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It’s time to think about sustainability for post-pandemic dining

By Tim Hall, executive chef at Burgh Island Hotel

As lockdown restrictions continue to ease, the reopening of restaurants has been a welcome return for both guests and professionals working in the sector. From the first taste of a new ingredient to the reassuring pop of a bottle cork – the luxury dining experience is once again returning to life.

However, as restaurants reopen, it is also an important moment to take stock. With the UK Government targeting net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and discerning diners increasingly focussed on the provenance of their meal, now is the time for restaurateurs to think seriously about the sustainability credentials of the modern dining experience.

Curbing kitchen carbon

Even prior to the pandemic, diners were placing growing emphasis on sustainability as part of the restaurant experience. A survey conducted in January 2020 found that two thirds of consumers expect to see ethically sourced food and drink practices in place when they visit a hospitality venue. Further, two in five respondents reported that they would be willing to pay more for this, while 22.7% were also willing to pay extra for a reduced carbon footprint.

Clearly, there is growing appetite for more sustainable and ethical dining experiences. As guests increasingly prioritise this, hospitality venues cannot afford to overlook its benefits both in terms of meeting corporate responsibility and for commercial viability. In fact, more sustainable practices can go a long way towards protecting revenues. Each year, food waste costs UK restaurants an estimated £682 million and minimising such losses could play a significant part in boosting business recovery as restrictions ease.

Positively, there are a number of ways in which chefs can reduce the carbon footprint of their kitchen by focussing on waste and emissions. Indeed, it is estimated that UK restaurants produce 915,400 tonnes of waste per year, which equates to 22% of the entire waste generated by the Hospitality and Food Service Industry. In altering their processes to find less wasteful ways of cooking – for example, by pivoting to a tasting menu experience or choosing to pan-cook in place of cooking sous vide – chefs can greatly reduce this.

At Burgh Island, for example, we recently stopped buying pre-packaged orange juice and marmalade, which generate significant volumes of waste in terms of their packaging. Now, aided by a brand-new juicer, we make our own orange juice, while leftover orange peel is recycled into our homemade marmalade to also prevent food waste.

Operating sustainably

Although important, sustainability is not exclusive to the realm of our environment – it also means having a positive social impact. By sourcing ingredients locally, hospitality businesses not only reduce the food miles of their produce, they also support local economies, independent producers and small businesses to thrive.

As a chef, transparency is so important for me. I want to know where the ingredients I work with have come from, build strong relationships with the people behind these businesses and gain an insight into how they rear their livestock. For many smaller-scale producers, it’s not just about profit – it’s about treating their animals with respect, care and compassion.

Offering vegan and veggie options will also ensure that this approach is as inclusive as possible. With vegetarians and vegans now accounting for 14% and 7% respectively of the UK population, it is simply no longer viable for meat-free meals to be a token gesture on menus. Apart from anything else, relegating veggie dishes to an afterthought means missing out on some fantastic flavours and seasonal produce, which can further boost sustainable sourcing practices. 

Beyond the ingredients, how we consume energy is also crucial. Already, the hotel sector accounts for around 1% of global carbon emissions – and on current course this is set to increase further. Hospitality, like all industries, has a responsibility to manage its impact on our planet. Curbing reliance on tech can play a significant part in this, while, at Burgh Island, we have also trained our team in energy awareness to ensure we are minimising emissions across the hotel – kitchen included.

Looking to the future

Undoubtedly, the reopening of hospitality feels like a momentous moment for all in the sector, and nowhere more so than in our restaurants and kitchens. But while the pandemic has changed the dining landscape dramatically, it is important that the industry does not simply resume “normal service” of the past when it comes to sustainability.

With guest expectations constantly evolving and an increasingly urgency in the need to drive sustainability across the UK economy, it is up to restaurateurs to rise to the challenge or risk being left by the wayside. As long as chefs are able to adapt and stay creative, sustainability can power our restaurants to thrive.

By Tim Hall, executive chef at Burgh Island Hotel

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