The restaurant industry experienced a metamorphosis during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some restaurants closed, while others amended their policies and adapted their business plans to remain open during the epic shift. Almost all restaurants went through some change. Many began incorporating delivery and curbside services, using new types of packaging, or limiting menu options, and these changes were needed for economic survival during a critical time. These changes continue to be examined and expanded in 2022. Now, however, the focus is on sustainability.
When the health of the entire world came into question, food sustainability and practices became the top priority. More than ever, consumers wanted to know they would be able to eat. Our planet and its resources became something to focus our attention on. Knowledge of food availability and preparation increased with public awareness of how food is grown, prepared, packaged, and delivered. In addition, people not only wanted food, but they wanted good food. They wanted healthful options. They wanted food to be locally sourced, organic, and eco-friendly. Restaurant operations became everyone’s business.
We have learned that viable sustainability in restaurant operations can sometimes involve accepting limitations. For example, locally sourced foods may not be available year-round. Relae, a restaurant in Copenhagen, Denmark, recognized twice as the most sustainable restaurant in the world, works with available resources through its market gardening plan. Chefs here plant, grow, harvest, and prepare dishes from seasonal vegetables cultivated from the crops grown at their restaurant. They have a relationship with the food they plant and then, prepare with minimal waste. This conscientious hands-on approach is part of their “Farm to Table” marketing. Patrons understand the menu is dependent on the season. This temporary lack of certain vegetables creates value. The food is more appreciated because it is not all constantly available.
Mixt Greens is an American eco-gourmet restaurant in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Although their food is typical, their business practices are not. They focus on using sustainable practices such as energy-efficient equipment, biodegradable materials, and composting 99% of their food waste. They source their ingredients from local farms supporting organic produce and use recycled paint to decorate their stores. For this restaurant, sustainability means guarding a philosophy of giving back.
When a restaurant can become a zero-waste establishment, they are at the sustainability pinnacle. To qualify as a zero-waste restaurant, 90% or more of waste must not be put in the trash. If a restaurant can control food waste and inventory at this level, it protects profit margins and ecological harm. American restaurants practicing zero waste include Rhodora Wine Bar in Brooklyn, NY, which maintains an onsite composter. Harbor House Inn in Santa Barbara, CA, also composts. In addition, they write their menu daily depending on the availability of local produce and tide pool harvest. Osteria Mozza in Los Angeles, CA, is known for efficient water usage, energy-efficient appliances, and working with Foodprint Group, a certified advisor for zero-waste. Lionfish in San Diego, CA, is a forerunner for producing minimal disposable waste and using eco-friendly supplies. They also vary the seafood selections they serve to reduce the impact on overfished species.
Sustainability benefits everyone. When restaurant owners, workers, and patrons present a united front, we have a “win.” The future generation learns. They value the process and are prepared to step in when it is their turn to guard Earth’s water, land, and air resources. Reducing waste, pollution, and carbon emissions will move to the forefront of their minds and become second nature. Sustainability will become part of everyday life for our current and future generations.