Creating a Greener Culinary Landscape: The Most Sustainable Restaurants in the United States
According to the latest research from Datassential, 90% of consumers say sustainability, in general, matters to them. This is especially true for Gen Z diners, who rank natural, organic, and sustainable items as highly important. At the 2023 National Restaurant Association Show, CEO Michelle Korsmo noted that by 2030 sustainability will go mainstream including packaging.
The fact of the matter is that restaurant guests are actively seeking out restaurants that care about sustainability. It’s important that your restaurant takes a step back and actively starts to find sustainable solutions for daily operations.
As the demand for sustainable practices continues to grow, restaurants are presented with a unique opportunity to not only please guests but also contribute to the preservation of our planet.
In this article we’ll discuss:
What restaurant sustainability is
Why sustainability it’s important
Ways your restaurant can proactively start becoming more sustainable
Eco-friendly trends in 2023
15 examples of stellar sustainable restaurants and why they’re so great.
Ready? Let’s get started.
What is restaurant sustainability?
A sustainable restaurant strives to make conscious choices that prioritize long-term environmental and social well-being. This can include many different tasks such as reducing your carbon footprint, supporting local communities and farmers, promoting ethical sourcing, and minimizing waste generation. By embracing sustainability, restaurants aim to create a positive impact on the planet, while also meeting the growing demand from environmentally conscious consumers.
How to be a sustainable restaurant
Adopting sustainable practices throughout various aspects of the restaurant's operations can include sourcing of ingredients, waste management, energy and water consumption, social responsibility, and overall environmental stewardship.
Read on for specific practices your restaurant can take on to start its journey toward sustainability.
Reduce food and paper waste
Restaurants have significant opportunities to reduce both food and paper waste, making a positive impact on the environment and their bottom line. Research shows between 4% - 10% of food purchased by restaurant leaders never gets to customers, totaling approximately $1,000 of the company’s revenue per 3.3 lb of food waste.
For more information check out this article on How to Track and Reduce Food Waste in Your Restaurant.
To reduce food and paper waste consider the following:
Menu planning – Careful menu planning can help optimize ingredient usage and minimize waste. Make sure to design menus that incorporate shared ingredients across multiple dishes, reducing the chances of excess inventory and spoilage. Also, consider using eco-friendly or digital menus instead of constantly printing paper ones.
Portion control – Implement portion control measures to ensure that servings are appropriate and consistent. This practice can help avoid over-portioning, which often leads to leftover food being discarded.
Inventory management – Maintain accurate inventory records and use a first-in, first-out system to ensure older ingredients are used before newer ones. This practice prevents food from expiring or becoming unusable. It’s also vital to monitor ingredient usage patterns to adjust procurement accordingly.
Proper staff training – Train and educate staff on the importance of minimizing food waste. Teach them about proper storage techniques, effective portioning, and the significance of avoiding unnecessary waste. It’s also important to have open communication with your team. Encourage them to report any potential issues related to food waste and offer suggestions for improvement.
Creative use of leftovers – Find innovative ways to repurpose or reuse leftover ingredients or dishes. This can involve creating daily specials for guests or delicious family meals for the staff.
Implementation of paper-saving practices – As we discussed, encourage digital menus and ordering systems, reducing the need for printed menus and paper receipts. Always offer customers the option to view menus on their smartphones or tablets. It’s also important to minimize the use of disposable paper products such as napkins, placemats, and coasters. Instead, opt for reusable or eco-friendly alternatives.
Make sure to also check out our article on 6 Types of Sustainable Technology That Help Restaurants Reduce Paper and Food Waste.
Restaurant Cost Control Guide
Use this guide to learn more about your restaurant costs, how to track them, and steps you can take to help maximize your profitability.
Use less water
The average restaurant uses about 5,800 gallons of water a day. Restaurants can take several measures to reduce their water usage and promote water conservation. Implementing these practices not only helps preserve this resource but also contributes to cost savings.
Here are some effective ways for restaurants to reduce water consumption:
Regular maintenance and leak detection – Conduct regular inspections to identify and repair any leaks in faucets, toilets, dishwashers, and other water-related equipment. Even small leaks can waste significant amounts of water over time.
Install water-efficient fixtures and appliances – Replace older, inefficient fixtures with low-flow faucets, aerators, and showerheads. These devices reduce water flow without compromising functionality, saving water with every use. To take it a step further, invest in high-efficiency dishwashers and laundry machines that consume less water per cycle while maintaining proper sanitation and cleanliness standards.
