We use recyclable packaging and keep takeout packaging products to the minimum. There is so much that goes on behind the scenes like teaching new dishwashers about separating plastics and bottles when recycling, ensuring the best practices with running faucets and waste disposal, all the way to being aware of the sourcing of china and silverware that can be lost from wasteful habits. It’s not just food, but also the supply chain. It is important to my staff and my guests who appreciate that Dahl restaurants are conscious of creating a great experience, not just in taste but also in quality control and sustainability.
Jason Francisco, Executive Chef, Sugar Palm Ocean Ave at Viceroy Santa Monica, California
Shopping Local: By sourcing ingredients from within the region and reducing the miles our ingredients travel, I'm able to reduce our carbon footprint through cutting down on air pollution and fuel consumption. Additionally, by building relationships with local farmers at the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market, I am able to make more informed decisions on choosing ingredients that are sourced ethically with sustainable practices.
Upcycling Ingredients: I prefer to use every part of an ingredient when creating my menus, upcycling ingredients helps to reduce food waste and challenges me to be as creative as possible when crafting dishes. I like to use the parts of the fruits that I don’t use in a dish to create syrups and garnishes for the cocktail program, additionally, I’ll use meat and veggie scraps to make stocks for soups and other dishes.
Quentin Garcia, Executive Chef, Rainbird, El Capitan, Mainzer, California
Waste reduction- We practice utilizing our waste as much as we can away from the generalist notion of putting things up as specials. For example, fish/meat can be grinded down and used to make our own garums for use down the road in new menu items. Waste from vegetables are fermented and utilized in dishes to season ingredients without having to rely so heavily on just salt alone. If there is something we cannot ferment, then I try to dehydrate remainders and use this as an ingredient later to "rehydrate" and add a powerful flavor / textural contrast in a dish. This list can go on and on for waste, however, when waste is FINALLY just waste, compost is the answer or if the trimmings are safe, I'll give them to my sous chef, who then feeds them to her chickens.
Using creative plating opportunities when arisen. Foraging is a lot of fun and usually fields a huge bounty of ingredients beyond what was originally planned. In this instance, I was lucky enough to find a fallen tree out in the forest that was yielding its bark that was littered with wolfs moss. I broke it down into smaller pieces, dried it and used it as the very first serving piece to place our macaroons and amuse Bouche on. While just a little cool presentation it's using a natural resource as a centerpiece and showstopper. In the future I'd love to find some sort of natural clay deposit in the Central Valley that I can supply a pottery artist with for a new dish. That would be awesome to have one knowing that the team and I grabbed the clay ourselves from the earth.
Chef David Kinch, Chef/Proprietor, Manresa, The Bywater, Mentone, Los Gatos, California
Cultivate local relationships – Form a patchwork It’s a quality issue. No one farm or purveyor can be expert in, and provide every ingredient. Each purveyor knows the best and most sustainable way to grow their ingredients or raise their animals. It takes work to form a patchwork and source ingredients from a multitude of local purveyors, but it’s worth the time to find each and cultivate a growing relationship.
Invest in sustainability and take a long view Don’t be wary about upfront costs for sustainability. At Manresa we actively and financially invest in sustainability with a dedicated on-staff Sustainability Coordinator, who focuses on cultivating new sustainable practices. Taking one example applicable for a home kitchen, one of the worst offenders is single-use plastic wrap. Making an up-front investment in reusable containers pays off in eliminating substantial plastic wrap use and provides a longer-term solution to storing food and ingredients.
Nicholas Owen, Executive Chef, Four Seasons Hotel New Orleans, New Orleans, Louisianna
One of the most impactful strategies for sustainability in the kitchen is minimizing food waste. In the Hotel, we prioritize purchasing from local vendors. This means we can place smaller orders and trust that the products we receive are always fresh and in season, while also minimizing the carbon impact of shipping. At home, this can be achieved through smaller, more frequent trips to the grocery store. Instead of bulk buying for the next few weeks, my family plans our meals around the produce available at the local market. This way, we’re taking advantage of what is in-season and can avoid perishables, like salad greens, going to waste.
Katie Reicher, Executive Chef, Greens Restaurant, San Francisco
Buy it once, use it twice. Save vegetable scraps that would otherwise be wasted and use it in thoughtful, tasty ways. Some easy and quick examples include using broccoli stems in soup or grate them for broccoli slaw, use pea pods for a light, springy vegetable stock, and save onion/carrot/celery trim in the freezer and use for stock when enough has been saved.
Plan meals with through-lines: Many cuisines have overlapping ingredients, so you can make exciting meals from different regions using very similar ingredients. Make a curry with chilies, cilantro, onions, tomatoes, and spices. Then use those same chilies, cilantro, onions, and tomatoes to make a fresh salsa. Overlapping the ingredients will ensure that you use everything that you purchase while keeping things interesting throughout the week.
