How can you deliver sustainability in the casual dining sector?

In the casual dining sector, reports are increasingly showing that eating habits are being influenced by the perceived sustainability efforts of restaurants. Trends both in the USA and UK indicate that when given a choice of dining locations, younger diners in particular – so called “millennials”-  are more likely to choose the location with the most perceived sustainable credibility, and don’t mind paying a bit more for the privilege if they need to. Or, in other words, when it comes to eating out diners are putting the sourcing of their food ahead of the contents of their wallets.

The increased interest in sustainability is something that’s been touted as one of the reasons for the rise of “fast-casual” locations like Five Guys and Shake Shack in both the US and UK. In general, diners appear to perceive fast casual and casual dining locations as having a more sustainable focus than their traditional fast food counterparts. Indeed, while sustainability-focused fast-casual restaurants saw large increases in interest and business, last year was a little rocky for several multi-billion pound fast food enterprises.

Based on this trend, incorporating sustainable ingredients into your casual dining menu could still very well help you entice new customers. However, if you’re really looking to stand out, incorporating a sustainable image as a unique selling point is just as important as sourcing the products.

With that in mind, how can your restaurant deliver sustainability in the casual dining sector, and let your customers know about it?

Source locally                                                                                     

Reports from last year’s Casual Dining Show revealed that local sourcing and sustainability were key concerns of customers when choosing where to eat, and that customers tend to feel more connected to operators who are supportive of UK producers. With this in mind using locally sourced ingredients from UK based farms can work wonders in terms of how the public view your establishment.

However, if you’re concerned about the affordability or feasibility of offering sustainable ingredients, you needn’t be. Here at McCain Foodservice we work with around 300 Red Tractor Assured UK growers, including a number of partnerships spanning three generations of farming families. With a wide range of locally sourced UK produced potato products, with McCain Foodservice offering sustainable and cost effective ingredients on your menu might be easier than you thought.

Rework your menus                 

If you’re looking to entice customers with your sustainable produce, sourcing the ingredients is only half the job. A couple of sentences on your menu introducing your attitudes towards sustainability is a low cast, hassle free way to educate your existing customers on the food they are consuming. Transparency about ingredients is something that customers increasingly value in restaurants, and keep your existing customers loyal, and ensure they are invested in your brand, with the added possibility of increasing business through word of mouth. The next time your restaurant comes up in conversation, customers will be able to sing the praises of your sustainable menu and eco-friendly food sources.

Spread the word

Gaining customers through word of mouth is one thing, but if you’re really looking to spread the message then it’s worthwhile including a little about your sustainable credibility in your advertising. This doesn’t have to take the form of a full blown advertising campaign, and could just mean including a couple of bullet points referencing your sustainably sourced ingredients on in store literature, posters, or even on your website. Each of these methods are cost effective ways to help you get the message out, whether you’re looking to reinvent your casual dining restaurant with a whole new sustainable image, or just let potential customers know about what goes in the food you serve.

Get your staff clued up

Should customers enquire about the ingredients on your menu, having staff members that are clued up on the sustainable nature of your food can really help you stand out. Having a waiting team that is able to explain the honest, farm to fork nature of ingredients on the menu is sure to impress, and deliver that all important transparency that customers value. This doesn’t mean needing to memorise the exact source of every ingredient that goes in each menu item, and simply being able to let customers know if needed that certain products are UK sourced should be enough to make a mark.