Top Eco-Minded Restaurants

“Green” is the hottest word bouncing around these days in the restaurant industry. Terms such as organic, sustainability, energy efficient and eco-friendly are appearing as part of a restaurant’s culture. Years ago, green awareness was rarely a subject touched upon. Today, we hear about reducing the world’s CO2 emissions, sustaining endangered ocean species and saving more energy. The message has been clearly sent that it will take a joint effort between individuals and businesses to achieve these environmental goals. Currently there are 260 restaurants across the United States that are certified green restaurants.

The Green Movement

Large companies are realizing by increasing their green efforts they can make a difference. McDonald’s is a prime example who has made a commitment to operate a more eco-friendly business. Recently, the chain introduced a new fryer that uses 40 percent less cooking oil and 6 percent less energy than their current high efficiency fryers. Like McDonalds, Harrah’s Entertainment, the world’s largest provider of branded casino entertainment has seen first hand, small changes can significantly impact the environment. Ever since switching to reusable, washable cups for its 16,000 employees, the company buys 1.1 million fewer disposable cups a year. The company also recycles 50,000 gallons of cooking oil per year which is transported to a nearby pig farm.

Other large chains that have recently hit the news for its green movement effort is Dunkin’ Donuts. In September, the donut chain will open its first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified unit in Florida which will incorporate energy-efficient lighting, low flush toilets, the use of well water and insulated concrete foam walls to reduce air-conditioning use by 40 percent.

Setting the Standard

Jose Duarte is one restauranteur that has set the bar high for his eco-friendly restaurant. Chef and owner of Italian restaurant Taranta in Boston, Duarte is truly passionate about changing for the better that he blogs about his restaurant’s progress in becoming green. Duarte is no amateur when we talk about eco-minded practices. Taranta is already equipped with energy efficient lighting, water-conserving spray heads, tank-less water heaters and even delivery vehicles fueled by cooking oil. His kitchen has also implemented an aggressive recycling and food waste composting program that has reduced the restaurant’s garbage bill by 40 percent. Even the restaurant’s menu aims to encompass environmental practices by purchasing more organic local food products and by offering an organic wine list as well as organic espresso.

Duarte and his team are serious about what they do and practice. Here are some highlights from his composting and recycling program:

  • Volume composted = 127,400 lbs per year
  • Volume of recycled cardboard = 3.12 Tons per year
  • Volume of co-mingled (mainly glass) recycling = 34,320 lbs per year
  • Metric Tons CO2 Equivalent Saved = 66.10
  • Gallons of Gasoline Saved = 6,336

Emerging Concepts

Taranta has perhaps set the bar for restaurants going green. The fact that several restaurants are slowly introducing eco-friendly practices is a positive sign. One of the latest restaurants that have integrated an eco-friendly culture is Epic Burger, a premium burger concept in Chicago. This burger joint is more than about serving 100% organic beef burgers. Also regarded as a more “mindful burger”, Epic Burger uses only biodegradable cups and utensils, petroleum free packaging, energy efficient equipment and lighting and products that are sourced from areas requiring the lowest possible mileage. The result is a fresher and tastier burger in a clean environmentally friendly atmosphere.

Be Green is Smart Business

We can all learn a thing or two from Jose Duarte. Every small step can make a difference. Take initiative to change. The savings are significant. Adopting a green attitude is having a smart attitude.

Here is a video of Jose’s Veggie Oil Truck:

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Bishop’s Landing Restaurant

About a week ago, I read an article in this month’s Restaurant News which featured the Bishop’s Landing Restaurant located in the Best Western Hotel in Owen Sound. Coincidently, this past weekend my wife and I were there for a wedding and stayed in the same hotel.

The Best Western

Because it was only a 2 ½ hour drive north to Owen Sound, we left on the same day of the wedding and opted not to spend another $170 per night. Considering, a town of only 22,000 people, I was surprised about the cost of staying there. Even though the bride and groom had arranged for a room block discount, the savings were insignificant.

The hotel was just like any other Best Western that you would expect – friendly service and a comfortable atmosphere. We arrived at about 11:30AM which gave us plenty of time before the ceremony at 1:00PM. Unfortunately, our room wasn’t ready and I never thought of requesting an early check-in. Luckily we were able to stay with some friends who checked in earlier. Forty-five minutes had passed and we finally checked into our room. Perfect timing, we changed and headed to the ceremony.

Big Change, Big Expectations

By far this was the shortest wedding ceremony we have ever attended. Ten minutes and it was done. Dinner was four hours away and now we had plenty of time to kill. I knew what I wanted to do – Eat! So, we headed back to the hotel’s restaurant. Bishop’s Landing Restaurant had undergone a major transformation. With the recent takeover by Genesis Hospitality, the restaurant was changed from a fine dining to more casual. The changes have been positive and the locals and corporate guests have enjoyed its improvements. This was enough for me to try it out.

The menu was satisfactory composing of the usual appetizers; calamari, breaded shrimp, nachos, chicken strips, green salad and a daily soup. The entrees composed of pasta, pizza, fish and steak. The menu was exactly what you would expect from a Best Western Hotel or any other three-star hotel. The restaurant was nearly empty with only one table of four including a baby. Considering it was 1:45 in the afternoon we disregarded any negative impressions. Bottom line, we wanted to eat.

Where is the Food?

Scanning quickly through the menu, we decided to order a calamari and breaded shrimp. Even though we were starving and dinner was four hours away, we wanted to save room for the big night. We overheard the other table had placed an order of garlic cheese bread. Fifteen minutes passed and the table of four hadn’t received their cheese bread nor did we receive our appetizers. The food wasn’t the only thing missing, the waiter was no where to be seen. Where could she be? I started to imagine all the possibilities. Could she be making the bread? Sprinkling the cheese on the bread? Rubbing the garlic on the bread? How about dusting our calamari? The possibilities were endless.

