GreenYour Dining out
Urge your favorite restaurant to go green
Whether you’re a regular or a first-time diner, you can leave your server more than the standard 18 to 20 percent with a tip about becoming a green restaurant. Restaurants have a variety of resources available to them offering advice and support for becoming more environmentally friendly. By providing restaurant owners with the information they’ll need to offer a green dining experience, you’ll help keep food waste, energy-related pollution, and dangerous chemicals out of your community—and keep food dollars within the local economy. And with half of the money Americans spend on food going to restaurant eating, you've got a lot of green purchasing power!
How to urge a local food purveyor to become a green restaurant
- Decide which restaurant to approach. For greatest success, choose a restaurant that you believe will be open to making the changes you suggest. Compassion Over Killing (COK), an organization that works to urge restaurants to include more vegetarian fare on their menu, has found that family-owned and independent restaurants usually have more freedom and ability to implement changes in their menu and practices than national chains.
- Leave suggestion cards when you dine out. The Green Restaurant Association has suggestion cards that you can easily download, print out, and leave behind to get owners in contact with the GRA.
- Schedule a face-face meeting with the restaurant owner. When you schedule the appointment, be sure to emphasize that you will be brief so as not to take up too much of their limited time. Then, read up on the facts and prepare a brief presentation explaining why going green will benefit the business and the community, and highlighting some of the simplest steps the restaurant can take to be more eco-friendly. When you meet, dress professionally and come armed with literature you can leave with the owner explaining what they can do to go green. Give them lots of easy-to-implement information and helpful contacts. You can find information to pass on to restaurant owners in the Find it! section below. For more on planning a face-to-face meeting, check out COK’s Guide to Restaurant Outreach
- Write a letter urging the restaurant—or chain of restaurants—to adopt green practices. United Methodist Women’s website has a sample letter to Yum! Brands Inc., a major paper product supplier to restaurants, urging them to carry chlorine-free products.
- Become a shareholder activist. Shareholders get a say in the decisions and practices of the companies in which they invest. By becoming a shareholder, you can vote on, request meetings about, and ultimately affect the environmental policies and practices of your favorite restaurant.
Find it! Resources to help you urge local restaurants to go green
Below are links to how-to information and resources for restaurants interested in going green. Refer local owners to these references when urging them to become a green restaurant, or just refer them to this page to check out the links themselves. Some of the resources listed below cross categories, so be sure to read what is included in each to make sure you get the information you're looking for.
- The Bay Area Green Business Program's Becoming A Green Restaurant lists practices and standards that restaurants should adopt to become more environmentally friendly.
- The Green Restaurant Association's (GRA) Become A Green Restaurant web page explains the benefits of and steps to becoming a fully certified GRA member.
- Midwest Environmental Law and Policy Center's Going Greener Guide for Restaurants is a website with information for restaurants on how to use less water, use less energy, reduce waste, use safer cleaners, buy local organic food, and find green products.
- Sustainable Berkeley's Greening Restaurants website offers a quick list of initial steps restaurant owners can take to green their business, and offers hands-on support and live help to restaurants in the Berkeley area.
Conserving energy and water
- ENERGY STAR for Restaurants is a US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website with guides and fact sheets explaining how restaurant owners can make their businesses more energy-efficient.
- Energy Ideas Clearinghouse's Restaurant Energy Saving Tips urges energy efficiency in the areas of lighting, water heating, ventilation, heating and cooling, and maintenance.
- The National Restaurant Association's How to Make Your Operation More Environmentally Friendly website teaches restaurant owners how to reduce waste and conserve water and energy.
- San Diego Gas and Electric Company's Energy-Saving Solutions for Restaurants includes no- and low-cost energy-saving measures, information on investments in energy savings and rebate programs, and more, all specifically designed for restaurant owners.
Buying local guides
- Chef's Collaborative works to connect restaurant owners and chefs with local food sources in their communities. Restaurants can contact the organization to learn how to begin buying local.
- Glynwood Center's Guide To Serving Local Food On Your Menu is just that. A how-to manual for restaurant owners to begin buying local.
Pollution prevention and waste reduction
- Great Lakes Regional Pollution Prevention Roundtable for Food Service & Restaurants includes information and a list of expert contacts within the Great Lakes region.
- The Green Plan for the Food Service Industry, developed by the North Carolina Division of Pollution Prevention and Environmental Assistance, includes outreach materials and slide presentations, as well as standard fact sheets on oil and grease, food waste, and solid waste.
