Posts Tagged ‘restaurants’

Reusable Takeout

Author: Paul

Reusable Takeout ContainerA Calgary man named K.B. Lee recently launched an interesting website called TakeOutWithout.com. The site is creating a campaign to encourage diners and restaurants alike to reduce the amount of packaging they use in when ordering takeout.

TOWO asks people to reduce the amount of unnecessary packaging they take when getting takeout (think a stack of napkins), bring their own reusable containers, and change their dining habits. I assume the last one means eating out less, which since we’re in the foodservice business I’ll take to mean dine in rather than not eating out at all…

Though his idea nothing new, I like the concept – particularly the idea of bringing your own takeout container. This is great idea if someone is dining out, (or dining in rather) and has some leftovers they want to take home. If they have their own container for their own leftovers, it can be as big or dirty or cumbersome as they are willing to deal with. The restaurant never has to touch the thing. I’ve seen this done a lot by environmentally minded customers, but the whole concept relies solely on the customers. I would like to see some restaurants (particularly those that tend to have a lot of leftovers) encouraging their customers to bring their own containers for leftovers. Maybe offer them a coupon for a free scoop of ice cream for using their own containers. It’s a loss for the restaurant in terms of takeout containers saved versus ice cream lost, but it brings them back – maybe again and again.

One of the more dicey issues is using outside containers for the takeout food itself. A lot of restaurant owners don’t want outside containers in their kitchen, and for good reason. If the containers were not washed in a commercial dishwasher (which they weren’t) it’s a health code violation, and even if they were they would be contaminated by the time the container makes it back to the kitchen. The simple solution to this is to run the customer’s container through the dishwasher. Inevitably the dishwasher will already be running with other items so adding a piece of Tupperware doesn’t add any major labor to the process. Of course, this may take a little longer, but any customer that is willing to bring their own containers for takeout will be more than happy to wait an extra minute or two if you use their container.

I’ve also heard of restaurants plating the food on their own dishes then letting the customer transfer it to their own containers. This option is nice for the kitchen staff that doesn’t have to adapt to a countless variety of containers and avoids the health code issue, but does dirty an extra dish in addition to the difficulty of the customer transferring the food to their containers – more than likely in the entrance of the dining room.

Another option is to offer a reusable takeout container with a deposit. College campuses are starting to use reusable takeout containers, and it could work great for a lot of restaurant. Reusable containers and deposits won’t work for every takeout customer, but for regulars, office workers around the corner, or in campus situations (school or business) it is a great, sensible option.

Of course disposable containers are not going away, but sustainable restaurants should provide a greener option, and accommodate guests that wish to bring their own – maybe to go as far as to encourage and possibly compensate their guests for bringing containers from home for leftovers. It’s a small step, but they all add up.

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Sustainability is in, finally. The 2010 “What’s Hot” forecast is out from the National Restaurant Association and sustainability dominated the top trends.

I don’t really like the word “trend” for sustainability because I think resource conscious operations is a sensible, long-term business practice, and not a trend. However, the forecast is for “What’s Hot,” and some of the things on the list will go the way of the Dodo.

Sustainability in general ranked in at number three with local produce, locally sourced meats and locally produced beer and wine in the top five, sustainable seafood in the top ten and organic produce and artisan spirits in the top twenty. Many of the remaining top vote getters had a sustainable twist to them like farm-branded ingredients, “simplicity/back to basics” and non-traditional fish, which I equate to sustainable seafood. The overall theme for the top trends is obviously in line with consumer trends of healthier, more environmentally conscious eating habits. Of course what we say and what we do are two different things as the US is still the fattest country in the world and getting fatter every day…

Regardless, having been pushing for sustainability in the restaurant industry for several years, it is nice to see sustainability taking hold. Even though some of the same trends like organic and local produce made it on the 2009 list, it seems restaurants chefs and owners have realized the benefits of sustainable practices. We need to make sure that sustainability remains standard practice rather than a trend since restaurants are the most energy intensive commercial businesses in the US, and tend to produce a lot more waste than the average business. I’ve seen the trend coming and hope 2010 is a banner year for green restaurants. Maybe next year sustainable foodservice consultants will make the top twenty…

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Usually when anyone starts talking about going green or general sustainability one of the first words out of their mouth is “energy.” Energy is a big thing, particularly right now. There is a huge push for green energy, we were recently smacked in the face with $4 gas prices that are sure to return, and things like solar panels are just cool. However, while energy efficiency might be sexy and a great marketing tool, water is a much more important long-term issue. We can have clean energy as long as the sun shines and the wind blows, but clean water is a finite resource and should be high priority for restaurants – if not for the environmental implications, the costs associated with water use. Fortunately, water conservation is one of the easiest green efforts.

I’ve been in a lot of different restaurants lately, and one of my main recommendations to all of them has been water conservation. Nearly every restaurant I’ve been in had a leak in at least one faucet somewhere in the facility. Some were fairly minor inconsistent drips while others were near constant flows that had to be wasting hundreds of gallons of water a day, which chalks up a significant cost very quickly. In addition to ignored leaks, not one foodservice operation had low-flow aerators on their faucets. Most had aerators that allow 2.0 to 2.2 gallons per minutes while a low-flow aerator will use anywhere from .5 to 1.5 gpm, which is considered a standard “low-flow” aerator. By replacing a single 2.2 gpm aerator with a 1.5 gpm, restaurants could save nearly 32% out of that faucet alone, 55% with a 1.0 gpm aerator and over 77% with a .5 gpm aerator.

To make matters worse, every restaurant I’ve audited lately also had at least one faucet without an aerator all together. Besides the fact that non-aerated faucets consume about 5 gpm, a faucet without any sort of screen poses a food contamination issue. Take an aerator or screen off a faucet sometime and see what they have caught: bits of plastic, rubber from gaskets, metal from the pipes, weird goo from God knows where, etc. All these things are possibility ending up in food because the majority of faucets without aerators tend to be in vegetable sinks. Why in vegetable sinks? Because kitchen workers want and need to fill buckets and sinks quickly. So rather than wait around a few minutes for a 1.5 gpm or even a 2.2 gpm faucet to fill their five gallon bucket, they take the aerator off and fill that bucket in less than a minute. It’s hard to blame them for doing this. Commercial kitchens are obviously fast paced environments, and every second counts. No one wants to wait around for a bucket of water to fill. The problem arises when that faucet is used for something other than filling a bucket, like thawing froze meat under a water stream. This is a bad practice to begin with, but even worse when the volume of water is four or five times what it could be.

How does one balance the kitchen’s needs with conservation? First, almost every faucet in the house should have a low-flow aerator installed on them, particularly hand sinks. Bathrooms and kitchen hand sinks are great places to spend a couple extra dollars and purchase aerators that use under 1.5 gpm. For sinks that have a single use like water filling stations I recommend only a screen on the faucet if and only if it is only being used for filling water carafes and not hand washing, rinsing rags, etc.

To prevent the kitchen staff from removing aerators in vegetable sinks I recommend providing them with a designated faucet for filling stock pots, buckets and the like. You may need to add an additional faucet to the vegetable sink, but the long term savings are well worth the effort. Make sure to use signage that reminds them which faucet is used for what.

Water conservation may be not a sexy marketing campaign option, but it is a simple, very cost effective sustainability measure every foodservice operation can implement. A few dollars in investment will have huge returns at the end of the year.

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