Sustainable Business; Cafes, Restaurants and Bars

Sustainable Ethical Restaurants, Cafe and Bars

This week’s article is the another in my series on sustainable business; this time looking at cafes, restaurants and bars. With food businesses starting to open up again after the pandemic it can be scary times. Being a sustainable ethical retailer may be a good way to differentiate you from your competitors and give you an edge going forward. Read on for some ideas on how to achieve this.

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Below is a list of tips on how to go about running a more sustainable eatery, but before you delve in here’s a short video about a restaurant in London that’s given up single-use plastic and another on a zero waste restaurant in England, and another about a college canteen that reduced it’s environmental footprint by increasing plant-based menu options. There’s also a few trailblazers in Ireland already leading the way on this, including Conor Spacey who you can follow on Instagram or Facebook, etc for regular tips and ideas.

And for some professional advice check out the food safety and sustainability consultancy firm Conscious Kitchen.


  • Aim to use reusable cups, crockery and tableware as much as possible. They’re far more sustainable than single-use items. There are some useful guides and case studies on the American Upstream website.
  • An alternative to reusables are edible single-use coffee cups, available in Ireland from Better Me
  • Don’t automatically give straws. Let people ask for one if they need one.
  • If you’re in the market for paper straws JBX Paper Pax makes them from sustainable sourced food-grade kraft paper in Ireland and Ecostraws sells edible straws and reusable straws.
  • Invite customers to ask for napkins instead of giving them out automatically.
  • Invite customers to use their own containers for take-away. Check out my article on how best to facilitate customer’s own containers.
  • If you need to give sachets of condiments in food orders check out Notpla’s dissolvable sachets made from seaweed.
  • Give discounts for reusable coffee cups and get listed on the conscious cup’s cafe map. Here’s a explanation on how to facilitate reusable coffee without risk of contamination; Contactless Coffee
  • If you use compostable single-use cups or containers for take-away provide a designated bin for them and explain why.
  • Support the initiative Refill and allow people to refill their reusable bottles on your premises.
  • Klee Paper in Ireland sell compostable single-use gloves
  • Cardboard Cloud is an Irish company looking to match people with cardboard with others who can use it, or helping businesses reuse the cardboard they have. They appear to be just at pilot stage at the moment but taking enquiries.

Food Waste

  • Try close-looped cocktail ingredients instead of fresh fruit based ones, which generate a lot of waste.
  • If you’ve a lot of food waste back of house review your menu. There is a recipe for every leftover, you just have to find it. If you’ve a lot of food waste consider installing a commercial food digester, or if you food waste is less there’s a smaller version that methane from the decomposing waste and use to power your gas appliances. called MyGug
  • Build your menu around locally sourced package-free ingredients and promote that to your customers.
  • Reduce food waste by encouraging people to take their leftovers home, mentioning that you accept customers own containers or have compostable containers to facilitate this practice.
  • Educate customers on food waste by publishing a total for customer food waste every day with the slogan ‘eat what you buy’ strapline
  • Donate unsold food with the Irish charity Food.Cloud or offering it through the apps Foodie Save or Olio

Food & Drink

  • Wine lab sell wine dispenser taps in Ireland. These use kegs thereby reducing your glass bottle waste.
  • Infinity Water Systems offer a refill system in Ireland for bottled sparkling or still water without the waste and cost associated with traditional bottled waters.
  • Consider the proportion of plant-based ingredients and meals you offer. See if you can increase the number of vegan or vegetarian options, or add plant-based milks and desserts to your menu.
  • Consider providing the carbon emissions of each dish. A study has shown that this can lead people to choose low-carbon menu items and meat-free options


  • Urban volt install LED lights with no money down. They get paid from a percentage of the savings you make from using less energy. They’re based in the US and Ireland.
  • Switch energy provider to one that offers the highest percentage of renewable energy.
  • Monitor your energy usage and set targets for reductions
  • Monitor your water consumption and set targets for reductions.

Promotional Literature

  • Print posters with offers and invite customers to photograph it instead of doing individual catalogues / leaflets
  • Source your stationary from Klee Paper or another eco-stationary brand.
  • Use an eco print company like The Factory in Co Offaly. They print on recycled or sustainbly sourced paper using plant-based inks and toners on low energy printing and finishing machines/ Their packaging is 100% plastic-free.


  • Source eco-frienly cleaning products from Klee Paper or similar.
  • Linea Zero is a range of professional cleaning products that are fully biodegradable and based on plant ingredients. Green Leaf Services offer office cleaning services with low-impact products within the Dublin area.
  • Use unbleached recycled toilet roll in your toilets.

Fixtures and Fittings

  • Buy second hand when refurbishing or fitting out your premises. Auction Xchange and Allstop Trading are good sources for second-hand catering equipment. Other resources can be found in this article; where to buy second-hand items
  • Consider using waxed cotton for outdoor signs – like this one from Millbee Studio –  instead of plastic coated ones
  • If getting a permanent sign consider having a painted one instead of a 3D one. If you do want a 3D sign then consider making it from infinitely recyclable metal and not single-use plastic.


  • Neutral in Denmark offering custom printing of certified 100% organic fairtrade toxin-free t-shirts which have made with renewable energy and are carbon neutral.
  • The social enterprise We Make Good can make many items for cafes and restaurants


  • Deliver locally by bike
  • Deliver to non-local areas with an electric car / van
  • If you do need to use a delivery company considering using one that uses bikes or electric vehicles or offsets it’s carbon emissions, like the Irish owned EcoXpress or Green Couriers or global brand DPD.
  • If you do deliveries get yourself or your staff driving more sustainably with the device Lightfoot. It plugs into the vehicle’s on-board computer and monitors driving performance. This is then displayed on the dashboard with a series of little lights. They’re based in the UK.

Positive Actions

  • Consider joining One percent for the planet, they work with companies that want to donate 1% of their gross sales to environmental charities. They are based in the US but work with companies all over the world.
  • Donate or assist local environmental charities.
  • Offer meeting spaces for community / environmental groups.
  • Invite people in to talk about sustainable living or climate change.
  • If you’re based in England consider joining the Sustainable Restaurant Association, or if in Ireland consider setting up one here.
  • Foodture is a network of fair food producers and retailers in Ireland,

If you’d like to calculate the carbon footprint of your food business there is a dedicated carbon calculator for your sector called Food Steps. It has been created by former Cambridge university student so the data should be fairly transferable to Ireland.

Till next week


PS – Other posts in the series include

Published by Elaine Butler

I am a circular design consultant helping manfacturers prepare for the circular economy

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