Optimize dishwashing practices – Use dishwashing machines efficiently by running full loads whenever possible. Avoid rinsing dishes under a running tap and scraping excess food off plates before placing them in the dishwasher. Implement a pre-soaking system for heavily soiled dishes to minimize the need for prolonged water usage during washing.
Partner with water-conscious suppliers – Collaborate with suppliers who prioritize water conservation in their production processes. This extends the commitment to sustainability beyond the restaurant's operations.
Switch to sustainable takeout packaging
Transitioning to sustainable takeout packaging is a responsible choice for restaurants as takeout and delivery sales remain high post-pandemic. Sustainable takeout packaging benefits both the environment and customer expectations.
We had the opportunity to talk to top sustainable packaging producers in the industry at the 2023 National Restaurant Association Show. Here are a couple of experts in the industry and what they’re focusing on:
GreenWood Industrial Co. – GreenWood Industrial Co. was founded in 2000 and has been R&D and manufacturing biodegradable disposable wooden cutlery ever since. Greenwood's R&D center is constantly studying the market demand and developing more disposable cutlery to meet this demand. Check them out and replace your plastic utensils today.
Harvest Group – Harvest Group originated in 2003 in China. They offer biodegradable plastic, paperboard folding, and molded fiber products. Harvest Group manufactures fiber pulp food boxes, trays, sushi trays, bento, salad, and lunch boxes, and poke bowls. They also offer a variety of paper options that can be recycled and are water and oil-proof!
Composting is an effective way for restaurants to divert organic waste from landfills and turn it into nutrient-rich compost that can be used for gardening or agricultural purposes. Remember to comply with local regulations and obtain necessary permits or licenses if required.
If you’re interested in composting at your restaurant we recommend checking out this guide.
Source ingredients locally
Does your restaurant cook with ingredients from local suppliers or from nationwide chains? By sourcing locally, your restaurant can support the local economy, reduce environmental impact, and promote a culinary identity that uses the flavors of the region. To source locally effectively, take the following steps:
1. Research local farms, farmers' markets, cooperatives, and food hubs in the area to identify potential suppliers.
2. Establish direct relationships with the local farmers and producers, attending local food events or reaching out to them directly.
3. Collaborate with local distributors who specialize in sourcing from nearby farms and can provide a consistent supply of local ingredients.
4. Adapt menus to reflect seasonal availability. This will create dishes that showcase the best of what the region has to offer at any given time.
5. Clearly communicate to customers the restaurant's commitment to sourcing locally and supporting the community, highlighting local ingredients on menus or through signage.
For more ideas check out our article on The 4 Steps to Becoming a Green Restaurant.
Sustainability trends in 2023
Keeping up with the latest trends and consumer expectations is crucial for restaurants seeking to enhance their sustainability practices and maintain a competitive edge. Consider these top sustainability trends:
Plant-Based and Vegan Offerings –The demand for plant-based and vegan options has been steadily increasing, driven by health concerns, environmental awareness, and ethical considerations. Restaurants are expected to continue expanding their plant-based menus to cater to a growing customer base seeking sustainable and cruelty-free dining choices. Some top plant-based vendors from the 2023 NRA Show to check out include:
Temptation Vegan Soft Serve – Temptation makes delicious dairy-free soft serve mixed with oats. It’s available in both vanilla and chocolate bases and is fat-free! We highly, highly recommend it!
Impossible – Did you know that 54% of consumers prefer Impossible Pork in comparison with ground pork from pigs? Impossible has been around since 2016 when they came out with their first product, the Impossible Burger. Today you can find everything Impossible from sausage to chicken nuggets.
Before the Butcher — Before the Butcher cooks up plant-based products for retail, food service, and private label customers. Their plant-based pepperoni is spectacular and FABI Award-winning! Before The Butcher provides a wide range of products – make sure to check them out!
Farm-to-fork trends – Also known as farm-to-table or farm-to-plate, farm-to-fork refers to the movement that emphasizes sourcing and serving locally produced food directly from the farm to the dining table. As we stated above, sourcing ingredients locally has a positive effect on several different aspects of your business and your local environment. This “trend” is here to stay as guests continue to choose restaurants with positive local impacts.
