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How to Take Steps Towards Being a Zero-Waste Restaurant

How to Take Steps Towards Being a Zero-Waste Restaurant

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Five prominent DC restaurateurs and chefs weigh in on what makes them leaders in the zero-waste space.  

Last November, Sabrina Medora of Un-Plated hosted a panel of industry experts at the Steelite International Showroom in Alexandria, VA, to lead a conversation on Zero-Waste in Restaurants. Participants included Rob Rubba (Oyster Oyster), Daniella Senior (Michelin-starred Bresca, Colada Shop, Serenata), Sara Quinteros-Shilling (Shilling Canning Company), Philip Thompson (Hilton Corporate), and Hunter Douglas (United States Bartenders Guild). Together, they discussed how various aspect of a restaurant’s business can contribute towards no-waste efforts and make an impact in their communities.

the zero-waste panel
(L-R): Philip Thompson, Sabrina Medora, Rob Rubba, Sara Quinteros-Shilling, Daniella Senior, Hunter Douglas | photo by Bunny Johnson of Hospitality Dining Solutions

At the Bar

 Hunter Douglas notes that one of the biggest mistakes made by restaurants is not synchronizing  the kitchen schedule with the bar schedule. In many circumstances, the kitchen will juice citruses like limes or oranges and throw away the rinds. Later, the bar team comes in and peels another set of oranges and limes for garnish on the drinks. “Why peel 100 limes when you can just peel 50?” Douglas asks.

Other scraps from the kitchen can be used to make items like cordials. Douglas is currently experimenting with how to incorporate stocks into highballs.

“We take cilantro stems from the bar and use them to cure salmon,” Daniella Senior contributes. Even a fruit like pineapple can be utilized as a whole by taking the tops, the rind, and the juice to make a tepache (a fermented beverage commonly found in Mexico).

It’s not a necessity that both teams have to be in the restaurant at the same time but communication channels between the two should be established so that ingredients can be utilized to their fullest, eliminating the need for over-ordering and wastage.

In the Kitchen

“Chefs always want to be challenged,” Chef Philip Thompson states. “Mentally, it’s all about what’s available and how we can best utilize it.” This doesn’t just hold true for what’s on the menu. Family meal is a wonderful opportunity for line cooks and chefs to flex their creativity and utilize the ‘scraps’ from preparation of the day’s menu.

The restaurant industry is hitting its stride in a new era where the quality of ingredients is becoming an expectation rather than a luxury for most diners. As such, diners don’t mind if items are a little more expensive. How can restaurants use that to their advantage when it comes to planning dishes that are more sustainable and responsibly sourced?

Thanks to advancements in point of sales systems, it’s become easier for kitchens to not only track their food usage but also their food waste. These tracking systems help to streamline orders and can be communicated effectively between prep teams.

Just as Douglas says “everything has a second use” for the bar, the same rules apply for the kitchen. Chef Rob Rubba explains, “If we’re using celery root in our kitchen, we want to think of every potential use of that ingredient.”

Amongst Your Community

Education is everything. When both front of house and back of house staff are involved in bettering the business practices of a restaurant, it feels like a community effort in which everyone is mutually invested.

“Also, bonuses work,” Daniella Senior emphasizes. “If it’s associated with their monetary value, they think twice. So, have a gathering. Invite discussion. Make them write it down.”

When a restaurant advocates for responsible sourcing, quality ingredients, and shares their practices to eliminate waste, they’re setting an example of transparency. As Sara Quinteros-Shilling puts it, “Consumers start viewing your restaurant in a way that engrains it in the community.”

Deliveries and Storage Space 

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the conversation was how much storage and deliveries impact waste in restaurants. The idea of a large pantry with ample storage space almost lends itself to produce spoiling faster and wastage of ingredients. A modest storage space encourages leaner ordering practices.

That being said, farmers and producers have their own schedules. Most travel into the city from miles away and, to Daniella Senior’s point, “Look at the fuel it takes just for a truck to come in for a delivery. Looking at the sales trends in your POS can help you reduce your deliveries to twice a week.”

Some restaurants, like Shilling Canning Company, do have larger coolers and storage spaces so they can accommodate deliveries in bulk, based on their vendors’ schedules. Unlike most restaurants, their menu changes weekly (sometimes daily) to accommodate for the deliveries so that everything is utilized in a timely manner.

The Basic Tenants

Across the board, our five panelists agreed on the following golden rules—

  1. It’s okay to run out of ingredients.
  2. Everything has a second use. Be creative and learn to re-think concepts.
  3. Staff education is crucial. Invest the time and resources in learning how to preserve, to ferment, to dehydrate, and to recycle.
  4. Evolve your own policies. For instance, have you found a way to reduce plastic? Great. Now, how can you involve more biodegradable products?
  5. Consider food waste from outside the doors of your own restaurants. Learn to create schedules that reduce emissions. Establish a practice of utilizing products that aren’t contributing to environmental issues.

Above all, use the opportunity to go zero waste as a way to challenge yourself and your staff. These efforts help cooks become chefs and turn beginners into responsible business owners.

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