6 Types of Sustainable Technology That Help Restaurants Reduce Paper and Food Waste

By: Nancy Shenker

11 Minute Read

Jun 19, 2019

Sustainable technology

Over the past two years, the Good Food Media Network has published a list of 100 restaurants that are committing be more sustainable and the National Restaurant Association surveyed both owners and consumers about their views in a State of Restaurant Sustainability Report. As many as 66 percent of customers – and 73 percent of millennials – say that they will spend more on sustainable brands, according to Nielsen’s Global Corporate Sustainability Report, so it should come as no surprise that transparent, sustainable restaurant operations matter to your guests. 

When restaurateurs hear the term “sustainability,” they often think of reducing food waste, composting, renewable energy, incorporating farm-to-table options, and recycling or upcycling, all of which aim to eliminate unnecessary waste and reduce a restaurant’s carbon footprint

In fact, 40% of all of food in America is wasted, and as much as 83 percent of unused food in restaurants winds up as waste. A recent study by reFED calculated the approximately 11 million tons of restaurant food waste costs businesses about $25 billion per year. The report also notes that every dollar invested in food-waste reduction can result in about $8 in cost savings for restaurants.  

To learn more about ways you can reduce food waste in your restaurant, check out this  9 step, comprehensive checklist from Toast

Besides adopting the above environmentally-conscious strategies into your restaurant operations, investing in restaurant-specific sustainable technology can help restaurants from food trucks to fine dining reduce their carbon foot-print, and become more sustainable, environmentally-consicous businesses.

What Is Sustainable Technology? 

Sustainable technology reduces waste while maintaining efficiency. Paper waste and food waste are just two of the many areas of restaurant operations whose volume can be managed and reduced with the help of restaurant technology solutions like payroll and employee management software, kitchen display screens, guest-facing point of sale technology, and an integrated customer relationship management (CRM) solution.

In the end, you’ll find that sustainability means spending less, saving more, and looking great to even the pickiest of consumers.

QSR Magazine

1. Guest Facing Point of Sale Technology

Deforestation – the cutting down of trees to make paper and other materials – is destroying the environment, and negatively impacting the future of wildlife, ecosystems, and even the weather. The restaurant industry alone contributes to 1.5 billion pounds of paper waste annually – just in receipts. Add in menus, gift cards, paper billing to and from vendors, single-use napkins, paper-based payroll systems, and paper checks to employees and the amount of paper waste produced by restaurants  becomes staggering.

Did you know that a paper receipt can cost up to five cents apiece and as many as 93 percent of these receipts may not be eligible for recycling due to the dye that’s used to improve legibility? “Your receipts could be making you sick,” said MarketWatch, noting the use of toxic BPA and BPS dyes used in thermal paper. Plus, a whopping 90 percent of all receipts wind up in the trash. 

Spinelli’s Pizza in Tempe, Arizona took the leap to going all-digital receipts and did not see any impact on sales or customer loyalty. Owner Christoper Palma says, “I’ve used tech to help cut down on paper waste. We offer online ordering through our own app, which offers paperless receipts and coupons.”

Remember, any impact you have may seem small but it can have long-term implications. “I would like to think our customers care. But we as a business care,” says Palma. “I think it’s more important now than ever to make sure we conduct business in a manner that leaves the planet in better condition for the generations to come.”

The national “Skip the Slip” initiative and report by Green America details the environmental and health impacts of paper receipts; a bill was proposed in California to eliminate them altogether. Hot off the heels of the 2018 grassroots movement to reduce the public’s dependency on single-use plastics by discouraging the use of plastic bags, plastic straws, plastic cutlery, and styrofoam takeout containers, the Skip the Slip campaign may be responsible for soon rendering the paper receipt obsolete. Companies outside the hospitality sector are adopting cloud-based expense processing systems like Expensify, which eliminates the need for paper invoices and paper-reliant payment processing.

In quick-serve and fast-casual restaurants, self-service kiosks have gone from novel to commonplace. Tablet-based ordering may take a while to catch on in fine dining establishments, but they offer substantial benefits beyond reducing paper waste, including the ability to   make and push out menu changes on the fly, list and update nutrition facts and allergy details, and adjust prices for hourly specials or a happy hour menu. 

Using kiosks or tablets to facilitate ordering in your restaurant also reduces the chance of human error – the guest is the one inputting their own order – or something getting lost between the order being taken and the kitchen receiving it.  If you are using paper menus in your restaurant, you can ensure that nothing gets lost in the translation from diner to waitstaff to the kitchen by replacing the traditional guest check with a handheld system like Toast Go™

Although electronic menu boards and guest-facing point of sale technology requires an upfront investment in the screens, kiosks, or tablets, the long-term time cost savings and environmental protection benefits make this sustainable technology choice worth the money every time.  

2. Kitchen Display Screens

Besides adopting digital menu boards, guest-facing kiosks, and handheld point of sale technology, another sustainable technology investment that reduces paper waste in your restaurant is kitchen display screens, which eliminate the need for paper tickets on the line. 

By creating a seamless order inputing and fulfillment process with handheld point of sale in the front of house and kitchen display screens in the back of house, restaurants can reduce paper waste while facilitating smooth and accurate communication between front and back of house.

Toast’s KDS (Kitchen Display System) specifically is estimated to have saved 2,500 trees in just one year, reduced the amount of lost tickets, and increased overall order fulfillment accuracy and speed. 