5 Minutes Later…

The waiter suddenly appeared bringing our food. Thank goodness, we could finally eat. To my surprise, the food was well presented and garnished. The calamari was in a light crispy batter that was accompanied with a Thai chili dipping sauce while the shrimp was nicely breaded and perfectly cooked. The outside was crunchy but not overcooked like many other breaded shrimp I have eaten. We were nearly done but looking over to the next table, there was still no cheese bread. My mind began to wonder again, listing the possibilities. Could the kitchen be out of bread? Were they running down the street to buy more bread? No explanation was given by the waiter, only an apology.

30 Minutes…

Thirty minutes had passed and still no cheese bread. We were surprised the guests were waiting so patiently without a fuss. Perhaps, they remained all cheery after downing two rye & cokes each and now splitting a beer. There wasn’t even a sound from their baby who was pre-occupied with the restaurant setting. We cleaned off our plates and thought of ordering more but we were not willing to wait again. Our attention immediately shifted to the table next to us. Five minutes later and 35 minutes in total, the cheese bread arrived. I couldn’t believe the time it took, but lucky for the server and the restaurant, the guests were willing to wait. I hope it was worth it.

Room Service

Dinner was at 5PM and even though I had plenty to eat, it wasn’t enough. We returned to the hotel at 9:30PM and without any hesitation I ordered room service, an 8oz. Angus Striploin with vegetables, French fries with gravy and cream of asparagus soup. Maybe if we ordered room service earlier, the food would have been faster. My meal arrived within 12 minutes and it definitely hit the spot. The steak was perfectly cooked medium rare, but lacked seasoning. The fries were well seasoned and the gravy was just right. However, the soup was bland and the asparagus bits were stringy. Overall, the meal satisfied my hunger.

Change and Improve

New changes require constant improvements. Bishop’s Landing Restaurant certainly hasn’t been perfected. If Bishop’s Landing Restaurant is a destination hot spot, then it is imperative for them to do better. In a town of only 22,000, it would be a shame not to see the restaurant step up its game. With very limited choices of stay, the Best Western will perhaps continue be the best in the area. Hopefully they realize how much better it can be.

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Competing in a Saturated Market

Sushi was once exotic to the Toronto market.  Today, you can find a Japanese restaurant on almost every major block.  Within a 2 km radius from one of Toronto’s busiest intersections are more than 25 Japanese restaurants.  In this same radius are a number of Korean restaurants that also serve Japanese food.    While most of these restaurants have found a way to survive, it is evident others are trending on thin ice.

How can I Compete?

The other day a friend of mine shared his plans of opening a Japanese restaurant. He asked me for my advice on how to turn his concept into a profitable business venture.  Before getting into any full details, I asked him if he understood the market. I wanted to know was he ready to compete under tough conditions.  He understood the market was saturated with Japanese restaurants. So, I needed to find out how he was planning to differentiate from the competition.  His vision was to go big meaning big space, big menu, and fresh fish all at an affordable price.  Immediately, I had to stop him and tell him what he didn’t want to hear.  If he did exactly what he mentioned there was a great chance he would fail.  If he wanted to succeed, he had to offer something better or something different or do a combination of the two.  We chatted more and drew up a simple plan.

Differentiate from the Competition

In order to compete in a saturated market, you need to stand out from the rest.  The most common method is offering better service and better food.  Sometimes, service and food is not enough and you need to do more.  Here are seven ways of setting yourself apart.

  1. Improved Service – focus on providing the most consistent and highest standard of service.  Visit the competition and take note of common service problems.  Avoid repeating these same mistakes by training your staff.  Do you have enough staff? What are your time standards for greeting a guest at the door, seating a guest or performing quality checks?
  2. Higher Quality Food – if the food is good, people will come.  Focus on using fresh ingredients and keep frozen and canned foods to a minimal.  Does your menu call for premium ingredients? Will products be sourced from local farms? Organic?
  3. Menu Variety – if your competition offers similar menu items, then adjust accordingly.  Offer variety, but keep it simple and do what you do best.  Avoid complex menus.   How would you describe your menu? Is there a selection of meat, seafood and vegetables? Do you offer vegetarian options?
  4. Atmosphere – if you have the budget, hire a professional interior designer who has a reputation and expertise in restaurant design.  An appealing restaurant can instantly draw customers.  How can your space be different among the rest? Will it be upscale casual? Sleek and modern?
  5. Star Quality Chef – a renowned chef has the ability to attract customers.  Landing an award winning chef may be the key to surviving in a highly competitive area.  A star quality chef will understand menu development, menu costing and food quality.  How many years of experience does your chef bring? What are his/her credentials? Is your chef’s name marketable?
  6. Focused Offering – specializing in a particular item can build loyal customers and attract new ones.  Do you offer something special that one else has? The largest wine cellar? Premium Japanese sakes? Best lobster roll sandwich?
  7. Marketing Gimmicks – sometimes a restaurant will implement a marketing strategy to create hype or exclusivity among guests who dine at their restaurant.  The goal is create buzz, to be the talk of the town.  For example, a Japanese restaurant in Toronto offers homemade soba noodles and claims to employ the only master soba maker in the city.  The restaurant only offers his creations on Sundays between certain hours.  Another restaurant in New York offers only 20 servings of homemade tofu per day to customers willing to pay the extraordinary price.

Doing business in a saturated market is risky, but it doesn’t mean it’s impossible.  Before you decide to jump into a location, ensure you understand the market surroundings.  Restaurants are among the toughest businesses to operate.  Avoiding an area with high competition is one of the best steps of surviving.  Draw up a plan and review the steps you can do to set yourself apart.

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