Sustainable restaurants, what makes them different?

sustainable restaurants

On holiday, a business trip or simply when you want to offer yourself a treat, going to the restaurant is something we all love experiencing. Whether you’re far from home or in your local town, maybe you hesitate going to the restaurant because it might not fit with your eco-conscious lifestyle.

Wondering what makes a sustainable restaurant different? Let’s have a look.

What does sustainable mean for a restaurant?

Remember the 3P’s? Well as any other responsible tourism player, a sustainable restaurant takes the 3 fundamental pillars of sustainability into account in it’s day-to-day operations.

Chef, tell me if you’re eco-friendly.

Let’s start with the basics, the owner of a sustainable restaurant will limit its carbon emissions, it’s use of resources like energy and water and reduce waste, especially plastic, highly present in the food industry.

No need to say, you will generally not see single-use cutlery or individually wrapped spices and sauces in a sustainable eatery even in a “fast-food”. And we bet, less and less straws will be seen in responsible bars #stopsucking.

Another big area of concern for restaurants is food waste. More and more chefs are pledging for lower food waste, and it starts in the kitchen by cooking most of the product itself.

Who’s ever tried pea pod soup? #yummy.

Going to an all-you-can-eat buffet is not really a good idea when you think of the food waste that can be generated by this kind of place.

Locally grown, locally eaten

zero waste restaurant
A major aspect of an eco-friendly restaurant is its product sourcing. The shorter the supply chain, the more sustainable it is.

Generally, a responsible chef will propose produces sourced locally at maximum and will respect seasonality.  The sourcing will prefer eco-friendly agricultural methods, either offering customers a maximum of organic produce or promoting farms working with traditional and clean methods like agroecology or permaculture.

And that does not only mean veggies! It also is about proteins whether animal or plant-based.

For example reducing meat portions sizes, serving organic or “wisely” raised breeds, serving fish responsibly (seasonality applies here too) and not encouraging overfishing or electrical fishing. It also concerns introducing plant-based protein to customers.

And it all goes up to the wine and beer list!  You’ll tend to find biodynamic wines or wines grown from non-pesticide vines and organic beers (remember you should drink responsibly).

Need another sign that you’ve entered a sustainable place to eat?

Look at the menu.

The shorter the better. And when the food is sourced according to the seasons, you’ll notice the menu changes at least four times a year, if not monthly.

Finally, but should we even mention it, a sustainable restaurant is a place where what you eat is 100% homemade.

So, If you go in a restaurant with a 36 page menu serving tomato mozzarella salad in December followed by an antibiotic fed 500g beef filet and strawberries from I don’t know where, while you live in Belgium, then that’s not what we would call a sustainable restaurant.

How about profit and people?

We’ve mentioned the environmental part  a lot, maybe because that’s the first thing that comes to mind, when we talk food.

But the economic and social pillars also play an important part in the organisation of a responsible restaurant.

From an economic stand point, the challenge for the restaurant is to offer prices that are adapted and profitable for the whole supply chain. Meaning that everyone earns money and not only the restaurant makes the highest profit. Sourcing directly from the producer and a local one, becomes key in that perspective.

Respecting employees and customers, favouring local populations and making no discriminations in the recruitment process.

These are just basic examples of what the social responsibility can mean for a restaurant.

To go a little further, it can also be educating consumers and customers to products and agriculture and promoting health and well-balanced diets. Respecting customers can also mean offering options for all food diets.  And finally, it can be donating surplus food rather than selling it.

Just one example, recently in Paris, Three star chef Massimo Bottura  through his association Food for soul opened a restaurant  in Paris “Le Refetterio” that serves diner everynight  to socially vulnerable people with unsold goods (sourced from hotels and supermarkets) and cooked by renonwn Chefs. It’s the 4th solidarity restaurant of Food for Soul after Milano, Rio and London.

Are there any green labels for restaurants?

Some green certifications exist that can help you identify a sustainable restaurant.

Just like for lodgings, the European Ecolabel and Green Key audit and certify restaurants on their sustainability and environmental impacts. Some green certifications also exist in many other countries, like greenrestaurant in the USA for example

But there are many other movements or associations in the hospitality business that promote responsible restaurants without being official “labels”.

Here’s just a few :

  • Slow Food International pioneered the movement which started in Italy. 1000 restaurants are slowfood members in 15 different countries of the world.
  • The Sustainable Restaurant Association in the UK awards restaurants for their sustainable practices.
  • A few labels in France are more specific like the Label Fait Maison which certifies you’re eating homemade recipes, and a very recent one Anti-Gaspi was made specifically to tag restaurants that are engaged in lowering food waste

And what if they are not ?

Of course it’s not because it is not certified that you shouldn’t go. You may discover a gem around the corner of the street, that fits your diet preference, and your eco consciousness and that can happen anywhere in the world.

Does it make them more difficult to find ?

A lot of chefs defend sustainable cuisine, without being certified green and they’re not necessarily starred in famous guides. Many restaurants promote their philosophy when they are on the locavore, organic or sustainable side.

So, you’ll have to do a little research, read reviews and articles.

We developed this site to share sustainable travel experiences, so count on us to share some of our discoveries.

How about you, what do you consider the most important for an eco-friendly restaurant? Tell us in the comments.



Holiable is an eco-friendly travel planner helping you find sustainable hotels, green restaurants and ethical tourism activities around the world. Holiable was developed to share experiences, advice and reviews on sustainable travel, making it easier to prepare your next eco-friendly holiday.
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