Says Brandon Hunt of Via 313 on his restaurant's adoption of KDS in their back of house operations,

The cost of paper is insane. At almost $50-60 a case, we were going through about a case a week, so it was a no-brainer for us to use kitchen display screens in the kitchen and go paperless in the front of the house as well.

Brandon Hunt

Co-Owner, Via 313


3. Payroll & Scheduling Software

Hiring, scheduling, and conducting payroll are all aspects of managing restaurant staff that can now be paper-free due to the rise in end-to-end people management systems. 

Posting schedules in the break room is a thing of the past, as many restaurants move to cloud-based, mobile-friendly, employee scheduling software that allows staff to view their schedule, request shift changes, change their availability, request time off, and track hours worked from their laptop or smartphone. Payroll software and services allow restaurant management to calculate and distribute wages, maintain compliance with state and federal payroll-related laws and taxes, and track labor spend without any need for paper pay stubs, paper checks, and paper tax forms like W9s or W2s. 

Investing in digital people management and restaurant payroll solution, like Toast Payroll & Team management, will save you time, stress, and paper. 


4. A Digital Guest Feedback Solution 

By and large, restaurant marketing is now digital first, with brands targeting new and existing customers by posting content on social media, sending emails, and monitoring their business’ page on popular online review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor.

Jim D’Arcangelo, Chief Marketing Officer of MomentFeed, a company that specializes in managing the digital footprint for multi-location restaurants, retailers, and service businesses, has seen an increase in food and beverage businesses investing in hyper-local mobile and online marketing.

Now that 85 percent of customers are searching on their mobile devices for things like dining options – even specific menu items like gluten-free or plant-based – restaurants must deliver immediate, relevant, accurate, and specific information. Responding to reviews – positive and negative – also helps them rank higher in [Google] search and be perceived as caring and responsive.

Jim D’Arcangelo

Chief Marketing Officer of MomentFeed

Paper comment cards have long been the most common method restaurants have leaned on to collect guest feedback during or immediately after the dining experience, but they’ve proven to be easy to ignore and a waste of paper. Investing in point of sale technology that gives you access to guest feedback in real time will not only help reduce paper waste in your restaurant, but it will also help your restaurant’s management prevent damaging, negative reviews from popping up online. 

Read More: How to Respond to Negative Reviews of Your Restaurant

5. An Integrated CRM Solution

Are you still using paper to attract new customers, increase event attendance, or promote LTOs (limited time offers)?  

By integrating your CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system with your POS system you can reduce the amount of paper used to promote events, menu specials, LTOs, happy hour menus, or even upcoming changes to your hours. 

Here’s a great example of how you can lean on your integrated restaurant CRM and point of sale to drive foot traffic while reducing your carbon footprint:

Did you know that sales of plant-based meat alternatives – think The Impossible Burger or Beyond Burger – have risen 24 percent in the past year? More consumers have become keenly aware of the impact of beef on their well-being and the environment. The thing is, meat-eaters are actually the largest group purchasing these plant-based meat alternatives, followed by vegetarians, vegans, and flexitarians. 

The plant-based wave continues to roll through American restaurants. Test the waters with one or two plant-based meat alternative menu items – like a traditional patty, a bolognese, chili, or maybe even some nachos – then create a marketing campaign that targets guests who have purchased a meat dish at your restaurant in the past few months. 

Then, analyze the item’s sales performance using your restaurant POS reporting. If you saw a return on your inventory investment, consider adding it to your menu full time. 

6. An Inventory Tracking Solution 

According to a University of Oxford study, food production is responsible for a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions.

As previously stated, restaurants are responsible for an overwhelming amount of food waste, and it’s mainly a result of poor inventory management processes and back of house systems that don’t maximize the amount of product going onto plates rather than into a landfill.

If you’re going to invest in one piece of sustainable technology after reading this post, an inventory tracking solution is definitely in our top three recommendations. 

An inventory tracking system that integrates with your point of sale is a valuable tool to lean on when making purchasing decisions. You can analyze your most popular menu items and find cost savings opportunities like which ingredients you could buy in bulk to use in multiple dishes or which expensive menu items that aren’t selling (and amounting to spoilage) that you should cut from your offerings. 

♪ Let’s Get Sustainable, Sustainable ♪

In an effort to lower their carbon footprint,  a restaurant group called The Sustainable Restaurant Group, developed its own carbon footprint tracking system. McDonald’s and Yum Brands (parent company of Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut) have also committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions at both their restaurants and corporate offices and signed up for specific targets, according to Supply Chain Dive. Although they serve as great green role models, most small operators cannot commit to that extent.

Taking baby steps, assisted by sustainable technology – eliminating paper, tracking and tackling waste, and selectively introducing new menu items – can gradually reduce your restaurant’s carbon footprint. Be sure your customers are aware of the measures you’re taking and why. 

Fruitive, a five-location plant-based restaurant group in the Northeast U.S., trusts its employees for the best new ideas about sustainability and even uses technology to gather them. Says CEO Gregg Rozeboom,

We believe that the vast majority of good ideas come from front line employees, so the best way we’ve been able to use technology is to help with the steady flow of sustainability ideas from our entire staff. We use Typeform to receive feedback from every shift supervisor twice a day and also to send out a weekly questionnaire to gather ideas from every employee.”

Gregg Rozeboom

CEO, Fruitive

The participation rate in this system is more than 90 percent.

The planet is constantly evolving, and so too should your restaurant’s list of sustainable technologies. Change can be overwhelming, but making an effort to reduce your carbon footprint can bring in new customers and will protect our environment.

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