BigHospitality's Sustainability Week: Restaurants

By Becky Paskin

- Last updated on GMT

Being a sustainable business isn’t an ideal achievable only by those with wads of cash to spare.

When the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) launches next month, restaurateurs from budget-restricted local diners to multi-site chains will discover how easy it is to adopt environmentally friendly and ethical operating practices. We take a look at some of the restaurants already flying the sustainability flag.


The high-end restaurant – Quo Vadis, London

Before joining the SRA, Quo Vadis co-owners Ed and Sam Hart already operated a few sustainable practices at their Soho restaurant. But with an SRA audit just months away, the pair are finding upping their eco-friendly game trickier than first thought.

What are they doing?​ From the offset, the Harts ditched bottled mineral water and asked water company Eau de Vie to fit filters and carbonators to their taps, enabling the pair to offer free filtered water to guests and save the production of about 200,000 bottles a year. They also checked their menus against fish2fork.com's list of sustainable species, ensuring they obtained a ‘thumbs up’ for every dish.

Around 95 per cent of Quo Vadis’s produce, including bacon, beef, and some wines, come from the British Isles, enabling the Harts to lower their carbon footprint through minimal food miles.

What’s the cost?​ British bacon is notoriously more expensive than Danish, but by sourcing all their meat from a Lincolnshire butcher the pair can ensure the quality served in their restaurant is of a high standard. The Harts do not charge for the filtered and carbonated tap water, and have lost bottled water as a source of revenue.

What’s in the pipeline?​ After the March SRA audit the pair hopes to adopt more energy saving techniques such as turning lights and hobs off and reducing wastage. Sam also hopes to start recycling, but inadequate collection services have so far hindered any attempts, and all waste is currently destined for landfill.

“It’s a matter of slowly getting there by improving one step at a time,” Sam said. “When you’re an independent restaurant you don’t have teams of people to help you be sustainable - you do it yourself, and there are plenty of other things to concentrate on. It’s a slower process which starts with a mindset improvement.”

The restaurant chain - Leon

Initially set up as a chain of healthy fast food restaurants, Leon has quickly become one of the sustainability frontrunners in the restaurant industry. Founder Henry Dimbleby, who heads up the SRA and has seen the brand grow to 10 sites within London, finds that implementing sustainable practices within a chain has both benefits and drawbacks.

What are they doing?​ Having used builders with sustainable ethics in the first instance, Leon’s sites have been fitted with eco-friendly and energy efficient materials and equipment. All furniture is either recycled or second hand, and staff are trained to adopt sustainable practices, e.g. to turn lights off and manage wastage.

Around 70 per cent of Leon’s produce is sourced from within the UK, 20 per cent from Europe and the rest consists of Fairtrade products from elsewhere, such as coffee, tea and sugar. Leon also endeavours to ensure its meat is reared on free range farms operating ethical practices.

What’s the cost?​ Dimbleby estimates that each Leon cost around £400k to kit out, a price tag that would have been higher if it weren’t for the saving made through using recycled furniture. He also believes that being sustainable means treating those you employ with decency, and pays his staff more than minimum wage.

What’s in the pipeline?​ Dimbleby admits Leon’s food is not always sourced as locally as it could be, but blames the restrictions that come with being a multi-site business. He aims to install energy meters in each restaurant to gauge their usage, and appoint a member of staff as sustainability monitor. As with any restaurant, Leon finds the ‘one step at a time’ approach most suitable when introducing new eco-friendly practices, and is currently working on a way to give away free food to reduce wastage.

“It’s all about the journey, doing three things each year to gradually become more and more sustainable,” he said. “It’s a hard and complicated thing for a chain to do but definitely an area in which we can improve.

The independent restaurant - JoJo’s in Whitstable, Kent

Nicki Billington and Paul Watson took a radical approach to kitting out their 23-cover tapas restaurant so that it had minimal impact on the environment and their back pockets. Just by working with its suppliers in similarly responsible ways, the restaurant is also proving its sustainability credentials without any huge outlay.

What are they doing?​ Most of the furniture, cutlery, pans and crockery has come from charity shops, while a grill and a 1920s till were bought on eBay. The wood for the bar top and stools - both made by a local carpenter - came from storm-damaged trees found in local reclamation yards. Including the cost of a new coffee machine, a cooker, two pizza fridges and certain specific 'ethical' details - for instance, non-toxic clay paint on the walls, and window frames made of Douglas Fir from sustainable forests.

The local farmer who supplies pork to JoJo's takes the restaurant's retained vegetable peelings away to feed his pigs. Vegetables arrive, unpackaged, in crates that shuttle back-and-forth between farm and restaurant. Fish supplies have traditionally come from one local day-boat, Millennia, which, like JoJo's itself, is part of the Seafish Responsible Fishing Scheme.

What’s the cost?​ By sourcing JoJo’s fixtures and fittings through second hand retailers and charity shops, Billington and Watson created the entire restaurant for just £6,000. Instead of dealing with wholesalers and forging reciprocal relationships with local producers, the pair have ensured their produce is cheaper, and of a better quality too.

Like many owners, Billington is particularly dismayed that it currently costs her more to split up and recycle her waste, such as cardboard and glass than if she just dumped everything in her general bin: “It's ridiculous,” she said. “If they charged people for waste rather than their recycling, they'd see a massive difference.”

What's in the pipeline?​ Billington readily admits that JoJo’s isn’t perfect. For instance, it has yet to find an affordable green electricity supplier and, despite using 85 per cent local produce, JoJo’s still imports 15 per cent of its ingredients, mainly Spanish hams and chorizo. As yet, insists Billington, nothing produced in Britain compares in terms of quality.

Tomorrow: See what some hotels are already doing to make themselves more sustainable

For more articles in this feature, click here​.

Related topics: Sustainability, Business, Restaurants

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