Restaurants and sustainability


There is nothing better than talking to local Ontario restaurants about their eco friendly efforts. I spent the last few days driving from Waterdown to Burlington to Hamilton. I carried an environmental sustainability restaurant checklist with me. 

10 ways restaurants can become greener

There are two handfuls of ways that businesses in the food service industry can become greener. ThisRock created a short checklist. It covers a long list of ideas and initiatives meant to be profitable and impactful, including;

  1. Packaging changes
  2. Smaller carbon footprint
  3. Less food waste
  4. Healthy menu options
  5. Energy efficiency
  6. Recycling 
  7. Eco cleaning
  8. Reducing water use
  9. Style and décor accommodations
  10. And other ideas 

On my road trip, I spoke to owners, servers, and bar staff at restaurants, cafes and even breweries. They have smart insights. They also exposed some challenges I had not yet thought of. 

What worries restaurants when it comes to sustainability?

  • Regulations. The Canadian government’s new single-use plastics regulation comes into effect in Dec 2022. You can read the entire press release here. Boiled down, come this holiday season, you’ll need to stop ordering plastic take-out containers, plastic straws, and plastic cutlery. Alternative packaging that is in budget will be your first big challenge. Your second will be getting the right supply, when you need it. Two restaurants told me today that they are “eating the cost” of the extra $1 they spend on this new, eco friendly packaging. 
  • Getting surplus food to people who need it. Most cafes and restaurants buy exactly what they need. They only produce the amount they will sell. That is the perfect world scenarios. However, one café told me today that there was a time when someone ordered a large catering order, and then canceled last minute. The café tried to donate this order to the local food bank, but they were told no. The reason? The donating was in the wrong packaging, and it was too last minute. 
  • Keeping staff happy. This is an issue, especially in this current employment landscape. Labor is hard to attract and retain. Good workers are even harder to come by. I’ve noticed that Ontario restaurants that have a purpose and mission driven by a greater good – like the planet – have a better time with this. People want to work somewhere that makes them feel they are living their life in a good way. It is a cool way to differentiate your business, café, or brewery from the rest of the pack.
  • Keeping customers happy. Even without government regulations, customers are going to start demanding more and more from businesses from a green perspective. Even today, a person behind me in line asked the server if the food was locally sourced. Restaurants need to push ahead and become more environmentally and socially reasonable. Gen Z and Millennials are insisting on it. 

Nothing is perfect. Restaurants just need some help to start making a few changes that positively impact profitability and meet government and customer expectations along the way. 

Have a great day!