Sustainability in the food service industry

The social and environmental issues in the food service industry, how to solve them, and the benefits of doing so. 

Look, we love nothing more than treating ourselves to a spot at a dimly lit restaurant and ordering a serving of Fettuccine Alfredo and a bottle of a moderately-priced chardonnay. But the fact of the matter is that the average bar and restaurant business model is unsustainable. 

The food service and hospitality sector is contributing to our climate crisis by creating 2.87 million tonnes of waste annually, (according to WRAP), sourcing produce through a lengthy and unsustainable supply chain and using single-use items for production and packaging. 

What does climate-kind food look like? 

According to the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA). A climate-kind meal is:

  • Heavy on the vegetables
  • Has a low carbon footprint
  • No food waste
  • Celebrates local and seasonal ingredients
  • Fish sourced sustainably

3 major sustainability issues within the food service industry (and how to solve them)

1. Sourcing

2. Waste

3. Packaging


The sourcing of raw materials, fresh food, and supply chain management remains a difficult area of the food service industry to manage sustainably. Good news! We can help.

Use Moiety’s 6-step strategy for sustainable sourcing in the food service sector. 

1. Collaborate with your suppliers

Talking with your supplier is the first step in your responsible sourcing journey. They should know all about the origin and production of their produce. If they don’t, that’s a red flag.  

Use these questions to learn whatever you need to know from your supplier:

  • What foods are in season right now?
  • Where was this food produced?
  • Was it cultivated inside or outside?
  • Who is the farmer?
  • Does the farm use any environmentally friendly farming practices?
  • How long do you anticipate the season to last?
  • When this growing season is through, will any cultivars be grown that have a similar flavour profile?
  • Are there any leftovers from this produce that we could use for something else?

You should also talk with your supplier on the following subjects:

  • Ugly fruits & veg
    Ask about any “ugly” fruits and vegetables that may be in danger of going to waste. This absolutely good produce may even be less expensive. Win-win situation!
  • Sudden surpluses
    Surpluses can occur as a result of unforeseen events like a business closure. Tell your supplier that you would be pleased to accept any unexpected produce surpluses. Send them a list of items that you are willing to accept. To prevent food from going to waste, try to be flexible with your menu to accommodate these surpluses.

2. Source locally

Ingredients might already be growing nearby. To find out what is produced around you and what you can actually use for your food service, get in touch with your neighbourhood foraging organisations. Attend farmer’s markets, where you can get fun items to prepare meals with and meet local growers.

3. Source seasonally

Seasonal produce procurement lowers greenhouse gas emissions. Producing crops that are out of season requires a lot of energy from artificial heating and lighting.

It is believed that the greenhouse gas emissions associated with this growing process are more harmful than the produce’s transportation.

When you choose to purchase seasonal, local goods, you have the opportunity to promote additional social advantages:

  • fresher produce is often more delicious.
  • creating successful local food networks
  • preserving local culture and culinary heritage

4. Supply chain management

Your responsibility does not end at the door of your establishment. You must ensure you are aware of the farming practices and ethical standards of your entire supply chain.

Land use change (such as deforestation) and farm-stage emissions collectively account for more than 80% of the carbon footprint for most foods. Therefore, it’s important to ask your supplier about the farming practices of the producer. 

Try diversifying your ingredients. Relying heavily on specific ingredients for your menus means that the supply chain is more weighted towards the impact of producing these few products. One of the biggest things you can do to support diversity in agriculture and put relief on the supply chain is to source a wide array of ingredients.

5. Sustainable food certifications

There are a variety of environmental regulations and labelling associated with various food categories. The majority of them imply reduced resource consumption, avoiding high-value environmental areas, reduced soil erosion, and reduced air and water pollution.

When purchasing products for your food service firm, you should look for these certifications. Third-party environmental standards and labels that are extensively utilised include:

  • Better Sugarcane Initiative (BSI) 
  • Common Code for the Coffee Community Association (4C)
  • Fairtrade 
  • Global Good Agricultural Practice (GAP)
  • Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) 
  • Rainforest Alliance (RA)
  • UTZ

A more comprehensive list can be found on the European Commission’s Best Environmental Management Practice in the Tourism Sector report (2013)

6. Purchasing policy 

Establish a non-negotiable sustainable purchasing policy to encourage the purchase of:

  1. More products that use less water and energy, such as locally grown food, potatoes, chicken, food with a longer shelf life etc. 
  2. Fewer products which are highly energy-intensive, such as vegetables cultivated in heated greenhouses, food delivered by air, imported beef, or aluminium foil.


Use the 5 R’s to cut down on waste and manage your scraps.


Refusing your supplier is the single most effective way to reduce your waste. Refusing to accept anything that comes in packaging which is impossible to reuse can eliminate your waste.


If you cannot refuse it, then reduce it. Use Less – Waste Less.  Reduce means using less of things that are wasteful, harmful and non-reusable and recyclable. Making big changes here can really lessen the amount of waste you have, and therefore the amount of money you spend.


If you can’t refuse it, and can’t reduce it – reuse it. 

Every product uses materials and creates carbon emissions. Therefore, ‘Reuse’ is an important part of our sustainable steps towards saving the planet.


This step requires some out-of-the-box thinking. The best place to start is with any packaging such as cardboard boxes or single-use items such as wooden forks and knives from the food service.  thinking outside the box. Anything you can find a different use for is going to go a long way towards better waste management. 


