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National Restaurant Association - Turning tables in a greener sense

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Turning tables in a greener sense

The nation's largest operator of casual restaurants is keeping old restaurant furnishings out of the waste stream by donating the tables, chairs and fixtures to a national charity for resale.

Darden Restaurants, the parent of Red Lobster, Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouses, estimates that it's given more than $1.2 million worth of furnishings to ReStore, the retail component of Habitat for Humanity. ReStore sells new and used furniture to consumers and small businesses. The proceeds fund Habitat's construction and repair of homes for the needy.

Darden has donated furnishings from 150 Red Lobster, Olive Garden and LongHorn restaurants that were renovated as part of a corporate upgrade program. Another 150 units of those chains will be given a facelift as part of that initiative; Darden plans to passed along their furnishings to ReStore, too.

Habitat for Humanity said in a statement that the restaurant furnishings, which range from artwork to hostess stands, "have rapidly moved off the floors."

The furniture would have ended up in trash bins otherwise because of the impracticalities, said Darden spokesman Rich Jeffers. It would have been virtually impossible for each restaurant to find a local charity willing and able to take the contents of a sizeable sit-down restaurant, he says.

"Finding one charity to use all across the country was critical," he says. "With ReStore, it's turnkey. We set the furniture out in the morning because we do the renovations when the restaurants are closed at night, and they pick it up."

About 700 ReStores are in operation from coast to coast.

Reducing restaurant waste is a major objective of the National Restaurant Association and its Conserve: Solutions for Sustainability initiative.

Recycling furniture isn't the only way Darden is cutting its contributions to landfills and assisting local communities. The company also has been a leader in donating unsold, surplus food to charities that feed the disadvantaged through Food Donation Connection, an NRA partner.

Darden operates about 1,900 fullservice restaurants.

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