Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Ways for Restaurants to Reduce their Impact

I have already discussed how if restaurants implemented better operations they could possibly be more sustainable than every individual cooking at home.  Now I want to delve into some the bad habits that restaurants have and how they could be corrected.  I have had the opportunity to work in the kitchen briefly so I have had the chance to see how a restaurant operates.

I was surprised to find out that recycling is not that common a habit in the restaurant business.  I mean sure they will collect the empty beer bottles to retrieve the deposits, however most of the chefs and waiters at the restaurant did not place a high priority on separating the recyclables from the trash.  One of the causes for this is that the this is not the highest priority for managers and owners, and thus they do not enforce this behavior enough.  The restaurant industry centers around customer service, this means that the needs of the customers are paramount.

Since a large portion of waiters wages come from their customers pocket directly, this means that the waiter has to focus on serving them in order to even begin to make a living.  This in my experience led to rushed servers during the dinner rush, they will seldom pay attention to what they are doing outside of the customers view.  Servers in their rush will not focus on separating the waste properly, this also applies to chefs during a busy dinner rush.  Often restaurants are not properly staffed for a dinner service as well.  If restaurant owners would pay their staff proper wages and ensure that they are properly staffed for a dinner rush, this would allow for some relaxation.  Since a server would not be rushed when they bring the plates into the kitchen, they have time to separate the recyclables, wastes, and organic material that can be composted.

Restaurants could also reduce their impact on the environment by having their own gardens.  If restaurants could take a little land from the massive parking lots that would normally be provided for customers cars, they could construct their own garden.  The French Laundry, one of Thomas Keller's restaurants in California is a great example of this.  They grow their own produce by hiring their own gardener, they take what they need and sell any extra produce to competing restaurants down the road.  This restaurant is not only saving money by growing their own fruits and vegetables but they are also making a profit.  Not every restaurant would be able to afford their own personal garden, but with urban farming on the rise owners could make deals with more devoted gardeners to split the crops.  This way the business owners would supply the seeds, soil and in return the gardener would receive a portion of the produce as pay.  Owners would save money since they do not have to pay supplier prices.  Energy is saved since your products don't have to shipped in from faraway distant lands, your food is right outside your door...if you need a carrot you would go out and pick one out from the soil. You also know that the products you are serving your patrons are the highest quality since you grew them, and since they did not have to travel hundreds of miles to get to your patrons plate they would be fresher.  Restaurants could divert the ends and unwanted bits of vegetables that they don't use from the trash.  They could instead use these leftovers to create compost, thus even saving more money as they won't have to buy as much soil or fertilizer. 

Restaurants and the fast food industry contribute the most negatively with the left over packaging they provide.  In this day and age I am quite surprised that Styrofoam is even allowed to be used, but it is.  I find it quite confusing how we can justify producing products that will only be used for 30 minutes yet will last for hundreds of years in a land fill.  I would like see restaurants allowing people to bring their own containers to take their food home with.  I don't see why restaurants wouldn't encourage this behavior, it is a win win situation, owners do not have to spend money on containers.  Owners would also prevent energy and resources from being used to produce a container that will only be used for 30 minutes before the city has to use energy and labour to recycle or trash it.  The Coup in Calgary is a great example in that they will pay for the G.S.T. of your food if you bring your own container for leftovers or takeout.

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