There’s little doubt the restaurant of the future will be a more sustainable operation for both quick-service stores and full-service Michelin star joints. As the idea of implementing sustainability into those operations becomes more of a priority for restaurants, the question is, What will that look like in the future? More plant-based meat options? Reusable to-go containers? Kitchens that waste less food inventory?
All of the above and more, as it turns out. In its just-released “Restaurant Industry 2030” report, the National Restaurant Association zeros in on how it expects environmentally friendly practices “have been increasing over the last decade” and will increase “even faster in the next one as innovative restaurants lead the way in more sustainable operations.”
The report makes two major claims around sustainability. First, that “sustainability isn’t just a buzzword.” It’s a daily practice rather than a marketing phrase to slap on a press release. And as the Association notes in the report, it’s a way for restaurants to cut down costs and also attract eco-conscious guests through initiatives like better packaging and sourcing ingredients responsibly.
The other claim the report makes is that sustainability “will be integrated into every aspect of restaurant operations in 2030.” That includes using equipment in more energy efficient ways and incorporating things like store designs that use alternative sources of energy, implementing more recycling programs, and nixing single-use plastics.
We already see some of these elements in various forms in today’s restaurants. Most notably, the state of California recently signed AB 827 into law, which requires restaurants to provide customers with food-waste and recycling bins, as well as signage that explains what type of waste goes where. California also recently passed a law that makes it easier for restaurants to accept reusable containers from consumers in which to place leftovers from meals.
And with delivery, to-go, drive-thru, and who knows what other types of off-premises ordering here to stay, we’ll also see a distinct lack of single-use packaging at restaurants in future. “With a surge in delivery, packaging considerations will become more important,” according to the report.
The key will be finding ways to implement more sustainability practices cost-effectively. Already, some restaurants are experimenting with ways to do that. For example, a restaurant in NYC called Mettā is the city’s first zero-waste restaurant. It’s carbon-neutral, completely trash-free, and even uses a dishwashing method that eliminates the need for soap. Silo, in the UK, is another notable example.
Mettā and Silo are both fairly high-end restaurant experiences, so while the Wendy’s and Chipotle’s of the future certainly won’t look exactly like them, they nonetheless provide the start of a blueprint for others to follow in future. In other words, they show us what the practice of sustainability looks like so other restaurants follow suit and help make sustainability way more than just a buzzword.