sustainablerestaurant.jpg Fifty-eight percent of American adults say they dine out at least once a week, found a 2013 study from Rasmussen Reports. That translates into Americans spending half of their food dollars eating out, according to the United States Healthful Food Council, a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization dedicated to “fighting diet-related disease by realigning the food industry’s incentives with consumers’ health interests.” This means we are consuming a lot of food that we haven’t prepared ourselves. The hope, when you’re eating away from home, is that the restaurant you are eating in cares as much about the ingredients it’s sourcing as you would if cooking at home. But how can you be sure of that? You could start by finding a local, sustainable restaurant. Remember: You are what you eat. It is clear we want sustainable food, because demand is growing fast. According to the Organic Trade Association (OTA), the market for organics alone has gone from $1 billion in 1990 to $26.7 billion in 2010. So, what is a sustainable restaurant, and how can you find one?

What is a Sustainable Restaurant?

1. A sustainable restaurant focuses on the environment. It:

  • uses water-saving techniques in all areas of the restaurant and surroundings, including landscaping 
  • has recycling and composting systems in place 
  • has energy-efficient appliances, lighting and more 
  • uses non-toxic methods of cleaning, which is good for employees, patrons and the environment

2. A sustainable restaurant engages in thoughtful sourcing of products. It:

  • buys local, organic and seasonal produce whenever possible 
  • encourages environmentally friendly farming practices by sourcing products from those farms 
  • serves ethical meat and dairy products 
  • buys fairly traded products 
  • serves only sustainable seafood 
  • avoids single-use disposable products, but when unavoidable, sources products made with recycled content

3. A sustainable restaurant cares about social issues. It:

  • treats employees and customers fairly 
  • engages in responsible marketing 
  • is involved in the local community 
  • makes producing healthy, quality food a priority 
These just scratch the surface of sustainability, but if your favorite local restaurant is striving to do most of the above, it is on the right path.

Not Just a Trend

More and more restaurant, even those of the fast food variety, are discovering that sustainability is good for everyone. In an article about sustainability in QSR Magazine, Daniel P. Smith wrote, “With more energy-efficient equipment, operators discovered, they could reduce their utilities as well as their carbon footprint. With an increased focus on employee welfare, they could better retain top talent and avoid the expenses associated with turnover. And with an enhanced focus on local sourcing, they could tap into the rising industry trend for local fare while simultaneously supporting regional farmers.”

Need some help?

The Eat Well Guide lets you search over 25,000 hand-picked restaurants, farms, markets and other sources of local, sustainable food. Visit Eat Well Guide to find your next sustainable meal.