Knowledge requirements for sustainable practices in restaurants

For sustainable practices in restaurants are to succeed knowledge needs to be gained in education and continued in the workplace

That was the message from a recent industry roundtable debate hosted by Space Catering Equipment and the Sustainable Restaurant Association.

Key players from all corners of hospitality recently came together to discuss whether their industry can really be sustainable, and what needs to be done to enable the environmental building blocks to be put in place now, to ensure good sustainable practice is second nature for operators in years to come.

Hosted by Mike Mellor, MD of Space Catering Equipment and Mark Linehan, MD of the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) with an independent chair, sustainability consultant Sarah Daly of My Green Eye, the debate covered issues such as greenwashing, the challenges of waste management, where responsibilities lie within the supply chain, water and energy conservation, and the need for widespread industry training.

“It was clear from our lively debate that the benefits of the long term payback were worth the short term pain but everyone agreed there is much still to do,” comments Mike Mellor, MD Space Catering Equipment. “Issues of tight budgets and short-termism in our industry were seen as barriers to implementing and prioritising sustainable practices. However, everyone agreed that there needs to be more than a one dimensional metric to measure the true value of sustainable operations, as benefits include the working environment, lower staff turnover, insurance savings, electricity and water bill savings, waste management efficiencies, and savings on cleaning products to name but a few.”

Present round the table were Silla Bjerrum, MD of Feng Sushi, Dominic Collison Business Development Manager for Paper Round, Richard Wakefield from The Scarlet and Bedruthan Steps Hotel, Corin Earland, Executive Chef for Peach Pubs, Caroline Fry CEO of CH&Co, Stephen Kinkead MD of Winterhalter UK, Chris Creed MD of Creed Foodservice, and Peter Knibb Chef Proprietor of Restaurant 23.

Training was a major point of discussion. The group were unanimous in agreeing that sustainable practices need to be a key part of the curriculum in catering colleges, so that graduates join the industry with the right mind set for a sustainable future.

“You have to talk to staff about it and keep reminding them so that young chefs will pass it onto the next generation. Catering colleges are not currently educating people properly,” explained Peter Knibb Chef Proprietor of Restaurant 23.

This must then be continued in the workplace added Richard Wakefield of The Scarlet Hotel: “We were the first hotel to employ a sustainability manager. We do sustainability induction for new staff. This industry has a high turnover of staff, so we have appointed sustainability champions – to ensure it is carried through. As a result the environment is more pleasant to work in – essentially you are looking after your employees’ working environment.”

Silla Bjerrum MD of Feng Sushi commented “As an operator you have to make your own value judgements - take your own viewpoint and get your customers to buy into it. You have to live with your own green conscience.”

The kitchen itself was seen as the engine room for an establishment: “If it is delivering the right performance customers will come back,” commented Mike Mellor. “However, people often don’t know what they are actually spending in their kitchens on energy. It is for this very reason that we, at Space, have devised our innovative ‘Green Footprint Scheme’ which offers a practical way of building in energy-saving equipment and features to all types of commercial kitchen, up front at the design stage.”

After two hours of lively debate, Mark Linehan concluded with a point about communicating meaningful figures to which businesses can relate. He gave an example of waste management: “There are massive savings to be made when it comes to waste – when you talk to chefs and managers about how much food they throw away they nearly always underestimate. In a restaurant almost 60% of waste is product wasted in the kitchen – two thirds of that is avoidable – if you look at the figures in monetary terms it’s tangible and businesses will want to make changes.”

In summary, the participants felt that the industry still has some catching up to do when it comes to comprehensive sustainable processes and that knowledge needed to be shared amongst operators. They were unanimous in agreeing that the next generation of hoteliers, restaurateurs, food suppliers and equipment manufacturers need to be learning about sustainable good practice during their studies and then continue that learning within the workplace.

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