As we now know, the first goal is to reduce the amount of waste your business is creating. Then after that you should be managing your waste for recycling and composting. You have separate bins for all your recyclables and your staff should be trained on which items belong in which bin.  

The items you put into this bin should be clean, dry and loose. So don’t forget to wash them with the other dishes! 

Food waste & composting

When looking at food waste, remember that it’s not just the food itself going to waste, but also all the resources used to produce and transport this food including energy, water and labour. Food waste sent to a landfill produces methane. Methane is 20x more potent than carbon dioxide. This makes food waste one of the most harmful greenhouse gases. It also has a significant effect on the bottom line of your business. 

Composting is the natural decomposition of organic waste using nitrogen, carbon, moisture, and oxygen. Turning the organic waste into a dark, rich substance called humus/compost which is used on all kinds of soils to provide proper nutrients for plants and help them grow faster.

3 benefits of composting in food service: 

  • reduce the waste from your kitchen
  • enriching of soil 
  • removes the necessity for chemical fertilizers


According to The Guardian, the UK consumes enough takeaway cartons per year to fill the Royal Albert Hall 1000 times. Based on the average weight of a mixed takeout container, this equates to over 3 million tonnes of packaging trash per year, the majority of which ends up in landfills.

You have a responsibility to reduce the packaging you take in from your suppliers and the packaging your customer takes home and dumps. 

1. Begin with an audit

Over a normal one-month period, note how much packaging materials come into your bar, either by weight or by simply documenting the products.

2. Reduce your dependence

As with many other industries, hospitality relies heavily on plastic, and in some circumstances, these materials are critical to a seamless operation. However, because the majority of these plastics are discarded immediately, they have a negative impact on the environment.

Start with products that have the lowest life duration to identify which materials can be replaced with something more sustainable. Consider how much use this object will have before it is discarded.

3. Prohibit single-use Items

Some products are only utilised for a few seconds, but their impact might last thousands of years. Even if these items are recyclable, finite resources such as energy and water must be used to produce and dispose of them. The solution is to outlaw single-use plastics. You should begin with your bar!

7 benefits of a sustainable food service establishment

1. Build a meaningful brand connection

Customers are significantly more likely to return for seconds when your restaurant’s beliefs correspond with theirs. They’ll feel that their money made a difference in the world, which will add to the satisfaction and fulfilment of their outing. They’ll almost certainly spread the word, which is one of the most effective types of advertising.

2. Gain more customers

People will feel more driven to visit your bar and, at the very least, become loyal consumers if you share your sustainability approach with the public. You may also find yourself appealing to a broader group of people if your menu includes unique and sustainable options. 

3. Increased profitability and cost recovery

With a rise in your customer base, you’ll inevitably see an increase in your restaurant’s revenues. Meanwhile, sustainable techniques such as waste reduction will assist you in reducing lost earnings. If you waste more and use more, you’ll save more. It’s that simple!

4. Employee satisfaction

People want to not only spend their money in environmentally friendly ways, but they also want to earn it in environmentally friendly ways. A strong social conscience can dramatically enhance employee morale, motivation, and retention because they will feel proud that their work is contributing to a good cause. It might also increase their loyalty to your brand. Even if they eventually leave to work somewhere else, they will almost certainly return as a customer.

5. Education and awareness of sustainability

Despite the fact that the push for sustainability is prominent in the media these days, some people are unaware of the facts and how to make a genuine difference. Your sustainable practices can serve as a positive and inspiring example for those who are unsure where to begin or why the issue is so important. Even something as simple as putting facts on the menu will get people thinking.

6. Boast a unique and appealing menu

In terms of menus, sustainable food procurement can result in a more refined, diversified, and high-quality menu. It may cost a little more to improve your ingredients, but as we previously discovered, customers are prepared to pay for sustainable dining.

7. Increase the efficiency of your supply chain

To lower your carbon footprint, one sustainable method is to shorten your supply chain. Not only will this increase your chain’s visibility and assist to avoid food theft (which may be costly to your business), but it will also resonate with many customers who want to support local businesses and communities. It can also help to increase the quality of the ingredients. As a result, guests might even be more satisfied with their meal and more inclined to recommend and return.

AND You can contribute towards 6 of the UN SDGs

By adopting eco-friendly practises into your food service plan, your business will assist up to six of the Sustainable Development Goals set forth by the United Nations by 2030, including:

  • 6: Clean water and sanitation (ensure access to water and sanitation for all) 
  • 7: Affordable and clean energy (ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy) 
  • 12: Responsible consumption and production (ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns) 
  • 13: Climate action (take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts) 
  • 14: Life below water (conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources) 
  • 15: Life on land (sustainably manage forests, combat deforestation, halt and reverse land degradation, halt biodiversity loss)

In the food service industry, sustainability refers to practises that aim to consistently satisfy customer expectations while not compromising the ability to satisfy customer demands in the future. 

Your sustainability aims will be greatly aided by thoughtful food service design plans for minimal waste generation, effective kitchen operations, and wise use of energy-saving equipment and fittings.

Ideally, your bar or restaurant will embrace sustainability in every aspect.

If you want to see how this all works in practice, check out our case study of bar Shared implementing a sustainability strategy and achieving a positive impact. 

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