5 Mistakes New York Restaurants Make When Trying To Go Green

5 Mistakes New York Restaurants Make When Trying To Go Green
8 Minute Read

There’s no denying that customers want greener alternatives when eating out, especially when it comes to New York’s infamous to-go culture. But time and time again, restaurants and cafes get it all wrong when trying to “go green.” Either they make surface-level changes that fool only the most uninformed customers, or they spend a ton of money on green alternatives only to send them to the landfill with the rest of their trash. This is a big no-no when it comes to compostable alternatives. In short, their attempts are commendable, but they’re making several sustainability mistakes.

So, the big question is: How can New York restaurants go green the right way? In a way that solidifies their customer loyalty, brings new eco-conscious customers to the door, and ensures they’re not spending their hard-earned money on “green alternatives” that aren’t so green. They can start by hiring a professional. But if they wanna take a crack at it on their own, they can start by avoiding these 5 common mistakes…


Mistake #1: Using compostable products without having a compost bin

compoastable lid


This is one of the most common mistakes I see in NYC restaurants and cafes.

Switching to compostable containers, cups, and utensils (instead of using plastic) is a great idea in theory. But compostable products need to be disposed of in the compost, not in the trash or recycling bin. To ensure there’s no confusion, let’s make this crystal clear: “compostable” is short for “commercially compostable.” Compostable items must be sent to a commercial compost to biodegrade. If sent to the landfill, these items won’t break down (just like plastic). And if they end up in the recycling bin, they’re often lumped in with regular plastics. This leads to a contamination of the recycling process (since they’re made from completely different materials). So, if you’re putting your restaurant’s compostable waste in the regular trash, you’ve spent all that extra money for no reason.

So, what’s the solution?

If you’re switching from plastic to compostable containers/utensils/cups/straws/etc., you’ll need to have a compost bin and a trash and recycling bin. This ensures proper disposal of the compostable waste, which ca easily be set up with a private waste-carting company. Here’s the good news: your existing carting company may already offer this. But if they don’t, it’s simple enough to set up with a new company. And since organics are one of your heaviest waste components, you might even save money by lowering your regular trash collection costs.

Soooo, just to reiterate, the most environmentally conscious way to dispose of compostable items and organic waste is to send it to a commercial compost facility. By having a 3-bin system, with separate bins for organic/compostable waste, recycling and trash, you can divert compostable items and organic (food) waste from going to the landfill. By sending it to New York’s commercial compost, it can be converted into nutrient-rich soil and/or renewable energy to create a greener New York. This  reduces your restaurant’s overall waste, carbon footprint, and impact on the environment.

Mistake #2: Assuming that to-go is always the default


Paper bag and cups


I’ve seen way too many coffee shops and lunch spots with ceramic mugs, plates, bowls, and silverware. But servers and baristas all too often assume that customers always want their order “to go.” And, by default, hand over their order in a disposable cup, bag, or container, without ever asking if they want their order “to stay.”

Since it requires fewer resources in the long run, anytime you can offer a reusable option instead of a disposable one, its a better choice for the planet. It also ups the customer experience since they’re able to get their order in dinnerware that reflects the incredible quality of food they’re getting from you.

Mistake #3: Using disposable items when dining in


disposable fast food wrappers and plastic cup


Here’s the thing: single-use items cheapen the eating experience at your restaurant. And since you’ve invested a ton of money into this business, you don’t want “cheap” to be the thing people think of when they think about you.

Customers who choose to sip and dine at your restaurant want the full experience. They don’t wanna eat on a paper plate or drink from a plastic cup. They come to you for quality and for an experience they’ll never forget. And even if you’re providing them with compostable containers and utensils, these are still single-use items that can completely be avoided.

As mentioned in Mistake #2, any time you can swap a flimsy, disposable item for a high-quality, reusable item, that’s always better for the planet. It saves you money in the long term since you’re not continually having to replenish your single-use supplies. Plus, it really solidifies your customer experience… and their loyalty!

Mistake #4: Using a mix of plastic and compostable to-go items

The logic behind this one completely baffles me, but my guess is it probably comes down to price.

I’ve noticed several NY restaurants who use compostable food containers, but have plastic for all of their other to-go items like utensils, sauce cups, etc. I get that compostable containers have become the “new cool.” But, if you’re gonna make the effort to get compostable takeaway items, you need to commit fully.

The worst part about this sustainability mistake is there’s often no information about how customers should properly dispose of the plastic or compostable containers. So it all ends up in the trash or recycling bin which, as mentioned in Mistake #1, is the exactly where they shouldn’t be going.

Mistake #5: Doing all the right things but not saying a word

You could have the most sustainable restaurant in the world, but if you don’t bring your customers into the conversation, you’re missing half of the equation. Sustainability doesn’t exist in isolation. You need to educate your customers about those awesome compostable containers you use; how they can properly dispose of them in your compost bin; and what super cool, eco-friendly resources they’ll be turned into. You need to tell them why it’s so important to source only local ingredients. And you need clear-as-day labels on your waste bins (e.g., compost, recycling, and trash), so customers aren’t making your life more difficult when putting out the trash.

You want your customers to be excited about coming back again and again, not only because they love your grub, but also because you’re allowing them to be part of something bigger. By involving them in your “why,” you can solidify your restaurant as the only place they’ll ever want to go.


happy customers


At the end of the day, consumers are becoming educated about the importance of responsible environmental practices. And they want businesses that walk the walk in all aspects of what they do. By going green “the right way” you’ll improve your customer loyalty and tap into an entirely new eco-conscious consumer base. And as New York updates and tightens up their waste management laws, you can be ahead of the curve, rather than playing catch-up once they implement new laws that require all of the above.

Shannon Kenny is a Sustainability Consultant and Expert. She helps businesses implement greener, more sustainable practices, so they can do their part for the planet without affecting their bottom line. Click here to learn more about her consulting services and how they can help your business reach its goals. And if you’re ready to take the next step in solidifying your business’ brand and image as a pioneer of sustainability, click here to set up a free 45-minute consultation call.



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