Stepping up sustainability – but how? 10 tips for restaurateurs

Organic products, reusable items, electricity: there are countless ways to work more sustainably. But where do you start? First steps for hoteliers, restaurateurs and caterers.

Sustainability Restaurateurs

Lots of ingredients, lots of possibilities – when you work with a wide variety of products and resources, there are plenty of possible adjustments that can affect sustainability. But there are also plenty of challenges. Why not simply turn the whole place ‘green’? Sadly, it’s not quite that easy.

But transformation can start with baby steps. And the issue of sustainability is more than just a trend – it offers the hospitality industry real benefits quite apart from the ecological aspects. Hotels, restaurants and caterers can attract new guests and customers for whom social concerns, environmental issues or health considerations are particularly important. There is also money to be saved, for example by reducing food waste and lowering energy and water consumption.

10 steps for starters:

1. Reduce food waste to a minimum.

Throwing away edible food is annoying – and expensive. After all, the ingredients have been grown, transported, purchased and possibly even prepared. To prevent food from spoiling before it is used, restaurateurs should implement the FIFO principle (first in, first out) and ensure that their stores are well ventilated, kept at an appropriate temperature and certain foods are stored separately from one another. For example, apples, ripe kiwis and bananas produce the ripening gas ethylene, which makes any produce stored nearby spoil more quickly. Schemes like Too Good To Go offer restaurants, cafés and grocery stores a platform to sell meals that would otherwise go to waste.

2. Optimise (and hopefully reduce!) the use of water.

Whether it’s for cooking or for washing dishes, nothing happens in the kitchen without water. At the same time, there are water shortages in many parts of the world. So saving water not only lowers operating costs but is also a global social responsibility. The simplest measures include repairing dripping taps, running the dishwasher only when it’s full and not letting water run unnecessarily. Low-flow devices and pre-rinse spray nozzles can significantly reduce consumption. Salads and herbs cultivated indoors also often have a lower ‘water footprint’.

3. Optimise energy use and avoid wasting energy.

From simply turning out lights to converting to energy-saving LEDs to cash register systems or deep fryers that power down or switch off when not in use – in terms of energy consumption, a great deal can be changed with a few simple interventions. These also include kitchen organisation – such as not placing the oven next to the ice machine if possible. Cleaning and maintaining devices like fridges ensures that these don’t have to work unnecessarily hard, which consumes extra energy.

Sustainability Restaurateurs Vegetables

 4. Recycle waste – or avoid generating it in the first place.

In terms of recycling, some countries are pioneers while others are just making a start. (More on this topic in the article: Being Up for Waste)Initiatives like Loop offer an innovative deposit scheme for reusable containers. The principle is that customers buy oils, sauces or creams in environmentally friendly, reusable packaging. When the customer returns with the packaging, they receive their deposit back and the manufacturer refills the container. As a pilot, METRO has introduced this service in 10 markets with over 100,000 customers in the Île­de­France region.

Sustainability Restaurateurs Windmills

5. Convert to green energy.

Converting to electricity from renewable sources is not only environmentally friendly but can sometimes even be cheaper. Switching providers is also quickly done. A little more planning is required to put solar panels on the roof or convert your delivery fleet to electric vehicles. But solar panels can pay for themselves within 2 to 3 years. And e-parking for cars or bicycles can also attract new customers.

6. Invest in energy-efficient devices.

According to a worldwide METRO survey, 39% of HoReCa customers feel that reducing electricity and water consumption is one of the most important issues for their business. For 59%, the environment plays a role, and 23% want to save money. In both cases, opting for energy-saving devices when buying new fridges, food processors and sanitary facilities offers a double bonus – ecological and financial. If you want to save money and do the environment a favour, buy devices second hand, for example from company liquidations or product returns. Frequently only briefly used, these devices are often tested and available with a guarantee, and also have the latest ‘energy rating’.

7. Check how food is bought – choose more local seasonal goods and buy food ‘loose’.

A short path from producer to retailer means less CO₂, which contributes to climate protection. The term ‘regional’ can vary, however, because different distance scales apply in different countries and regions. (More on the topic of local produce at METRO: Why not Get Your Regional Products from a Wholesaler?) Transparency and traceability are crucial in any case. This way, restaurateurs can guarantee a certain minimum of seasonal ingredients from local producers.

8. Use environmentally friendly single-use products.

Takeaway coffee cups, takeaway containers and packaging for shipping have been a hot topic since before coronavirus, but they have been receiving additional attention because of increased takeaway business. For many items, there are now alternatives to traditional plastic. Bagasse, for example, is a waste product from sugar-cane processing that biodegrades by at least 90% within 120 days. Other options are bamboo or wooden cutlery and paper or glass straws – or not using these at all.

9. Choose environmentally friendly cleaning materials.

Strict hygiene regulations are essential and have been brought into even sharper focus through the Covid-19 pandemic. Even so, hoteliers, restaurateurs and caterers can ensure that they use detergents and cleaners that are more ecologically compatible: for example, detergents with new, water-saving formulas; those that protect against deforestation by avoiding the use of palm oil; and those packaged without conventional plastic or in packaging that is refillable. Concentrates offer savings by ensuring higher yields while simultaneously reducing packaging waste and resources.

10. Talk about possible measures with your team.

If employees aren’t involved, efforts will for the most part be unsuccessful. So be sure to inform, explain, motivate – and always remind them that everyone is in it together, whether you’re talking about turning off lights or not leaving water running. Regular briefings, posters and sharing successes can help get your team on board.

Sustainability Restaurateurs Bottles

It’s clear that there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution. Ultimately, each business is different and has different preconditions and opportunities. So customised consulting is crucial. Even so, taking a broader view can provide inspiration and new incentives. This is one reason why METRO established the METRO Award for Sustainable Hospitality. Because good examples deserve recognition – such as DingsDums Dumplings, which conjures up dumplings from excess food, Bunte Burger, which draws on alternative protein sources, and FLORIS Catering, which avoids all types of waste and is working on its own composting system. The idea is that it’s good to be a copy cat!

Sustainability for customers is the focus of the METRO SUSTAINABLE approach. The goal: to support professional customers in running their business in a way that is profitable and also has a positive impact on the community and the environment. More on the topic of sustainability at METRO, on the ‘My Sustainable Restaurant’ concept and on the strategic focal points in our Corporate Responsibility Report and at

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