By 2050, it is estimated that 70 per cent of the world’s population (of 8 billion) will be living in urban neighbourhoods. To accommodate this growth, global cities are aiming to get smarter. The “Smart Cities“ movement has already invested billions in technologies and related services, often categorized as the Internet of Things (IoT).
On one hand, this anticipated boom in urban living should present the restaurant industry with substantial opportunities for growth, as smart cities will increasingly rely on foodservice operations to help sustain their growing populations. However, the majority of citizens will be coping with the high cost of living space and other daily realities of urban living; meaning this growth will likely come at a price.
Tomorrow’s smart cities will want, or demand through regulation, that smart “connected” restaurants (and other businesses, too) monitor and manage their resources to minimize their impact on the community. Therefore, in most every way that matters, a smarter restaurant is essentially a more sustainable one, from its measurably reduced environmental footprint to its ability to quickly respond to unexpected yet necessary changes.
Smart cities use technology to better monitor and manage resources (energy, water, waste, transportation) and respond more quickly and effectively to events; businesses can and will be able to leverage similar technologies to do the same.
While we move forward at a rapid pace, it is essential to start preparing for a more sustainable future now. How can your operation boost its “smarts” today?
In order to future-proof your operations, there are effectively two paths forward, depending on your situation. You’ll find complete details on both in this Sustainability Best Practices Guide, but below are some highlights.
The most efficient, smart path to future-proof sustainability is by design — building and “baking” it into your facilities and daily operations. By doing this, if you’re planning a new restaurant, a major renovation, a shift in menu concept, or other opportunity for change, you have the best chance of reducing environmental impact and boosting bottom-line return-on-investment.
For example, a new build or reno is the ideal time to equip your facilities with high-efficiency AND high-performance ENERGY STAR® rated kitchen appliances. This includes water heaters and other energy-saving technologies, such as demand-control kitchen ventilation (DCKV). Independent case studies by industry-leading experts, such as the Food Service Technology Center, have documented how installing this equipment in most any kind of restaurant operation will produce 10 to 30 per cent savings in year-over-year utility and maintenance costs. As well, many utilities across Canada still offer substantial rebates and incentives towards the purchase of qualified energy-efficient products.
Because the increasing costs of urban real estate aren’t confined to home owners, redesigning kitchen and service facilities around the latest class of smarter and more compact and versatile “plug’n’play” appliances (such as induction cooktops, mini-combis and rolling reach-in coolers) can also help you produce more in less space.
Most of these technologies are electric, and by installing them and embarking on this approach, you reap two added benefits. The first is that they can more easily reconfigured to adapt to rapidly shifting menu trends, or rearranged to suit other modes of operation, such as producing meal kits or other service options for time-pressed urban diners. Secondly, you don’t need a crystal ball to predict that the global shift away from fossil fuels will, sooner than later, impact natural gas use in commercial facilities.
Other important things to consider in a design rethink are smarter ways to reduce the volume and types of materials flowing through your operations, with the goal of reducing both waste and traffic in your community. For example, simplifying menu design using ‘zero-waste’ purchasing and production practices can reduce both food and packaging waste, while often reducing the number of deliveries arriving at your loading dock.
A key element of the sustainable, smart city is the “interconnectedness” of urban systems, which means taking responsibility for the broader impact of business decisions beyond your front and back doors.
If going with the design approach is not feasible for you at this time, the alternative path to a smarter, future-proof restaurant offers many short and long-term benefits. This approach starts with a review of decisions and actions taken daily and weekly in your operations; from regular purchases to controlling energy and water use and enabling other “smart habits” for both staff and guests.
In the absence (for now) of smart IoT sensors to record all the data automatically, spreadsheet-savvy operators can get ahead of the game by doing a little extra tracking and measuring, both pre and post, of their incremental steps forward. Beyond basic food and labour costs, making the time and effort to log data on month-to-month energy and water savings, increases in local menu items and reductions in food waste will serve to document the “top-line” environmental benefits and bottom-line cost savings available from the future-friendly changes in operating policies and practices implemented at your business.
These documented results can not only be shared regularly with your team and clients, but can serve to qualify you for certification as a sustainable restaurant by organizations such as LEAF.
Beyond the everyday basics of energy/water conservation and recycling, smarter restaurant operations should anticipate higher expectations from both customers and smart city officials when it comes to menu building. Supporting the development of reliable local food systems contributes to the “resilience“ of an urban region, as well as to its culinary identity and integrity. As Toronto chef Brad Long recently told MENU Magazine when asked about sustainability: “it has to be about the food, and where it came from and who grew it or who raised it… Knowledge is power. Food knowledge is power and life… The people I buy from, I’m paying them so that they’ll be there next year.”
Given what we now know about the global impact of meat production, it’ll also come as no surprise that another increasingly relevant measure of sustainability is the percentage of plant-based vegan and vegetarian items on the regular menu. You’ll also want to serve more of all these dishes with plastic-free straws, utensils and condiment containers.
While no one can accurately predict all the changes in the coming decades, there is one certainty most everyone agrees on — those changes are coming at us much more quickly and unpredictably than expected.
At this stage, whichever path best suits your situation, the most important thing is to take a step forward, be it large or small. And remember, there’s lots of help available.
Restaurants Canada and its partners have assembled most everything you need right here. It’s the smart way to get started.
About the author
André LaRiviere is a Vancouver-based sustainable foodservice consultant. He’s also the author of The Next Course: Reinventing the Modern Urban Restaurant, now available as an specially-priced e-book from Indigo.