Zero-waste & recycling initiatives – Restaurants have been implementing recycling initiatives to reduce waste and promote environmental sustainability. The concept of “zero-waste restaurant” refers to a practice that aims to eliminate or significantly reduce the generation of waste throughout all aspects of the restaurant's operations. The goal is to divert as much waste as possible from going to the landfill by implementing strategies that prioritize reduction, reuse, recycling, and composting.
Top 15 sustainable restaurants in 2023
Now that you’ve learned all about what restaurant sustainability is and how to implement it, check out these top 15 restaurants and how they’re impacting both their local communities and our planet.
Eden – Chicago, IL
This Chicago restaurant, located in the Avondale neighborhood, serves up clean, American cuisine. Eden’s menu is ever-changing as it is made up of seasonal flavors from either their very own greenhouse or other local farmers. This restaurant focuses on simple, minimal ingredients to create delicious brunch, lunch, dinner, and dessert menus. Eden’s greenhouse is full of garden beds that were built in house and filled with a variety of pots and growing vessels. It doesn’t get fresher than that!
The Inn at Little Washington – Washington, VA
In 2021 this American, healthy restaurant recently received a Green Star presented by Illy, which is a reward for a restaurant that’s seriously committed to sustainability. Chef Patrick O’Connell keeps his restaurant eco-friendly through consistent recycling, on-site farming, local and sustainable sourcing, and eco-friendly operations. Throughout the years this restaurant has formed strong relationships with local farmers and suppliers. If you’re ever in the Washington, VA area make sure to visit this place and even try their new casual restaurant, Patty O’s.
Barking Frog – Woodinville, WA
The Barking Frog is located at Willows Lodge in Woodinville, WA. This restaurant is known for its seasonal menus, as Chef Dylan Herrick collaborates with local farmers, food artisans, and foragers. Chef Herrick has a passion for sustainability and curating local ingredients which has resulted in a delicious, fresh menu that pairs well with Barking Frogs’s local wine offerings. For an incredible dinner filled with house-made focaccia, lightly cured trout, and lemon poppyseed pound cake for dessert, make a reservation at Barking Frog.
Wokuni – New York, NY
Wokuni is a Japanese restaurant located in New York, NY. They get their tuna from their own fish farm, located in Japan. With a commitment to protecting and maintaining the marine environment, Wokuni takes care of both the land and its creatures at Nagasaki Fish Farm. This establishment oversees the entire process from water to table in order to build a sustainable and traceable system. This business takes care of the land and animals to serve you the highest quality meal possible.
The French Laundry – Yountville, CA
This fine French cuisine restaurant in Napa Valley. This restaurant’s menu changes daily and is committed to using the finest quality ingredients possible. Since 2007, the Michelin Guide has awarded The French Laundry their highest rating of three stars, making Chef Thomas Keller the only American-born chef to have two three-starred Michelin restaurants. Chef Thomas Keller is also among the first class of restaurateurs with Green Star distinctions in America recognized for their dedication to sustainable gastronomy. What makes The French Laundry stand out is its consistency in using local and organic ingredients. This garden-to-table fine dining concept is truly one of a kind.
Juniper Restaurant – Washington, D.C.
Located within Fairmont Washington, D.C., Georgetown, Juniper Restaurant is known for its family-style meals made up of seasonal favorites. This restaurant is an ideal destination for private events and gatherings. Juniper Restaurants utilizes fresh, locally grown, and sustainable ingredients in traditional favorites. Take a trip here for breakfast or lunch only to try their plant-based bolognese and smoked pastrami hash.
Fork – Philadelphia, PA
This seasonally-focused, contemporary, American-cuisine restaurant is located in the heart of Philadelphia. Founder Ellen Yin was recently named “Outstanding Restauranteur” by the 2023 James Beard Foundation for her work at Fork and other restaurants under the same group. Fork prioritizes farm-to-table, sustainability, and the reduction of waste. To avoid food waste this restaurant pickles and ferments ingredients and participates in composting. As one of the greatest restaurants in Philadelphia, Fork is a Pennsylvania must-try.
SingleThread – Healdsburg, CA
SingleThread Farm-Restaurant-Inn is a 3 Michelin-Star Restaurant with five luxurious guest rooms. This restaurant provides guests with a memorable dining experience in the center of Sonoma Wine Country. The restaurant is located in downtown Healdsburg, 5 miles away from its farm in Dry Creek Valley. SingleThread Farm is taken care of by farmers with a shared ethos to respect the land and practice responsible land management. Reservation bookings are only available on the 1st of each month and they go fast!
