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National Restaurant Association - Aiming for zero waste brings increased sales to caterer

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Aiming for zero waste brings increased sales to caterer

New Cuccaro.JPGBringing sustainability practices to the fore has helped upscale caterer Affairs to Remember snag more customers and approximately $150,000 in additional revenues, its general manager, Patrick Cuccaro said. 

The Atlanta-based off-premises-only caterer, which is a participant of Zero Waste Zones, a partner of the National Restaurant Association's Conserve Solutions for Sustainability, has discovered that its recycling and composting efforts are powerful marketing tools.


"Fortune 500 companies are talking to us," Cuccaro said. "They're saying they believe in our mission of zero waste and are using us because of that, even if we cost more."


The increased interest and additional revenue are particularly sweet, he said, because Affairs' effort to cut its contribution to landfills is at least "revenue neutral." Moreover, its positive impact on employee morale is a bonus.

According to Cuccaro, the staff is on the front line of Affairs' recycling and composting efforts. "Guests are unaware of any separation that goes on," he said.

In Affairs' kitchens, each worker has a small bin for compostable materials, which is then dumped into a larger receptacle when it's filled, he said. Recyclables are collected as well.

In the field, "we've decided to keep all of the magic on the inside," Cuccaro said. He added that dirty dishes and uneaten food are bussed to trays, just as they would be in most banquet or catering settings. When the trays are full, they're lugged out of sight, where the organics and recyclables are separated from what goes in the trash bin.

For corporate events where boxed meals are distributed, the caterer, which boasts revenues of about $10 million a year, packages the food in compostable containers. Signage alerts customers to discard the boxes in the correct bins.

Cuccaro also said that Affairs arranges to have its recoverable materials hauled away.

Furthermore, Sandy Rothstein, a catering consultant for the company, has estimated that Affairs recycles or composts 83 percent of its waste output.

Cuccaro added that implementing zero waste programs into foodservice operations is a lot easier and less costly than restaurateurs think. And, he said, more demand will create more options and better cost controls.

"My advice is to get in touch with organizations that have a stake in this," he said. "Go to state associations ... and the NRA to see if through demand they can create supply. That's how this has to grow."

Pictured at top: Patrick Cuccaro of Affairs to Remember

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