The concept of running sustainable, environmentally friendly foodservice operations is far from new. That being the case, why haven't we, as an industry, made more progress in this area?
Unfortunately, the answer can be complex and riddled with misperceptions. The only way for the industry to move forward is for foodservice operators to understand and embrace their reality and start demanding more from their supply chain partners.
Cost represents one of the most commonly misunderstood factors in sustainable foodservice. For example, when many restaurateurs explore the concept of going from factory-farmed beef to locally produced organic beef they find the costs double or triple right away. As a result, these foodservice professionals stop before they get started. They feel sourcing the organic product is too cost prohibitive so the best they can do is eat cleaner at home, which is basically living in two worlds.
Unfortunately, this line of thinking is pretty limiting. We see schools, which only have a couple of dollars to feed a student a healthy meal, able to source locally and sustainably produced ingredients while staying in budget. If schools who operate on the slimmest of margins can do it why can't fine dining?
Engaging with your customers represents a good starting point. Find out what they like about you and where they would like you to improve. When working with a school foodservice operator, for example, I will spend time talking with students during their lunch period. It is amazing what they tell me. When you apply the lessons they share with you the program can really take off and you find ways that you can make improvements without breaking the bank.
Then ask a lot of questions about your operation and its resources. These questions can include: Where does our food come from? How is it produced? Where does the garbage go? These questions are not simple or easily answered, so I suggest taking a year to understand all of this. Be sure to engage the individual members of your supply chain to help answer these questions and assist you in understanding the current reality of your business.
With this information in hand, you can start building your plan to improve your operation and the impact it has on the environment and the planet. When building and implementing the plan be sure to engage the operation's employees, too. Training the staff to do things the right way and helping them understand why this is important will help shape the success of your program. We can build and sell the most energy-efficient foodservice equipment in the world but it does not mean anything if the staff does not use it the right way.
What you don't measure you can't manage, so be sure to quantify your results, particularly when it comes to energy, water and waste reduction. Resist the temptation to put those savings in your pocket; instead, invest them to improve the way you purchase food and to make the operation more efficient and environmentally friendly.
Maybe this message is not for everyone. But if you feel that way, my question is this: If it's not your job to look out for the environment then whose is it?