Current trend surveys reveal Americans eat out more today than they did just a few decades ago. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Bureau of Statistics both report that today almost half of the typical family food budget is spent on dining out. Close to a third of daily calories come from restaurants.
Restaurant connoisseurs today are demanding more information about what goes into menu items and how those ingredients are grown and processed. Just like environmentally conscious consumers research electricity plans to show them the most energy-efficient companies for their homes, eco-friendly diners are also interested in having choices to make dining out a green experience. During the 2012 National Restaurant Association’s annual food show and conference, sustainability elbowed its way into the top 10 “menu trends,” landing at number five. At the conference, operators showed an increased interest in both origin and processing techniques for food items.
How do you calculate “green” food?
Calculating the sustainability rating for any one menu item is complicated. Beyond considering how and where a commodity is grown, procurement officers must now consider how far away the supplier is from the restaurant, the mode of transportation used for delivery, and the energy source used to process foods. Packaging and serving supplies are also factored into the economic and environmental mix.
Fortunately, there are resources to make calculations easier. Restaurant owners may hire a professional to conduct a thorough review of store policies via a carbon analysis to help gauge current practices and uncover areas where immediate improvement is necessary. For diners who are concerned about the eatery’s carbon footprint, inquire about whether or not the target restaurant has done any type of green analyses or whether the restaurant is a “green merchant,” a title given by the Green Restaurant Association.
The GRA says gaining certification as a “green merchant” is an ongoing process. Eco-friendly establishments must commit to developing a plan that details changes and improvements in order to receive the organization’s stamp of approval. Moving toward energy conservation and sustainability requires consistent advancement and ongoing improvements to meet growing demands from consumers and industry recommendations.
The food cycle
Running a thriving 21st-century food service business is not only about providing the best-tasting foods displayed on beautiful dishes. Restaurants must consider who worked on the coffee bean plantation in South America, how much pollution the packaging plant emits, and what kind of fuel is used to transport products to the kitchen for preparation and service. Consumers might expect to see more menu items that include no-meat entrees, locally grown produce, and animal products that come from farmers who treat the livestock with compassion. Restaurant employees might hear more customers asking about the origin of the food and whether or not it was grown without pesticides.
As the two sides work together, food consumption in restaurants could eventually become as healthy and nutritious as the family dinner served at home. With such a large percentage of meals eaten in restaurants today, perhaps the time is ripe for meeting that challenge.