Christina Sanchez-Towers., Chef, Yellow Magnolia Café, the restaurant-within-a-greenhouse at Brooklyn Botanic Garden
If you’re lucky enough to have green space, planting hardy herbs is a winning way to have fresh essentials to snip with less waste too. Got a big yeard? You can add tomatoes, lettuces, and radishes. No garden? No problem – just find a sunny spot on your windowsill where a few small potted heard can thrive. Chef Christina calls out that her favorite windowsill herbs to keep around year-round include cilantro, basil, lemon thyme, rosemary, and scallions.
As the weather warms up, a stroll through your local farmers market is good for your health and a fun activity that Chef Christina loves to do. As Chef always says, the market navigates you. Gravitate towards the bright and vibrant vegetables. This season look out for green peas, snap peas, snow peas, fiddleheads, and ramps. Fun tip – Become friendly with a farmer at the market. They will guide you to what is best and may give you a great deal on a fruit that isn’t always favorable to sell but best for when making delicious jams!
Skip the plastic cup, pass on the imported rose, and go for a glass of the best local wine you can find. There is at least one winery in all 50 states – pick up something from close to you, and don’t be afraid to try something new. At Yellow Magnolia Café, wines from New York’s Finger Lakes are available, along with beer from Brooklyn.
Everyone knows that a traditional rice and beans give you a protein boost. Be creative and reach past the white rice for ancient grains: spelt berries, wild rice, quinoa, bulger, and others that are rich in nutrients and fiber, including nutrients directly linked to reducing heart disease and cholesterol, while also being better for the environment. Add mushroom broth, fresh greens, avocados, and a slow-cooked egg – and you have a meal that will make any nutritionist smile.
Chef Pujan Sarkar, Chef de Cuisine, ROOH, San Francisco and Palo Alto, California
To better understand where our food comes from and how it's grown, I visit farms and harvest squash, tomatoes, carrots and a whole lot of other vegetables. This rudimentary connection between taking fresh food and learning real lessons sustains us for a better food future. When picking the fresh vegetables straight from the soil, one thing is always striking my mind- let's keeps this continuing throughout my entire life and for the coming generations. As told by scientists and various agencies, by 2045 we will be producing 40 percent less food than what we are producing right now. Our population will be 9.3 billion and agricultural soil will be depleted heavily across the world. On this Earth Day, we need to take an oath to regenerate soil through various ways and save the soil so that we can pass this wealth to our future generations.
D. Brandon Walker, Executive Chef & Partner, The Art Room, Downtown Los Angeles
My biggest tip to bringing sustainability to the forefront in the culinary space is sourcing ingredients from local urban farms. For my concepts, I work with Compton based non-profit and urban farm, Alma Backyard Farms, an organization that provides the formerly incarcerated with essential job skills for stable careers. Not only does this support local food production, but it also empowers communities through sustainable and equitable labor to break free from generational incarceration and houselessness. Additionally, I would highly recommend working to source from or even create neighborhood backyard produce to source from, if Urban Farms are not an option especially in bigger city areas.
The team at Veggie Grill, a 100 percent plant-based casual dining chain, celebrated Earth Month all month long with a couple of initiatives:
Grades of Green Donation campaign – Throughout the month of April, the entire family of Veggie Grill brands – Veggie Grill, Más Veggies, and Stand-Up Burgers – will be donating a portion of proceeds from each VG Classic, Taco 6-Pack, and The OG Burger sold to Grades of Green. The organization aims to provide the youth of today with the knowledge and resources necessary to ensure a green future and make a positive impact on the environment, and each donation will be giving our youth access to educational pathway programs, leadership-building skills, mentorship, and more,
VG Rookie Day – Veggie Grill will be hosting a “Rookie Day” on April 25th. For one day only, each guest who eats at one of the three restaurants with a vegan first timer – aka a “Rookie” – will receive a BOGO meal for their friend. (This is for in-store and online, but not third-party delivery.)
From April 18-24, Snooze, an A.M. Eatery is celebrating with its annual “1 Tree, 1 Snoozer” program.
Every Earth Day since 2017, Snooze has planted one tree for every Snoozer (a.k.a. employee). This year, Snooze is partnering with Trees for Houston and La Bolsa Coffee Farm, (Snooze’s coffee grower), in Guatemala to plant a total of 2,700 trees. 50 of the trees will be planted at Houston’s Hearne Elementary School, while the other 2,650 will be planted at the coffee farm.
