Ken Burgin

Restaurant Sustainability

Restaurant Sustainability is About Success, Not Just Recycling.

Sustainability is about survival and prosperity – can we put that upfront? Now more than ever, with soaring supply prices, staff shortages and crazy weather, sustainability makes sense across all business areas – it’s much more than recycled packaging and local vegetables. So let’s look at how it can make your business stronger.

I rethought my approach when I hosted a panel on the topic at the National Restaurant Conference in Melbourne. Melissa Goffin from Redgum BBQ talked about how central sustainability is to everything they do – from using local timber for the BBQ, choice of packaging, composting, waste reduction and energy use. For them, sustainability also meant the business survived through Covid. They have strong local connections with customers and employees and adjusted to the business restrictions in 2020-22 – adaptable, flexible, resilient and loved by their community. They have a vital purpose and passion.

Let’s start with the areas not usually associated with ‘green and sustainable’:

Sustainable operators are innovators, always looking for ways to be leaner and more efficient. This means embracing change and new technology and being keen to measure the effectiveness of old methods and new ones. Are you worried about power costs? Start with some of the simple measuring devices available to check peak consumption periods and what equipment is the heaviest user of gas, electricity or water. This is often a quick win for bringing down costs in the next few weeks.

Sustainable businesses know profit is their lifeblood – without it, the rent, the suppliers and the staff aren’t paid. So they’re big on increasing sales, recipe and menu costing, watching utility costs and having accurate figures daily. The cliche about sustainable meaning ‘anti-business’ is a long way from the truth, and open-book management is often a key driver – everyone knows how business finance works. Good profits mean business owners are less stressed and can avoid the crazy hours and worries that are a part of many small enterprises.

Sustainable businesses track food trends and customer enthusiasm – they’ve been ahead of the curve with alternative milks, proteins and special diet requests. It’s as much because they want all the business from that table of four people: the three who are meat eaters and the one vegan – this is not hard for smart chefs.

Sustainable businesses buy locally when they can because disruptions in Australia and worldwide remind us that supply lines are fragile. In addition, the local vendor is suddenly a lot less expensive when they are 100% reliable, compared to the large chain that gives you an invoice with 30% of items N/A.

Sustainable businesses are fast with communication because it keeps the back of house on their game and builds trust with customers. They have a happy and helpful website, online bookings, fast responses to email and social media messages, and employees are kept regularly updated.

Sustainable businesses have loyal staff because they prioritise good work conditions, fair pay and a strong feeling of engagement. High levels of communication and good leadership are essential for this – as management guru Peter Drucker said, ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’. Staff shortages aren’t such an issue when they don’t leave.

Finally, sustainable businesses share their success – see how Cornersmith in Sydney publicise their anti-waste message, personal stories, cooking classes and purchase of local produce. If there’s one shortcoming of most strongly sustainable businesses, they don’t tell their story very well. So keep sharing a steady stream of photos and happy snaps – everything from the new trainee’s first coffee to the bookkeeper at work, cheerful customers and the cardboard recycling. This sustainable thing can be contagious!

🎧 Listen to the Hospo Reset Podcast on Reducing Food Waste – New Strategies and Solutions

This is an extended version of an article that was published in Hospitality magazine.

🤚 Check the weekly discoveries on Hospo Reset – information & inspiration for restaurant, cafe & foodservice operators.

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