Getting Greener with your Bar or Restaurant: Tips for more cash and a better environment

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A related post about various restaurants in Iowa shifting their business strategy towards sustainability looks at how business owners are beginning to practice environmentally friendly and community driven methods of energy use, waste reduction, and local food sourcing.

But just how easy is it for a business to begin making these changes? And where to start?

“The first thing I tell most businesses to do is to conduct a waste audit,” said Shelia Samuelson, a sustainability strategy consultant at Bright Green Strategy of Iowa City, Iowa. “We look at what they are purchasing, and what materials they are currently sending to the landfill.”

A waste audit looks at the business’ composition of the waste (what materials you are disposing of and in what quantities), the weight or volume of the materials you are disposing of, and the sources of waste (to determine where the waste is being generated and how the material can be reduced, reused, or recycled).

“If results show significant quantities of material that can be diverted from a landfill, I work with owners to set up systems internally, and partnerships externally, to make that happen,” said Samuelson.

Most restaurants in Iowa are aware of the amount of waste they generate but do not consider alternative methods that can save their business money in the long run.

“Most of our waste comes from our use of plastic, for alcoholic drinks and shots,” said Dani Montag, long time server at Airliner Bar, of Iowa City, Iowa. “I think there are several things we could do to change that.”

At one time, Airliner used to allow the sale of reusable mugs for their “mug club night” where patrons could get discounted drinks if they brought their mug. The decision could lower the amount of waste production and save the business money when purchasing plastic cups.

The Airliner, like most bars in Iowa City, do recycle their glass beer bottles and cardboard. “We save the glass bottles and return them to the distributors. They then recycle them and the deposit gathered for recycling gets credited back to the bar,” said Montag.

The following tips, some of which are taken from the California government’s “Restaurant Guide to Waste Reduction and Recycling“, are great ways to reduce waste and keep a productive business.

  • Buy bar mixes in concentrate form and portion them into reusable serving containers instead of buying ready-to-use mix.
  • Use refillable condiment bottles and refill them from condiments purchased in bulk containers. Stray away from using portion-controlled individual packets.
  • Purchase paper products made from recycled materials. This can include toilet tissue, paper towels, napkins, bags, menus, place mats, etc.
  • Switch to paper packaging if you use styrofoam to-go containers. Styrofoam takes up four times the amount of storage and disposal volume than paper in the landfill.
  • Use reusable coasters instead of paper napkins when serving drinks at the bar.
  • For delivery orders, consider hiring an employee who can take deliveries on bike for orders that are close to the business location.
  • Advertise a “mug club” where on certain nights, patrons can purchase reusable mugs and receive discounted pricing for drinks when they bring back their mugs.
  • Buy food locally from farmer’s markets or other local producers when in season.
  • Buy alcohol from local breweries to support their local production.
  • Purchase cleaning products that are safe for the environment. Look for products that don’t contain harmful toxins or large amounts of chemicals.
  • Purchase energy efficient lightbulbs.

These small changes could potentially have a big impact on cost savings. It is likely that the members of the community will take note of these efforts as well. It is a great way to increase sales if your customers know you are making an effort to make your business more sustainable.

For more information, view this short video:


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