100 percent of Snooze’s to-go and delivery orders are carbon neutral. Snooze supports a Regenerative Grasslands Project in southeastern Colorado, which helps capture harmful carbon in the air by converting it into helpful carbon in the soil. In 2021, Snooze removed 1,177 metric tons of carbon from the atmosphere, equating to three million miles not driven.
Snooze is donating $25,000 to the National Young Farmers Coalition, which is committed to equitably resourcing the next generation of working farms by advocating for policy change on issues such as climate change and land access. Snooze’s everyday green efforts include robust ingredient sourcing standards; water conservation efforts; composting; and Sustainability 101 training for all Snoozers.
Delaware North is partnering with Sierra Nevada and Impossible Burger for its 2022 Earth Month campaign, “Seeds for Sustainability.”
The campaign, part of Delaware North’s award-winning GreenPath® program, replaces traditional cardboard drink coasters and beverage napkins with eco-friendly, plantable seed coasters for guests to take home, plant and enjoy.
The Earth Day promotion, featuring Sierra Nevada Hazy Little Thing and plant-based Impossible Burgers, will be available at 27 locations across Delaware North’s Parks, Travel, Gaming and Patina Restaurant Group divisions during the month of April, while supplies last.
In all, more than 32,000 disposable coasters will be replaced with the eco-friendly seed coasters, resulting in up to 10 million wildflower seeds being planted.
Participating locations include Delaware North’s owned-and-operated Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite outside of Yosemite National Park; Patina Restaurant Group locations at Downtown Disney in Anaheim and Disney Springs in Orlando; Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport; Stella 34 at Macy’s in New York City; and Mardi Gras Casino & Resort in West Virginia.
Banners Kitchen & Tap and Hub Hall in Boston will feature aluminum Ball cups, which are infinitely recyclable.
“Delaware North’s GreenPath® program helps ensure the company carefully manages its environmental impact and positively contributes to the communities we serve,” Deb Friedel, Delaware North’s director of sustainability, said. “These coasters were specifically sourced with pollinator seeds to support the ecosystem: One out of every three bites of food exists because of the efforts of pollinators.”
The coasters, which are embedded with pollinator wildflowers, will attract bees and other insects that collect and distribute pollen necessary for many plants to grow – including fruits and vegetables.
The wildflowers in the coasters are native to North America and include Black-Eyed Susan, Corn Poppy, Spurred Snapdragon, Sweet Alyssum, English Daisy and Catchfly seeds.
“As a company with a global footprint, it’s important that we take steps to minimize our impact on the environment,” said Friedel. “In addition to Earth Day on April 22, this sustainable effort will also support National Park Week, April 16-24, as well as Arbor Day on April 29.”
Any coasters left over will be donated to local community organizations.
Through GreenPath®, Delaware North ensures careful management of its environmental impact by setting strict guidelines for energy and water consumption, waste management and other standards at its more than 200 operating locations around world, including sports and entertainment venues, national and state parks, destination resorts and restaurants, airports, and regional casinos.
Guests and Sustainable Packaging
A survey from Deliverect into consumer perspectives on sustainability trends and expectations related to food delivery revealed consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable options. The survey, which was commissioned by Deliverect and conducted by Censuswide, polled 7,000 global consumers about how eco-friendly takeaway and delivery options impact their ordering decisions.
While 65 percent of survey respondents said they find healthy, sustainable eating to be more expensive, almost half (43 percent) are willing to pay more for takeaways in restaurants that have visible sustainability practices. Another 47 percent would even consider changing what they order from the menu to be more sustainable. Some restaurants are already catching on: in fact, 50 percent of survey respondents already think there are ample sustainable and affordable options in food delivery/takeaways.
Over half (56 percent) of respondents would like restaurants to better share how they are working to make takeaways/deliveries more sustainable. 56 percent also don’t think restaurants are very transparent about their sustainability practices. 66 percent feel it’s important that restaurants are open about their practices to limit food waste. The survey revealed that while 67 percent of consumers usually keep larger than necessary food portions for another meal (leftover), over half (51 percent) say seeing large amounts of food waste frustrates them and puts them off from ordering from that restaurant again.
Even more so, 73 percent said that having accurate portion sizes to avoid food waste is important to them, and 68 percent feel takeaway restaurants should have precautions in place to avoid unnecessary food waste. Not surprisingly, 82 percent of respondents said it was important restaurants get the right delivery or takeaway food order to avoid food waste.
With so many packaging options out there, one thing is certain: consumers are on the lookout for restaurants using sustainable materials. It even impacts where they choose to order from, with the study finding:
- 54 percent of consumers would prefer to order from restaurants that remove excess packaging from the food delivery
- Over half (56 percent) would also show preference to a restaurant that uses eco-friendly packaging and doesn’t use single-use plastic
- 63 percent of consumers believe having sustainable packaging (plant-based/non-plastic/compostable) is important to them