Ghee Indian Kitchen – Miami, FL
The way in which local ingredients were impacted by their environment drove Chef Niven Patel to push the envelope in his farm-to-table approach to cooking. Ghee Indian Kitchen was an idea started by the lack of appreciation for an heirloom tomato. Chef Patel saw others wasting produce in kitchens and decided to build his own farm. His goal was to teach his team the time it takes to grow something as simple as a tomato. This farm, Ranch Patel, now grows the ingredients Ghee Indian Kitchen uses each day. Check them out in Downtown Dadeland to try their green papaya salad and vegetarian dosa.
Harbor House – Elk, CA
Dining at the Harbor House Inn is quite the experience with a 20-seat oceanview dining room that sits above the Pacific coastline. The menu changes as the seasons do and the kitchen focuses on natural sources of heat through steam and fire to highlight the true tastes. The location features several herb and flower gardens farmed organically and sustainably using the compost produced onsite. Harbor House is hyper-aware of its carbon footprint and takes steps each day to preserve the natural beauty of the Mendocino Coast.
Busboys and Poets – multiple locations
Established in 2005, Busboys and Poets is a restaurant, bar, bookstore, and community gathering place. It is a cultural hub for artists, activists, writers, thinkers, and dreamers. Busboys and Poets invests in its local community and has strong sustainable efforts. This establishment recycles everything from oil to aluminum and uses all green cleaning supplies. The menus are printed on recyclable paper and they use 100% eco-friendly, sustainable to-go packaging. Beyond recyclables, Busboys and Poets also uses organic food and beverage products and only serves water upon request. If there’s one business that is doing the absolute most when it comes to sustainability, it’s Busboys and Poets.
Quince – San Francisco
Quince features Californian contemporary cuisine with Italian influences. Quince’s Chef Michael Tusk was named “Best Chef: Pacific” by the James Beard Foundation in 2011, and the restaurant was awarded its 3rd Michelin star in 2017. This establishment created a non-profit foundation called FEED THE FUTURE which supports local restaurants and farmers and encourages entrepreneurship and sustainability in the Bay Area. The seasonality of Quince’s menu is dependent on its farm, Fresh Run Farm which grows over 40 varieties of carefully selected heirloom fruits, vegetables, and flowers. As of 2023 the restaurant is temporarily closed for renovations but will be back and better than ever soon.
Root Down – Denver, CO
Root Down’s funky restaurant concept is fresh-from-the-earth with mid-century details, with a focus on seasonal flavors and vintage aesthetics. Root Down’s menu features plenty of small plates like warm herbed feta and mouth-watering entrees such as harissa tofu tagine. Known for responsibly-grown and innovative, simple sourcing, this restaurant is 100% employee-owned and a necessary spot on your next trip to Denver.
Equinox – Washington, D.C.
Since 1999, five-time James Beard Award nominee Chef Todd Gray has been committed to serving exquisite, seasonal cuisine. Equinox’s hyper-local devotion to its community, customers, and staff has defined Equinox as one of DC’s most progressive fine dining establishments. The entire team at Equinox is committed to its values and ethics, aiming to meet fine regional dining with sensible business practices. This establishment is committed to making sure its supply chain is ethical and as local as possible. Today, you can visit this establishment's garden room which is a glass atrium filled with plants.
Founding Farmers – multiple locations
Founding Farmers is built on the philosophy that everything matters, no matter how small. Everything served here is made from scratch from the bread to the booze! This business both recycles and composts, diverting about 90% of its waste from landfills. With ingredients that are locally sourced and seasonal, we truly saved the best for last on our list. Founding Farmers is an incredible establishment that will remain a constant inspiration for sustainable-seeking restaurants.
The journey toward sustainability in the restaurant industry is an essential step in preserving our environment. By implementing eco-friendly practices and embracing sustainable initiatives, restaurants can make a significant impact. These top 15 sustainable restaurants serve as inspiring examples of how businesses can lead the way in sustainable dining. From menu creations that emphasize local ingredients to zero-waste practices, these restaurants have made commitments to environmental stewardship while delivering exceptional culinary experiences.
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