What Does It Mean to Be a Zero-Waste Restaurant?

The sustainability trend is nothing new to the restaurant industry. Now, a few organizations have even gone as far as creating “Zero-Waste” certifications for restaurants ambitious enough to meet the challenge. To qualify, a restaurant must divert a certain amount of waste from landfills, incineration, or the environment (around 90%). While straightforward, reaching for this goal involves some strategic adjustments. If a restaurant wants to go above and beyond in the sustainability game, here is what must happen:

Sustainable Menu

Building a sustainable menu is one of the toughest steps in having a zero-waste restaurant. Dishes need to incorporate whole ingredients to avoid throwing away unused parts. These ingredients should be seasonal and locally sourced to reduce production and shipping resources. Dish portions (and proportions) should be carefully monitored to cut down on table scraps. This requires a highly skilled culinary professional who understands both flavor and inventory.


The best way to keep waste out of landfills is to not have any waste to start with. Inventory control is already a hot topic for restaurant management since it impacts the bottom line. But it is a balancing act to order enough at once to make shipping and packaging efficient, but not ordering so much that product spoils.

Ditch the Single-use Amenities

If ramping up your recycling program for single-use items is a good idea, then ditching them all together is a great idea. Cloth napkins, QR code menus, and metal cutlery help avoid adding materials to landfills and recycling pipelines. But if it is unavoidable for safety or sanitation reasons, restaurants need to partner with vendors that provide sustainably made supplies, and then ensure that they are recycled.

Creative Waste Management

Much of the waste that restaurants produce can have a second life if disposed of correctly. Cooking oil can be converted into biofuels or household products. Food scraps can be composted and used to fertilize an onsite vegetable or herb garden. Things like day-old baked goods or desserts could be donated to local food banks or shelters. Restaurants need to think beyond recycling and trash bins.

Staff Buy-in

No matter how meticulous and thorough a Zero-Waste strategy is, a restaurant cannot get certified if its team is not on board. There must be measurable proof that a waste reduction plan is working. This required staff buy-in and every employee must understand the impact that their actions will have on sustainability. Not only will education ensure that the back of house staff reduces waste, but the front of house staff too. Waitstaff can also encourage guests to order the appropriate portions to avoid leftovers.

Have the Right People in Place

Aiming for a Zero Waste certification may not make sense for every restaurant. But if an owner takes on that challenge, they will need an experienced management team on their side. Partnering with skilled restaurant recruiters gives an employer an edge in attracting the talent they need. Learn how today.



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