A sustainable future for foodservice
When asked how he felt about becoming a grandfather, HRH Prince Charles said not only did the prospect excite him, it had also renewed his enthusiasm to work to protect the environment and build a sustainable future for the generations to come.
With the restaurant industry currently under flak for its wanton waste, should you be asking yourself are you doing enough for your progeny and if not, why not given that a greener approach could both save you money and boost business?
According to the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA), which was founded in 2010 to provide busy chefs and restaurateurs with advice, support and information to help them improve the sustainability of their businesses, almost half a kilo of food per every restaurant diner is binned annually in the UK. That equates to an estimated total of 21 tonnes of food skipped – 30 per cent of it (seven tonnes) scraped off plates as leftovers and the rest lost in preparation as peelings, off cuts and kitchen spoils.
Says Mark Linehan, managing director of the SRA: “Consumers often equate value with quantity rather than quality. This results in many restaurants serving unnecessarily large portions and, as with supermarket BOGOF offers, superfluous side dishes that go uneaten.
“Restaurants need to look at serving smaller portion sizes. They also need to encourage diners to take home leftovers.”
When you eat out, would you ask for a ‘doggie bag’ if you had leftovers? In a separate survey, the SRA discovered that half of all diners had never asked to take their uneaten food home with them despite having paid for it. If they had or, if you as a meal provider had offered to wrap it for them, you would not only have been helping the environment by cutting down on waste, you could have also been helping to shave money off your waste collection bill.
For although sustainability might be the latest buzz term within the industry, the fact is it translates to basic good housekeeping skills and appreciating the food available out there as a valuable commodity – things that were second nature to previous generations. It’s about sourcing quality food locally rather than food that comes with truck loads of food miles, composting, recycling and managing other resources such as energy and water more efficiently, as well as taking on community roles such as going into schools to teach youngsters about food, where it comes from and how to cook seasonally. As a return, it’s about saving yourself money, attracting new customers and enjoying becoming a respected local food hero.
Adds SRA president Raymond Blanc, of Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons: “We now have 1,000 members who have embraced our values – this demonstrates that good sustainability can translate into good business and this is very important to us if we are to capitalise on our reputation as one of the finest food nations in the world.”
Reaching for the Stars
When Andrew and Helen Coggings became proprietors of the Preston Park Tavern, a lovingly restored Victorian pub just outside the centre of Brighton, they brought with them an environmental ethos has them and head chef Alistair Doyle serve a menu of local, seasonal produce that extends not only to their meat, fish and vegetables but also to their bar offering in that they serve Sussex brewed bitter and a local sparkling wine.
They also melt used candles to form new ones, print daily menus on recycled paper that are then chopped up to form waiters’ order pads, make cork boards from popped corks and garlands from bottle tops. They abandoned buying in bottled water and instead, invested in supplying chilled, filtered tap water as an option that has now not only proved more cost-effective for them but is also better for the environment. However, it was when they needed advice on waste composting and formalising agreements with suppliers that they decided to join the SRA. That was 18 months ago.
Says Helen: “We have found our membership very valuable. There are waste and energy regulations that when you read them as an independent business person, can seem overwhelming. The SRA has walked us through them.
“Initially, we had no formal contracts with our suppliers. Our relationships were based on trust but we discovered agreements do need to be formalised and structured to work best. The SRA has various templates they can supply. For example, we might ask our fishmonger for plaice for the next day’s menu but the fishermen he buys from haven’t caught plaice. In the past, he may have sold us frozen plaice brought in from elsewhere but now it’s all formally agreed, he knows to offer us an alternative fresh fish instead and will discuss with our chef ideas for cooking it.”
Continues Helen: “Our customers know all about our ethos. They ask us about it and I think, appreciate it. I believe people come back because of it and talk about us to their friends, which is obviously good for business.
Since joining the SRA and undergoing its new member audit, the Preston Park Tavern has been awarded a maximum Three Star Sustainability Rating, which it can display on its website, menus and windows. Recognised as the industry standard and dubbed the Michelin Stars of Sustainability by the Sunday Times, SRA ratings now feature in Harden’s and Les Routiers guides. The Times newspaper’s Giles Coren and Olive magazine also include them in their restaurant reviews.
Adds Helen: “We’re very proud to be part of a movement working to improve sustainability.”
The Sustainable Restaurant Association
The SRA works with a number of key industry bodies such as the Marine Stewardship Council, Marine Conservation Society, Compassion in Word Farming, Fair Trade and the Soil Association. Members include restaurant groups like Carluccio’s and Prezzo as well as fish and chip shops, neighbourhood cafes, pubs and contract caterers.
Members benefit from various approved supplier offers and discounts as well as the SRA’s consultancy service, rating, marketing and PR support. All members feature in the SRA member directory on its website (www.thesra.org) and receive a weekly newsletter. They are also eligible for entry into its annual awards however, there is an annual membership fee of £465 + VAT. For further information, visit the website or telephone 020 7479 4235.