Restaurants Going Greener to Save Costs and Attract Customers, New Study Finds

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Despite uncertainty, new study finds sustainability gaining strategic and operational traction in the restaurant industry.

Nations Restaurant News

Sustainability has been on the foodservice radar for many years, and this data supports our ongoing attention to the growing trend

Sustainability practices that minimize the impact of restaurant operations on the environment appear to be gaining momentum as the foodservice industry finds ways to measure the return on its investment in green systems and technologies, according the results of a new benchmark survey from RSR Research.

The study, "The Better-Run Restaurant: Environmental Sustainability in Restaurant Retail 2010," finds restaurant organizations of all sizes hungry for greater efficiency in their operations, particularly those solutions which cut energy costs, reduce wasteful packaging, and can be leveraged to “tell a green story” to diners. While the industry is still struggling to correlate top line revenue with green investments, it does recognize the bottom line benefits of cost savings from energy and waste management.

Notably, 58% of respondents said sustainability is a strategic initiative in multiple departments of their companies, and 54% said they expect a return on their investments in sustainable technologies or practices within three years.

The findings are based on a survey of 124 restaurant retailers conducted in late 2009. The report was produced in partnership with Nation’s Restaurant News, the foodservice business network.

"There are three reasons for restaurants to enact environmentally sustainable practices, according to our report: to save cost, to reduce waste, and to build a greener brand," said Steve Rowen, managing partner at RSR and co-author of the report. "In fact, the best performing restaurateurs believe green-minded consumers care enough about a brand’s environmental positioning to factor it into ‘where to dine’ decisions. As momentum builds, this creates a genuine opportunity to gain new business.”

Among the report's more significant findings: a majority of respondents said they have either already incorporated green initiatives and technologies at their business or have them budgeted for 2010. These sustainable practices for 2010 include:

  • 79% recycle raw materials
  • 68% regulate energy use in their stores or facilities
  • 67% promote eco-friendly items or ingredients in-store
  • 65% reduce take-out/send-home waste
  • 64% feature green processes such as ethically sourced products
  • 60% incorporate green construction practices into new facilities and stores

When asked where they thought their biggest cost-cutting opportunities lay, respondents cited the kitchen, food preparation and packaging as offering the best-case scenarios. In fact, the larger the operation, the greater the cost-cutting opportunity perceived. Approximately 50 percent of those operating 100 restaurants or more cited this area as having the most potential, versus about one-third of smaller operators. Among those operating three to 10 restaurants, the opportunity to reduce transportation and delivery costs was ranked as most important.

"Sustainability has been on the foodservice radar for many years, and this data supports our ongoing attention to the growing trend,” adds Nation’s Restaurant News Publisher, Randall Friedman. “Time will tell whether this study benchmarks an incremental moment or an inflection point where the industry as a whole shifted from awareness to action and learned to minimize the impact of foodservice operations on the environment — profitably.”

"The Better-Run Restaurant: Environmental Sustainability in Restaurant Retail 2010" contains analysis of the business drivers, opportunities, and organizational constraints surrounding environmental sustainability issues specific to the restaurant and foodservice industry, as well as baseline recommendations for pragmatic steps to make sustainability a strategic issue within any restaurant organization. The report is part of RSR Research's ongoing efforts to provide market intelligence on retail technology trends. Download it here:

About RSR
Retail Systems Research (RSR) is the only research company run by retailers for the retail industry. RSR provides insight into business and technology challenges facing the retail industry ecosystem, and thought leadership and advice on navigating these challenges for specific companies and the industry at large. We cover all things retail: from store operations, to merchandise optimization, through cross-channel and multi-channel issues and private label management. From benchmark reports on the state of the industry, to analysis of breaking news, we turn data into easily digestible information. All our research is available for reading free to qualified retailers and their business partners. For information go to

About Nation’s Restaurant News, The Foodservice Business Network
For more than 40 years, Nation’s Restaurant News has served the information needs of foodservice professionals. Today, offering integrated media solutions for changing times, NRN is the media brand nearly 500,000 professionals turn to every month to help them tackle the challenges facing the foodservice industry. For operators, NRN provides a one-stop resource for complete industry coverage in whatever formats they prefer, whether print, digital or web-based. For suppliers, NRN’s audience-rich portfolio of print, digital and live-event products provides the reach, access and flexibility needed to open doors and grow businesses. For more information, visit


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