Skip to main content

How to Be More Environmentally Friendly at Restaurants

Think about what you need before you grab these supplies that will end up in the trash.

Think about what you need before you grab these supplies that will end up in the trash.

Earth-Conscious Restaurant Choices

Going green at home is easy for most people to do. You can make earth-friendly choices about what you buy and do. But many people find it hard to be green when dining out and eating at fast-food places. Here are some ideas to make it easier to be environmentally friendly when you are eating out.

These are simple ways to be greener when you are at restaurants. Most of them are very easy and just involve cutting back on the number of disposable products you use. There are tips for fast food and casual dining restaurants as well as sit-down restaurants. There are also tips for restaurant owners and managers who want to be greener.

Start making a few small green changes when eating out that can make a big impact for the better.

Green Tips for Fast Food and Casual Dining Restaurants

Implementing these ideas can eliminate huge chunks in the amount of waste you produce. Even making one or two small changes can significantly cut down on your personal carbon footprint.

Most of these ideas are really easy. It's really about becoming conscious of what you are using and cutting back your use of throw-away products to what is essential. If everyone started making these small changes, the impact on the environment would be significant in a very positive way. And small changes are easy to accomplish. Changing one habit at a time is very doable.

Cut Back on Waste

Cutting back on just one straw a day adds up to a lot of straws over time. In just one year, you could save an entire box of straws from ending up in the landfill.

  • Eat at the restaurant rather than going through the drive-through or getting your food to go. Restaurants typically use less packaging waste for dine-in orders.
  • Don't get huge amounts of napkins, straws, silverware, etc. Take only what you need. You can always go back up for more.
  • Take home the extra paper products that you didn't use (napkins, etc). Bring them the next time you eat out or use them at home so they don't go to waste.
  • Bring utensils from home or carry reusable silverware with you.
  • You can also get reusable chopsticks if you eat a lot of oriental food or just prefer to eat with them.
  • Use just one ketchup/condiment cup and refill it when you need more.
  • Bring condiments from home. This is especially good for salt, pepper, and sugar since you might have to use several paper packs otherwise.
  • Don't use a straw and lid on your cup unless you really need it. Try to drink straight from the cup if you aren't likely to spill or when you are dining in.
  • Avoid coffee cup sleeves when possible. If the drink is cool enough, it is just something else to be thrown away.
  • Get a set of reusable straws to bring with you. There are several types available and most are made of very durable material.
  • Bring a reusable cup to use for fountain drinks. Most places won't mind as long as you pay for a drink. Some places will even charge you less since you aren't using one of their cups.
  • Order a smaller-sized drink. It's less expensive and you can always get refills.
  • Carry canvas bags with you for anything you may need to take home.
  • In general, choose food options that have the least packaging.
  • If you are eating with others, order larger portions and share. For example, order a large pizza rather than two smaller ones that would take two boxes, or a 20-piece nugget so it is just one box rather than two orders of 10-piece nuggets that would use two boxes.
  • Say "no" to the receipt if the restaurant gives you the choice.
  • Take home extra food. Put it in a compost pile, give it to pets, or eat it later so it doesn't end up in the landfill.

Encourage family and friends to make small changes, too. But don't be pushy about it. Most people don't mind changing a habit or two but won't appreciate an attack. If you are eating out with someone who tends to grab too much, offer to get the silverware and other supplies to try to cut back on waste.

Speak to a Restaurant's Manager About Ways to Be More Eco-Friendly

Want to see your favorite restaurant go green? Tell the management that you would support greener changes. Start by asking for small steps. Change is easier when it is gradual. Most restaurants wouldn't be able to implement huge green ideas all at once but one green change is probably doable.

Here are some ways to help:

  • Encourage less waste of paper products.
  • Start a recycling program.
  • Campaign for a switch to more environmentally friendly packaging.

Green Tips for Sit-Down Restaurants

There are also ways to be greener when eating in sit-down and fine-dining restaurants.

Here are some ideas to cut down on waste and be more earth-friendly:

  • Tell the server you don't need a straw. Drink from the glass.
  • Better yet, get a titanium or steel straw and bring it when you go out to eat.
  • Ask servers not to refill your drink unless you ask for it. That way excess won't go to waste.
  • Order tap drinks or fountain drinks rather than ones that come in a can or bottle so there isn't any trash.
  • Bring reusable chopsticks from home when eating oriental or sushi.
  • Take home extra paper napkins and plastic products for reuse.
  • Bring Tupperware for leftovers so you don't have to use the styrofoam boxes. There are great collapsible bowls available that can easily fit into day bags and purses.
  • Canvas bags are also great to carry with you for times when you may have a lot to carry.

Green Tips for Restaurant Owners and Managers

  • Use reusable dishes for dine-in customers.
  • Buy recycled, biodegradable, and other environmentally friendly packaging products.
  • Try to minimize the amount of packaging you use.
  • Encourage customers to buy or bring reusable cups. You could even sell ones with company logos.
  • Bump up the air or turn down the heat by a degree or two as long as it is still a comfortable temperature in the restaurant. Many people find restaurants too chilly anyway.
  • Place recycling bins in the kitchen and dining areas.
  • Start composting leftover food.
  • Cut down on food waste. Give messed up orders to employees and donate excess food to shelters.
  • Donate used cooking oil for biodiesel and other oil recycling programs.
  • Ask customers if they want a receipt. Set up cash registers and credit card machines to only give customers receipts when needed.
  • Use eco-friendly cleaning products.
  • Invest in low-flow faucets and dishwashing equipment.
  • Buy organic food and other environmentally-conscious food.

Support Green Restaurants

More and more restaurants are going green. Support eco-friendly restaurants in your area. Send the message to other restaurants to start making changes.