What businesses can learn from the catering industry

Here, we take a look at what small businesses can learn about eco-friendliness from the catering industry.

Whether you are looking to open a restaurant, coffee shop or café, you should be aware of, and considering, every possible sustainable practice. The UK sends 90,000 tonnes of fresh produce to landfill every year. Being directly affected, the catering industry has been vocal around the issue, especially River Cottage Chef, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall who has launched his BBC Documentary Food Waste Collection service. With Wales announcing ambitious plans to halve food waste by 2025 this month, and the rest of the UK to soon follow suit, we wanted to provide you with 10 simple tips to help you get started on the path to a more sustainable approach in your food business.

Cook seasonally

Make sure you choose ingredients for your dishes according to what’s in season, changing menus regularly to reflect what’s available. Of course, this means your kitchen staff need to be creative and inventive, but they should enjoy the challenge and the quality of your food will reward you all for your efforts.

Choose your producers carefully

Look for local suppliers who are as committed to sustainable practices as you are. Choose family businesses where you can visit regularly and build up a long term relationship, rather than faceless factories. By learning more about the food you serve, and where it comes from, you’ll be able to pass on that knowledge to your customers.

Start your own kitchen garden

Reduce food miles to virtually zero by creating your own kitchen garden, to produce vegetables and herbs for your restaurant kitchen. Hire a gardener to look after it, and encourage staff to get involved, and to learn about how their ingredients grow. Whether it’s carrots and cabbage or fancier oriental vegetables and salad leaves, seeing these things growing will give your chefs a better appreciation for the ingredients they are using. The Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) launched its #FlipTheMenu campaign this month, pledging to give vegetables more prominence over meat.

Buy locally

Again, think about food miles when sourcing ingredients and try to buy as locally as possible. Once local suppliers hear that you are committed to sourcing locally, they will actively seek you out to show you their own produce. Make it a goal to find a new local supplier every month. This will push you forwards with your sustainability goals and give you fresh new ingredients and menu ideas all year round.

Use eco-friendly equipment

If you’re really determined to do all you can to make your restaurant more sustainability-focused, you need to consider your equipment, as well as the food you serve. Energy-efficient equipment can often be a little more expensive than standard kit, but over the long term, it really is worth it. Think carefully about the materials used in your restaurant, and you may be able to make enough savings to help purchase that eco-friendly equipment in time.

Alternatively, make a road map of your future journey towards a more sustainable restaurant, starting small and working towards bigger goals. For example, make a start by printing menus on recycled paper and using linen napkins rather than paper ones, and then work towards the switch to eco-friendly equipment. As you progress, you will find you have a real story to tell your restaurant guests about your sustainability mission.

Manage waste

General waste, which goes straight to landfill, is a big issue for most restaurants. Work at reducing waste wherever possible, recycling glass and cardboard, and returning packaging to suppliers to be reused. Food waste should be minimised and disposed of via a specialist processor, to be turned into compost and made good use of. Try to find ways to reduce your carbon footprint, and your recycling bill, wherever you can. The ‘Food Waste Direct’ campaign launched by national waste management company 707, allows small businesses to have their food waste collected diverting it from landfill and instead to anaerobic plants.


Running a sustainable, ethical food business requires continuous learning and research. By constantly looking for better ways to reduce and recycle waste, sourcing better materials and equipment, and finding new local suppliers who share your values, you’ll reap real rewards over time. Always find out as much as possible about the produce or materials that you buy, and the suppliers behind them. Making conscious and considered choices is the first step on the journey towards a sustainable approach to running your restaurant.

Get your staff on-board

No matter how committed you are to your goals, if your staff don’t buy into your ideas, you will struggle to carry them through. It takes time and patience to convince staff of new ideas and ways of working, especially when they’ve been doing something ‘their way’ for years. Let your staff learn about the produce they use, and then let them tell the story to restaurant guests.

Focus on community

As part of your drive to be a more responsible business, try sponsoring a local charity, putting on events with dedicated menus, and passing the proceeds on to the charity.

Prioritise customer satisfaction

No matter what kind of restaurant you operate, the focus should always be on providing an exceptional dining experience for your guests. Get the balance just right, by providing the right level of information about your sourcing and sustainability goals, without overwhelming your guests or pushing your message too hard.

Further reading on catering

Owen Gough, SmallBusiness UK

Owen Gough

Owen was a reporter for Bonhill Group plc writing across the Smallbusiness.co.uk and Growthbusiness.co.uk titles before moving on to be a Digital Technology reporter for the Express.co.uk.

Related Topics

Food Businesses

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