Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Drinking for a healthier planet. That's my story.

I’m pleased to report you can now drink and save the planet, too. As a restaurateur revealed during the National Restaurant Association’s webinar this afternoon on ways of being more ecologically minded in a bleeding-out economy, there are such things as “green drinks.”

“We devised a green drink menu,” explained Laura Wood Hber of Croc’s 19th Street Bistro in Virginia Beach. “We have organic beer, organic wine, organic vodka, organic nectors. We have a Sugar Plum Martini where we use organic sugar on the rim.”

Pardon me as I wipe a tear from my eye.

Even more arresting—and that's not easy for me to say—was the common sense demonstrated by Hber and her fellow presenters in the green steps they’ve taken. Right now there’s a feeling, reality-based or not, that restaurants’ green efforts may be sidelined by the industry’s financial straits. How can you save the environment when you’re focused full-bore on saving the business?

And does a thin-walleted public even care anymore? According to epicurious.com’s forecast of next year’s major food trends, “‘value’ is the new “sustainable.’”

That notion was swatted down during the webinar, “Making 2009 a ‘Greener’ Year for Your Restaurant.” The title may have used "greener" in the environmental sense, but it could just as readily been referring to dollars. The speakers stressed that you don’t have to loom your own uniforms or adopt a polar bear to demonstrate an environmental consciousness. A few simple changes, they reported, will please both green-minded customers and a dollar-fixated business manager.

Chris Dahlander, proprietor of the two-unit Snappy Salads fast-casual chain, said his operation has cut its water bill by $1,600 a year by installing low-flow sprayer nozzles in the kitchen. He estimated the cost of the nozzles at under $80, and noted that his utility provided them to Snappy Salads free of charge as part of its conservation program.

He’s also cutting down on paper—and how much he spends on it—by refusing to use a fax machine. “I say, ‘Well, I have e-mail,. Why not just e-mail it to me?’”

Jeffrey Clark, a consultant with ICF International who spoke on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program, noted that keying restroom lights to motion sensors costs less than $85. Yet by ensuring the lights stay off until someone enters, the gizmos cut a room’s electricity use by 25% to 75%. Similarly, fluorescent bulbs, despite their higher costs, use only about 25% as much electricity as incandescents do, and they last appreciably longer.

Dahlander cited such other economical green moves as using vegetable scraps to make soup stocks instead of throwing them out, and cleaning glass surfaces with just vinegar and water.

But not all of the green measures he’s taken are as economical as standard practices. He noted that Snappy Salads uses cups and other disposables that are made from corn starch, which biodegrades. But they also erode his bottom line a bit.

“The corn-based cups cost about 16 cents each,” he said. “So we decided to charge people for water.”

Dahlander explained that he put up a sign in each of his restaurants, alerting patrons that a glass of water would now cost them 25 cents, and explaining why. The message explains that “we’re not going to make any money on it,” and that the charge merely defrays the cost of the cup.

“I’ve had three people say to me, ‘Hey, you’re crazy for doing this.’ They paid it. They just said I was crazy.’”

He noted that each of his fast-casual outlets gross about $1 million a year in sales. Crazy, indeed.

You can catch a replay by looking here on the NRA's environmental site, Conserve.


Laura Habr said...

Hey Peter- Laura here.... Last name HABR. I do have eco-friendly recycled bev napkins to wipe away any tears. Did you mean to make any reference to that 'ole Hank Williams song "There's a Tear in my Beer" Just checking?
By the way thanks for sticking up up for us little guys, you know the small businesses in the restaurant scene. Give me a shout if you’re down this way – I’d be glad to glad to give you a tour down our Main Street and our Boardwalk.
Cheers and thanks for tuning in today. Keep up your good work. You Rock!
Best, Laura Habr, Croc's 19th Street Bistro

Laura Habr said...


Jeffrey said...

Great blog! Just a point of clarification: I am a consultant at ICF International that spoke on behalf of the ENERGY STAR Commercial Food Service program; I am not an EPA employee. A minor but important detail.

Thanks and keep up the great work!
Jeffrey Clark