These Sustainable Restaurants Are Changing the Way We Eat

How to make your restaurant more sustainable 2

More and more people are making lifestyle changes to be more sustainable. As they do so, they’re also expecting the businesses they patronize to do the same. Environmentalism is a powerful value, and that’s one of the reasons that many restaurants are making sustainable swaps. 

Here, we define sustainability regarding restaurants and how they use sustainable practices. We’ll also show you ten restaurants around the country leading the way in this critical charge. It’s crucial that everyone support their local, sustainable, organic restaurants and help them grow.

What does it mean for a restaurant to be sustainable?

There is no official gauge for measuring a restaurant’s sustainability (or any other business, for that matter). However, the public can consider a restaurant sustainable when it takes deliberate and impactful steps to reduce its carbon footprint.

There are many methods that restaurants can use to go about this, although most fall into one of the following two categories. 

Ethics and standards from start to finish

Many restaurants that dedicate themselves to sustainability build their values around specific ethics and standards that guide their practices. Generally speaking, many of them commit to creating as little waste or causing as little damage to the natural world as possible.

Very often, these values transcend the multifaceted arenas of the business. It may include providing their employees with benefits or essential services, sourcing from local farms committed to using organic and sustainable practices and collaborating with other companies espousing similar ethics.

Sustainable practices and stewardship

It’s even more critical for sustainable restaurants to practice what they preach. This applies not only to the restaurant’s own systems but also to those of their partners. They need to work with farmers and suppliers committed to sustainability; after all, how ingredients get produced is just as important as what happens in the kitchen.

There are so many other ways that restaurants are going green. Another important factor is that they’re up-front about it and encourage their customers to make similar changes in their own lives.

Different ways of being sustainable

There are tons of ways restaurants are becoming more sustainable or even designing their business around sustainability. They’re doing this with their food as well as many of the other aspects of their business.

On the menu 

One of the most impactful things restaurants can do is design a menu that showcases ingredients with low environmental impact. This practice looks different depending on the location and time of year. For example, dishes featuring a lot of pineapples aren’t the most sustainable during the winter months in Chicago, but meals featuring leafy greens, which can grow in greenhouses or hydroponically all year, might be.

It also means using in-season, fresh ingredients grown locally and sustainably. Making this switch can test a chef’s creative juices because they’ll have to be continuously redesigning their menus. For some chefs, though, that’s the fun part of the job. 

One significant sustainable switch is offering vegetarian and vegan options on the menu. It’s an indisputable fact that the meatpacking industry creates an absurd amount of waste. 

They consume a massive amount of the earth’s clean water, and they feed their animals non-natural hormones and foods. Their manufacturing and processing plants release toxic fumes into the atmosphere, refrigeration during transport uses a great deal of fuel, and the packaging is unnecessarily wasteful.

For that reason, offering a plethora of options without animals in them allows more people to skip meat or dairy for their next meal. What’s more, they’ll learn about creative ways to use non-meat ingredients and maybe carry that into their day-to-day lives and kitchens at home. 

In addition, remember that smaller animals create less waste than big ones on their journey to the kitchen. Offer more poultry and fish dishes than beef or pork.

Off the menu

There are many ways that restaurants can make sustainable changes with things besides the actual food. Recycling bottles, cans, and more is only the tip of the iceberg. One of the biggest is a method that can be practiced by all of us, which is simply to reduce the amount of garbage they produce. 

Restaurants may do this by switching to cloth napkins that they can reuse. They can also stop using disposable cutlery and dinnerware. If that isn’t possible, many opt to provide non-plastic, compostable items to patrons.

Some restaurants even compost their organic waste instead of allowing it to find its way into landfills. There are multiple compost services and co-ops in hundreds of cities around the country. They also offer compostable to-go containers and bags instead of plastic.

Others have switched to tableside POS systems so they can run credit cards right there instead of printing multiple paper receipts. Write menus and specials on a chalkboard or upload them online, accessible through a QR reader, to save paper. 

Finally, install efficient hand dryers in the bathrooms instead of providing paper towels. For the paper products that have to be used, try to choose compostable items or items made from bamboo.

It’s a well-known fact that restaurants use a lot of energy, and that presents a huge opportunity to conserve. Switch to LED bulbs and upgrade to energy-efficient appliances throughout the business. 

Restaurants need to be sure to maintain all of their equipment, from the plates to the pots to the machinery. Not only does extending the life of these items prevent waste, it also saves business owners money.

