Sustainability | Fact, Fiction, Trend, or a Way of Life


September 8, 2014

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3Our goal with this article to shed some light on the latest buzzword in the culinary field “Sustainability”.  In a recent article by The Hartman Group, “Sustainable food service: bending food-consumption behaviors”  the foodservice operators focus is more on the food and operations and less on branding, which is helping consumers understand what fresh, less processed, clean food really is and bending behaviors.  We believe that it is a very viable and growing trend that technically speaking is something chefs have wanted to do since they started studying culinary arts and began washing dishes in the back of the house.  Their reason, because sustainability thrives on seasonal cuisine as well as adhering to a small carbon footprint.  This means that menus are in a constant state of change, creating dishes with regional and seasonal products.  More and more chefs are pushing the parameters of protein, by implementing the “Nose to Tail” technique.  This particular process utilizes every part of the animal.  These trends are not new, they are just revisited. It wasn’t that long ago that all parts of the animal made their way to the plate. Unfortunately there are very few places in the United States that can have a full menu based on seasonal ingredients.  The simple fact that there is not enough growing season or conditions are not conducive for adequate product.  That being said, restaurants that adhere to this practice, will, in every way possible go local, sustainable, and nose to tail.

Since we live in a world where virtually all information is at our fingertips, there are certain developments and trends that you will begin to witness in our industry.

  • Consumers will want written reassurance that what they are eating is the real deal. Menus will have detailed preparation descriptions, sourcing information, and the names of the local farms where it came from.  This will become a focal point in many of today’s menus.
  • In pushing the parameters of protein we will see less expensive cuts of meat treated as steaks.  Like hanger, tri-tip, Denver cut, and flat iron. Pork will be the new favorite white meat. And, actual free range chicken will keep a very strong hold on consumers.  You will see more charcuterie and most of this will be done on-site.  Don’t forget the nose to tail; offal dishes and appetizers will be specials on many menus.
  • The fascination for Asian comfort foods has stimulated a growing interest in noodles and rice.  From Ramen noodles to rice bowl (using basmati, Brown, heirloom, and Jasmine).  Most of this rice is now being farmed and produced in the United States.
  • Another trend you will see in the back of the house is “fermentation”.  Creating pickles on-site and experimenting in Korean/Scandinavian curing techniques.  This is a time tested and very flavorful form of food preservation.

Consumers have learned to “Vote with Their Fork”.  For the most part patrons are aware that the choices they make regarding food, treatment of employees, suppliers, sustainability, and the environment have consequences.  They will patronize the concepts that share their opinions.  Many restaurants will promote and advertise this cultural identification.

 How should a restaurant approach this process?

  1. Local Food: Food will be sourced within a certain distance of the restaurant, or in the same state.  This is not a well-defined process, but what is clear is that local ingredients are on chefs’ and consumers’ minds.   Many chefs at full-service restaurants have gardens on-site! This is called hyper local…..
  2. Organic Ingredients:  Organic food that is certified meets specific standards, include being produced without conventional pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, antibiotics, growth hormones, and is not a product of a genetically modified organism. “non-GMO”.  Restaurants will go certified organic or as clean as possible and definitely non-GMO.
  3. Responsibly-Sourced Animal Products: Responsibly-sourced animal products include cage-free eggs, gestation crate-free pigs, free-range chickens and sustainable seafood.
  4. Going Meatless: Restaurants will serve (some or all) meatless meals.  Meatless meals produce significantly less greenhouse gases, use less land and water than animal products, and might be healthier for people to eat.  This can translate to less meat on the plate as well.  You will begin to see meat taking less of a “center of the plate” attitude

 So how can companies market their green initiatives honestly and within the law?

  1. Don’t make claims you can’t support with scientific research, certification, or some other form of verification.
  2. Be sure to investigate thoroughly any third-party organization that offers you a “seal of approval.”
  3.  Consider getting help from a marketing or PR agency that specializes in environmental advertising.
  4.  Look at ways to promote “the green” not only in your products and services, but also in your operations.
  5. Many menus will print the disclaimer local and or organic whenever possible.


Promoting your business as environmentally-friendly can offer a competitive edge.  Doing so in an honest way helps keep you on the right side of the court of law and public opinion.


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