Playing your part

How being more sustainable can help your business

According to waste specialist WRAP, the average cost of food waste for a hospitality business is £10,000 every year. And the scary thing is, this is just one part of a licensed venue’s overall waste.

With consumers in the UK prioritising the environment with ethical purchasing, making the most of this momentum and aligning green values with practical leadership and waste reduction in pubs and bars can lead to substantial business benefits.

I sat down with Sarah Berardi, the Louisiana-born general manager of Dundee’s hottest new bar, The Blue Room, to discuss what outlets can do to decrease costs, increase takings and help save the planet at the same time. Not a bad set of results.

“Sustainability is absolutely essential for bars now,” she asserts. “And I think a lot of people would be surprised how easy it is to do. It can be as simple as using trimmings from peels or dehydrating fruit which would normally be thrown in the bin. Just a few small changes can really make a huge impact.”

Embrace what’s local and seasonal

There’s something to be learned from the best. It’s of little surprise that the UK’s five three Michelin Star restaurants all share a penchant for using fresh food from these islands. While achieving three stars isn’t so easily attainable for the nation’s pubs and bars, capitalising on the benefits of the UK’s diverse food and drink offering is straightforward from both a business and environmental standpoint.

The appetite for local provenance is a major selling point on any outlet’s menu. Whether it is meat, fruit or vegetables from a local farm or gin and beer from the nearest distilleries and breweries, customers increasingly want to explore what’s on offer from the surrounding area when out in the on-trade.

As we enter a new era of sustainable consumption in hospitality, buying locally or from the UK more widely is one of the easiest ways for publicans and those they serve to dramatically lower their carbon footprint, as well as support local businesses and the wider community. And at this stage of the craft revolution, there’s not too much need to look beyond these shores for drinks which deliver on quality.

Sarah agrees. “Stocking local is a great way to help the environment and excite your guests,” She said.

“Obviously you’re not affecting the environment as much if your stock doesn’t have to be shipped over the planet’s oceans. It’s such an easy upsell too. People want to eat and drink what is special and local to the area they are in.

“Regulars and people from the area will also take a sense of pride from it. It’s great to help those smaller businesses in the community and showcase them in your outlet.”

Designing changing food menus based on what’s available locally at its peak during the four seasons can help operators offer richer tasting, more nutritional produce, which is equally cost-efficient and environmentally-friendly, as well as helping keep waste to a minimum with a little forward planning.

Waste not, want not

Whether it’s ensuring the most is made of everything that is bought in or doing the many things which are possible to lower energy costs, there’s a plethora of ways that operators can reduce their effect on the environment and cut down on outgoings.

Statistics from The Carbon Trust show that almost three-quarters (73%) of food-led outlet’s energy costs are garnered by the preparation or storage of food and heating and hot water. This underlines the savings that can be made by a prudent approach to energy consumption.

One of the easiest ways to do this is by making upgrades on catering equipment, from fridges to fryers, so they are as energy efficient as possible. Hot water pipes should also be insulated properly to prevent heat loss and leaking taps fixed as a priority to stop unwanted water waste, while heating and air conditioning should only be used when necessary. Switching to LED lighting can also reduce the cost of lighting in an outlet by up to 80%, a serious perk.

Reducing food waste is of huge benefit to both the environment and businesses. The best way to do this is by ensuring all staff keep a keen eye on what stock is being used and what isn’t, having a plan to use up surplus food and restricting the usage of disposable single-use items such as paper, napkins and, of course, plastic straws! Donating excess in-date food to local charities can also be a positive step that bar owners can take to assist the communities they serve.

“From an operational standpoint cutting back on waste and energy is not only great for the environment but saves the business money too,” said Sarah. “For instance, if you produce less waste you won’t have to pay for as many pick-ups and by reusing and repurposing a greater amount of what you bring into the outlet you’ll also see spending decrease.”

Train a team of green champions

The legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly once said that playing football was like playing a piano, citing his need for eight players to do the heavy lifting and three to play. Yet, in the country’s licensed venues, it’s essential that every staff member from general managers to bar staff are made to feel equally-valued as they all have an important role to play in an outlet’s quest to become greener.

Publicans aiming high with sustainability will undoubtedly be the ones who reap the rewards from increasingly eco-conscious consumers. To realise their goals they’ll need their staff to become mini-ambassadors for green practices, even if the steps are as simple as switching off equipment which isn’t in use.

Educating bar teams on the environmental benefits low-waste operational methods possess needs to take place alongside continual training to keep standards high. Explaining to staff why they work in a sustainable way will help them become passionate about the cause and enable them to convey the outlet’s ethics effectively to customers.

At The Blue Room, regular staff meetings are helping to do just that.

“There are always new way to help reduce waste and be more sustainable, so it’s important to talk to your team about it as much as possible”, said Sarah.

“We have a weekly team meeting where we all discuss new ideas to be more sustainable and save energy amongst other business. It’s always a good idea to have refresher sessions to help reiterate methods.”

Sustaining in-demand cocktails

The cocktail segment in the hospitality industry is arguably where sustainability will have to be best demonstrated to consumers and, for many bars, it’s already a developed market with innovative bartenders - such as the illustrious Ryan Chetiyawardana, owner of the Mr. Lyan bar group - experimenting with ways to make their creations less wasteful.

With cocktail drinkers more likely to spend extra on premium and ethical libations, a short selection of cocktails made with what would other have otherwise been waste can work really well. Infused, dehydrated or fermented ingredients in-venue can be signposted for the growing number of consumers seeking out interesting drinks with added values, which are unique to the outlets they are sold in; increasing sales and, needless to say, saving money and waste too.

And this can be achieved without any great difficulty, according to Sarah.

“Many cocktails can easily be made to be more sustainable,” she stated. “It’s as simple as using a discarded peel or using citrus stock to lengthen citrus juice. A little goes a long way when it comes to making sustainable cocktails.”

Packed with care

The demand for sustainability is reflected in the public’s attitude to packaged drinks too. Recent research from Ball Corporation shows that 73% of consumers would choose to drink from environmentally-friendly containers if given the choice and half would be willing to pay more for sustainably packaged drinks. So it’s fair to conclude that such options should be given greater prominence in a bar’s offer.

Engaging the community

It’s no secret that people like to shout about good food and drink. And it’s evidenced by social media use. Two of the most popular hashtags on Instagram are #food and #drink so using the omnipresent platforms, like Instagram and Facebook, to help advertise a bar’s sustainable menu options can be incredibly productive as the thirst for environmentally-friendly offers heightens.

Cost-effective and offering increased engagement, improved loyalty and more awareness; there are no downsides to broadcasting an outlet’s eco-consciousness.

In outlet though, Sarah advocates the use of the traditional art of bar chat by her team to make consumers aware of their outlet’s green credentials.

“The way we showcase how we are being sustainable in the bar is just by talking to our guests,” she said. “Guests are looking for a greener offer; they like to know they are helping. I think it is clear that drinkers in the on-trade are more educated in food, drink and the environment than they have ever been so it is an easy selling point for staff.”