Don’t leave doors open when the heat or air conditioning run. Set up separate zones with their own thermostats for parts of the restaurant with varying temperatures, such as the kitchen and the dining room.

Although it can be expensive, installing solar roof panels to power the business can make a huge difference, and may even save money on electric bills over time.

Trends in sustainable consumption 

There are several popular trends happening now in sustainable consumption which affect restaurants. 


It’s incredible to see how much of the sustainable change happening in the restaurant industry is led by customers. Part of the reason for this is the role of social media. Platforms such as Facebook and Yelp compile reviews from real people directly on their platforms.

In addition, platforms like Instagram help people with similar interests–such as environmentalism or veganism–connect. They recommend businesses based on these interests and submit their experiences based on how the restaurant performs.

Reviews and comments of several kinds are also searchable, so potential customers looking for vegan options or sustainable practices can find them at the click of a mouse. If owners put it first and foremost in their business, it is easier for hungry people to find them faster.

One of the other ways that customers have led sustainable changes in restaurants is by adopting vegetarian or vegan lifestyles. A decade or so ago, you couldn’t find more than one or two vegetarian options on most menus, let alone vegan. 

Nowadays, even meat-focused restaurants boast about their alternatives for herbivores. They’re coming up with innovative and delicious ways to eat without the meat.

Loud and proud

The other side of the coin of trends in sustainable consumption is becoming a trendsetter instead of just responding to them. Hundreds of sustainable restaurants have made that the centerpiece of their marketing campaigns or even the theme of their entire business.

As many may have noticed in recent years, eco-friendly restaurants can sometimes be very pricey. It’s a bit surprising for something that began as a serious grassroots movement among people who often spurned wealth accumulation.

In many ways, elitism has taken over some of the core of sustainability and made it more palatable to the upper echelons. But at the end of the day, environmental action has to come from all angles if it’s going to slow the effects of climate change and other looming disasters.

No matter who a person is, if environmentalism is important to them, they can and should make it the core of their business and connect with like-minded people every single day.

Ten green and sustainable restaurants in the USA

Let’s finish up by looking at ten restaurants across the country that are going green while churning out delectable dishes.

    • Black Cat Bistro (Boulder, Colorado)Black Cat is less of a restaurant and more of an experience. Dinner takes place on the Black Cat farmstead, so you can both enjoy a meal and have a tour of the lovely farm. 
    • Uncommon Ground (Chicago, Illinois) Uncommon Ground has two locations in Chicago: Lakeview and Edgewater. This cafe has the first certified rooftop organic garden and even organic brewing. 
    • Grange Kitchen and Bar (Ann Arbor, Michigan)Grange Kitchen and Bar sources over 90% of their menu from local farms, which means their menus are always seasonal and fresh. 
    • Outstanding in the Field (Santa Cruz, California) Outstanding in the Field lets you dine surrounded by where your meal came from. This restaurant moves, setting up on farms or the beach where the ingredients were sourced. You can enjoy a meal and see where your food came from. 
    • Founding Farmers (Washington D.C area)Founding Farmers strives to make everything from scratch using local ingredients. They even sell groceries, so you do not have to go out to enjoy great organic food options. 
    • The Marshal (New York, New York)The Marshal seeks to be sustainable not only in sourcing local ingredients but also in how they prepare their food, avoiding the use of gas and using wind power for electricity
    • Herbsaint (New Orleans, Louisiana) – If you want a taste of fine dining that also uses more sustainable local ingredients, Herbsaint is the way to go. This Southern French restaurant has won awards and features the flavors you expect from New Orleans. 
    • Mixt (Los Angeles and San Francisco, California) – For a quicker sustainable option, Mixt is an expanding chain with several restaurants. They serve sandwiches and salads that use organic ingredients and come in compostable packaging. 
    • Woodberry Kitchen (Baltimore, Maryland) – Woodberry Kitchen is a farm-to-table restaurant serving New American-style food. They also make efforts to manage their kitchen waste more effectively. 
    • Red Stag Supperclub (Minneapolis, Minnesota) – Red Stag Supperclub goes the extra mile in sustainability. Besides local ingredients, they also operate in a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified green building. 

As you can see, there are a lot of restaurants using various means to be more sustainable. The chances are strong that there’s a sustainable restaurant nearby where you live, too. Support their endeavors by visiting often and telling everyone how much you love it. 

If you want to make even your purchase at these restaurants more sustainable, check out the Aspiration bank for a way to give back to the environment while you enjoy its fruits. 

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