HOW I CREATED A WASTE FREE VENUE
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure and the perfect example of this is Tiny Leaf, a waste-free venue in London. Cofounder Alice Gilsenan inspires and educates on how to transform your venue into a waste free zone.
We set up Tiny Leaf in Notting Hill in 2016, over four floors of a Victorian building where we featured a casual fine dining restaurant, an organic cocktail bar and two events spaces.
We focused on communication as being the core part of a well-run space. Surplus produce from the kitchen would often find its way to the bar, lemons from a cheesecake would find their final home as part of a batch of homemade Limoncello, surplus berries would be transformed into coulis or smoothies. The most important ingredient of all for this to happen? Open communication between the team within your venue.
Our concept was zero waste, a term that is bandied around a lot these days and it often leaves those who come across the concept sometimes more perplexed than inspired. At Tiny Leaf the concept of zero waste works in many ways and on many levels. In essence, it’s a combination of a drive for waste reduction and creative thinking; it’s not about reducing waste to zero as that wouldn’t be feasible. It’s about adopting new approaches to every aspect of business so that the focus is on reducing waste, be that by menu design, staff training, and energy consumption or supplier management.
Zero waste is about responding to the fact that we waste an awful lot of resources. Hospitality is one of the worst offenders, with the biggest areas of waste being food, drink, packaging and energy. That wastage happens during the purchasing, storage and preparation stages of the supply chain. It’s not just food and drink that is being thrown away either—the money spent on staff time and disposal costs also needs to be considered.
Reducing waste output not only reduces environmental impact, it actually gives our business a competitive advantage. It is a foot traffic driver and one that is a win-win in every aspect. It reduces spend on produce and ingredients, it motivates staff and customers can enjoy a guilt-free gastronomic experience.
A zero-waste approach is a gradual process. To try and do everything in one fell swoop isn’t really practical. When considering quick wins my advice is to start with these steps:
- Eliminating Straws: It’s a no-brainer given that it takes 200 years for each straw to break down.
- Eliminating Bottled Water: Invest in a special tap that allows local tap water to be clarified and filtered and served sparkling, still or ionised on spot.
- Composting Waste: Seek advice from your local government as there may be variations in guidelines.
5 simple steps to a zero waste venue:
Creating a waste-free venue is the long-term plan and by following our 5-step plan you are sure to get there in no time!
The first step in reducing waste is to ensure the waste isn’t created in the first place, and this is where forward-thinking menu design comes in. Are there elements that are usually discarded that can be dried and used as edible garnish or used as ingredients for other drinks?
A focus on quality ingredients is key: the ingredients should be the star of the show, gimmicks such as plastic straws are unnecessary and will most likely be frowned upon as the awareness of how much plastic ends up in our oceans continues to grow.
We often look to the past when considering future menu design. For example, if we consider the lack of access to cold storage in times gone by, we can gain inspiration from exploring things like pickling, fermenting and sustainable foraging. Customers love a surprise and when you turn a much-scorned, but interesting ingredient into a pleasurable one, the response will be overwhelmingly positive.
Educating Your Team
Staff engagement is one of the most important things when considering a zero-waste approach. As with everything in hospitality, it’s about the quality of human input that determines a positive or negative customer experience. When staff are not only shown how waste can be reduced, but also actively encouraged (by way of incentives) to reduce that waste, their commitment to the cause will go even further. Staff that can talk fluently and positively to a customer about sustainability are the key to an engaged customer, who will in turn become an ambassador for your business via positive word of mouth. Customers love to hear about what happens behind the scenes, so giving them a little snapshot of how things work is going to drive that engagement and loyalty even further.
When reducing waste, it’s often a good idea to open the lines of communication with suppliers for equipment, goods or services. How is their waste managed and is their business model efficient and waste conscious?
So will the zero waste, movement be another fad or will it fundamentally change the way businesses are managed? The drive to reduce our demand for those resources isn’t simply a nice idea or trend, it’s an actual necessity.
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