How to Create a Sustainable Restaurant Menu

how to create a sustainable restaurant menu
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Food waste is a massive and global issue. According to the United Nations Food Waste Index Report from 2021, around 931 million tonnes of food waste was generated in 2019. Staggering 26 percent of that food waste came from – food service. 

These massive amounts of food that are produced but land in the trash – are responsible for 8-10% of global greenhouse gas emissions. So, implementing sustainable practices in the food service industry could provide multiple benefits for the planet and the overall profitability of restaurants. 

According to Recycle Track Systems, the restaurant industry in the US spends around $162 billion yearly because of wasted food. This is a waste of money, energy, and resources. 

Restaurants could become sustainable and environmentally friendly as well as more profitable. The first step they could take is to create a sustainable restaurant menu. Let’s see what they need to do.

Planning is a must and less is more

The first step in creating a sustainable restaurant menu is planning. The chef should design daily offers a few days in advance, and accordingly, order groceries. It is important to order minimum quantities of easily perishable products – like fruits and vegetables. 

When those groceries spoils there is no other option but to throw them in the trash. If that happens often, restaurants can accumulate a great deal of unnecessary costs. For restaurants that want to brand themselves as sustainable – this is also important regarding resource wastage and the mentioned environmental impacts of wasted food.

To make this kind of planning possible, the best practice to implement when creating a menu is to focus on a high-quality few dishes rather than a wide range of average, or even below-quality dishes. In other words – less is more in this case.

Sustainable and seasonable procurement

Restaurants that want to be called green need to have sustainable seasonable procurement. In practice, that means local procurement of food. There are many benefits of local procurement:

  • less energy wasted on transport
  • less pollution and packaging waste, 
  • support for the local economy.

But, the first thing you have to do before finding local suppliers is to define how many miles it is ok to travel to call your food – local food. There are various definitions. According to the – we would say the outdated definition from 2008 of the U.S. Congress Food, Conservation, and Energy Act – “locally or regionally produced agricultural food product” can only travel less than 400 miles from its origin, or within the State in which it is produced. 

Some other sources claim that local ingredients are 30 to 50 miles from the point of sale. 

The fewer miles the better, since fewer miles means cutting costs on transport and ensuring fresh ingredients make the tastiest meals with the highest nutrition values. 

Due to local food procurement, chefs must create different seasonal menus in agreement with local suppliers. When you organize your operations like that you can say you are running a sustainable restaurant business.

Grow your vegetables and herbs in the restaurant

You can go one step further from buying local, organic food and start growing vegetables in your restaurant.

More and more restaurants around the US are growing their vegetables. If you don’t have space for it – you can always start small. For example, you can start a herb garden and grow fresh spices like cilantro, basil, parsley, or dill.

Guests will be thrilled when they see fresh parsley harvested for their dish. Some restaurants took that farm-to-table principle much further. Here are some examples to get you inspired.

Rosemary’s, New York


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 Rosemary’s is an Italian restaurant that serves seasonal Italian food. They have a vegetable garden situated on the rooftop of a restaurant located in Greenwich Village. 

They are proud of their urban-farmhouse design and they are committed to growing and serving food to guests as they would be to their own families.

Uncommon Ground Lakeview, Chicago


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 This restaurant is proud of itself as the 1st Certified Organic Brewery in Illinois. Besides that, they have a wonderful organic rooftop vegetable garden with earth boxes, beehives, and planter boxes where they grow and harvest delicious and nutritious produce that they use in their restaurant. The rooftop farm is 2500 square feet and made from recycled materials. 

They grow sweet and hot peppers, eggplants, different kinds of lettuce, radishes, and much more. Herbs they grow include tarragon, dill, mint, parsley… Besides that, they are planting flowers like calendula, marigolds, and morning glories. 

These flowers have their purpose in the garden but they also provide food for the bees – honey bees as well as native bees that are living on that wonderful urban rooftop.

Create a menu with less red meat included

One more important thing you can do to have a more sustainable menu is to reduce dishes with red meat. It may seem daunting – since we know how much we love our burgers or meet bowls.

But if you know that about 40 percent of greenhouse gases come from agriculture, cutting red meat means real devotion to sustainability. 

Red meat, specifically beef impacts climate in two ways: 

  • through the emission of methane from cows
  • destroying forests for pastures.

Reducing red meat from the menu does not mean you won’t have exceptional dishes. Great chefs can create delicious meals from poultry, turkey meat, or even plant-based dishes. 

Of course – have in mind who your suppliers are, and how these chickens and turkeys are bred, and choose local and organic produce. 

Get help

If all this seems like a bit too much to handle – you have to know that you can ask for help in your efforts to become a sustainable restaurant.

The non-profit association Green Restaurant Association founded by Michael Oshman in 1990 in California, is devoted to helping restaurant owners to implement sustainable business practices. 

From then to today GRA made it accessible for thousands of restaurants to become more environmentally sustainable in Energy, Water, Waste, Food, Chemicals, Disposables, Building & Furnishing, and Education. You can even become a certified green restaurant. For that, you must earn enough GreenPoint in any of the eight categories listed above.  

By getting this kind of certification restaurant owners will be guided on how to green their operations using transparent, science-based certification standards. Since environmental issues are more important to people, especially to younger generations – you can use that for your branding and increase your customer base.