When it comes to sustainability in the restaurant industry, these are exciting and challenging times.

While there is huge interest in sustainability from both consumers and restaurant operators, it can also be an investment and an ongoing commitment. Fortunately, everything doesn’t need to happen at once, and not everything you do has to come at a premium price.

Sustainability can be as simple as rethinking how you deliver your food, package your leftovers, handle your food waste, or dispense products to your guests. The key is committing to an actionable approach that suits your business, aligns with customer sensitivities and allows employees to buy in. Here are five tips to get started.

  1. Identify your sustainability values. Ground your efforts in a consideration of why you’re committing to sustainability in the first place. After all, sustainability is a reflection of your brand values. “It all starts with doing things that matter to you and are consistent with your brand,” says Boyd Andrews, director of sustainability for Georgia-Pacific Professional (GP PRO).
  2. Listen to your guests. “There remains a gap between what operators believe their consumers want and what they actually want,” says Andrews, citing GP PRO research that looks at what foodservice customers want in terms of sustainability, and what restaurant operators offer. “The more operators focus on their values and pay attention to feedback from their consumers, the more successful they’ll be.”
  3. Commit to an actionable approach. Andrews recommends starting small and on the things that are most visible to guests. “Food is the reason customers come into the restaurant,” he says, “so most operators are already looking at practical approaches involving food and food waste.” He also points out other ways operators can communicate their values. Controlled dispensing of napkins, or one-at-a-time towel dispensers in your restroom, tells customers you care about both hygiene and waste reduction. It can communicate what you’re doing without having to say anything.
  4. Be authentic. “Be crisp and authentic in how you communicate what you’re doing and why you’re doing it,” advises Andrews. This can be as simple as the way you describe your menu offerings. The words you choose tie your restaurant to being part of your community and part of the solution – and can even demonstrate community leadership.
  5. Keep learning. New options for restaurant sustainability are emerging constantly, notes Andrews. But if you’re not looking for them, you won’t learn. “It’s really important to engage with your suppliers and learn about the exciting new offerings coming on the market,” he says. “Ask them about food and foodservice packaging that may have great sustainability stories in terms of production or end of life.”

Bottom line: You don’t have to change everything to pursue more sustainable operations. Simply consider what matters to you and your guests, remain engaged with the topic of sustainability, and always continue to learn.

This article created in partnership with Georgia-Pacific Professional (GP PRO) and their work to Serve Greatness.