Austin culinary students know better than anyone – their’s is a city of sustainable dining. Austin is home to a bevy of restaurants that use local ingredients, eco-friendly packaging and organic foods. Some examples include Cafe Bon Appetit, Odd Duck, Snap Kitchen and La Condesa. The city is also the birthplace of Whole Foods, which has prided itself on being a truly green grocer.
This raises an interesting question: How important is sustainability for restaurants and food-service companies from a business perspective? Setting aside the benefits to the environment, there’s mounting evidence to suggest that diners in younger generations actively seek out sustainable products and services. For culinary students studying at the August Escoffier Austin culinary campus, sustainability may just be good business. Let’s dive in.
Assessing some of the key sustainability trends
In many ways, millennials are leading the charge when it comes to sustainability. Back in 2015, Nielsen reported that 73% of millennials would spend more money on products or services marketed as sustainable. Nielsen conducted a similar survey in 2018, and that percentage increased:
- 90% of millennials now say they’re willing to spend more on “environmentally friendly or sustainable ingredients.”
- 86% would pay more for natural and organic ingredients.
- 80% will pay more for products and services that have claims of social responsibility.
- 83% said it is “extremely important” that companies have environmental improvement programs.
This isn’t to suggest that other age groups don’t care about sustainability. In fact, 66% of Gen-Xers and 62% of baby boomers also said it’s extremely important for companies to participate in environmental improvement programs – which is still a clear and overwhelming majority.
Overall, Nielsen estimated that consumers spent nearly $130 billion on sustainable products in 2018, and expect that amount to go up to $150 billion by 2021.
What does this mean for restaurants?
Diners clearly care about the origins of the food they eat as well as the impact of the ingredients on the environment. This doesn’t necessarily mean you should upend your restaurant’s business model and make sustainability its foundation. However, it may be worth exploring some of the small ways you can improve sustainability:
- Adding a few vegan and vegetarian menu items.
- Sourcing locally when you can.
- Working more with sustainable and organic vendors.
- Highlighting the use of local and/or sustainable ingredients on your menu.
- Using compostable packaging.
- Encouraging recycling and composting at your restaurant with clearly labeled receptacles.
- Using Energy Star-rated appliances.
- Ditching the paper towels.
For restaurateurs who are highly committed to sustainability, there are a few ways to really lean into being environmentally friendly:
Zero-waste cooking was listed as the third-most prominent culinary trend in 2019 by the National Restaurant Association. The idea is to come as close to possible as creating no waste in your restaurant. This requires careful menu building, and it may require a bit of ingenuity to use less conventional ingredients such as carrot greens and vegetable scraps. Composting, recycling and donating leftovers are also key components of achieving zero waste.
The goal of farm-to-table is to bring locally products ingredients into the restaurant, and it typically involves dealing directly with the producers of those ingredients. Being a farm-to-table restaurant comes with its unique challenges, such as adjusting menus to seasonality, building connections with local growers and crafting a menu around what’s locally available.
Culinary sustainability can be learned
Becoming a sustainable chef, restaurant owner or manager isn’t necessarily something you have to figure out as you go.
The Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts’ culinary arts associate program includes a six-week farm-to-table experience that helps culinary professional learn the ins and outs of sustainable cooking. In fact, the Agricultural Learning Center is right next to our professional kitchens at the Austin culinary arts campus. Stop in or reach out to learn how we can help you achieve your culinary sustainability goals.