- Pollution Prevention Pays' Waste Reduction and Recycling Program Tips for Restaurants is a handy checklist restaurant owners can use to make sure waste creation is kept to a minimum from the back-of-the-house to the hostess stand.
- Waste Reduction in Restaurants provides reference material to help owners and managers of food service establishments reduce waste generation, conserve water and energy, and promote a green public image.
Packaging reduction guides
- Food for Thought: Waste Reduction in the Restaurant Industry provides advice on reducing packaging waste in restaurants from beverage containers to meat packaging to janitorial supplies.
- Green Seal's Choose Green Quick Serve Food Packaging report on this web page shows restaurants how to make eco-friendly choices in to-go and fast-food packaging.
Recycling and composting guides
- Resource Recovery Fund Board's (RRFB) Sorting It Out: A Guide to Waste Reduction, Recycling & Composting in Quick-Service Restaurants includes information on why waste reduction and recycling is important for restaurants, has a section to get restaurant owners started in their own recycling programs, and explains the nitty-gritty of how to implement a better waste management program.
- Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources' Recycling and Waste Reduction in the Restaurant Industry walks potentially green restaurant owners through the steps of developing a recycling and waste reduction plan.
Urging local eateries to become green restaurants helps you go green because…
- Since restaurants are the largest electricity consumers in the US retail sector, every restaurant that uses less energy and buys green power significantly reduces the environmental harm associated with electricity generation. In fact, restaurants can reduce pollution emissions by 10 to 30 percent just by replacing standard equipment with energy-efficient alternatives.
- The average restaurant could reduce water use by 31 percent—or nearly 150,000 gallons per year—just by making minor modifications.
- Recycling and composting paper, plastic, and food waste diverts that waste from landfills. More than 60 percent of the average restaurants’ trash is compostable or recyclable, yet 20 percent or less of US restaurants currently recycle. 
- Using recycled products requires less environmentally harmful manufacturing and processing than virgin products.
- Restaurants that serve local fruits, vegetables, meats, and other products lessen their environmental impact by cutting out pollution-ridden transportation from farm to table, and the support to local farms helps preserve rural open space.
- Serving vegetarian options can reduce carbon emissions: A study by Carnegie Mellon University scientists concluded that eating less meat will reduce carbon emissions even more than purchasing food locally. The study found that buying all local food is like driving 1,000 fewer miles in your car annually, which is what you get cutting dairy and meat one day a week. Go totally veggie and you'll slash a whopping 8,000 miles in vehicle emissions.
- Serving organic food and beverages keeps dangerous pesticides and insecticides out of the environment, and can combat climate change through carbon sequestration.
- Serving sustainable seafood ensures that it was raised or caught in an environmentally friendly way.
- Using nontoxic cleaning and chemical products, as well as paper goods that are not treated with chlorine or other dangerous chemicals, lowers the risk of chemical exposure and contamination that can threaten human and animal health.
- Illinois Department of Public Health - News Release: Rockford Mayor Praises I Decide Teens Read about a successful restaurant outreach campaign run by teenagers in Illinois.
- National Public Radio - Restaurants Set Sights on Going Green Restaurant owners can hear stories from other owners who have made the green leap with this NPR broadcast.
- Social Funds - Sustainability News: Shareholders Urge McDonalds to Go GE-Free
- Tucson Weekly - Conscious Kitchens: Tucson restaurants are making more of an effort to be eco-friendly
- Upper Green Side - Dining Green Read about the "Eat Out Green" campaign urging restaurants on the Upper East Side of Manhattan to gain green certification.
- WBUR - Dining Green An interactive green restaurant tour posted by Boston's National Public Radio station. Restaurant owners can see for themselves what a green restaurant looks like, and what they need to do to make theirs green as well.
- YourHub.com - Hickenlooper kicks off restaurant greening session Read about the Colorado Restaurant Association's campaign to urge restaurants to go green.
- Green Restaurant Association - Customers
- Compassion Over Killing - COK’s Guide to Restaurant Outreach
- Environmental News Network - The Greening of Restaurants
- Soutwestern Florida Water Management District - Restaurant case study
- Nevada Division of Environmental Protection - What I Found In Las Vegas Hotel and Restaurant Waste
- Portland Business Journal - Restaurant trash-talking
- Environmental Defense - An Eco-friendly Mother’s Day
- Discover News - Eating Green: Food Type Trumps Distance
- Carnegie Mellon - Headlines: Researchers Report Dietary Choice Has Greater Impact on Climate Change Than Food Miles