Dining out is a staple of the American lifestyle and our generation dines out more often than anyone else. We reserve tables to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, new jobs, graduations, holidays, or the arrival of a new family member. It’s a normal thing to do when we make plans to catch up with friends. We don’t even blink an eye when we decide to order take out or go out to eat — for the third day in a row. Food is so easily accessible that we don’t stop to think about where it comes from, what is needed to eat it, and what happens to food we can’t finish and leave on the table. Luckily, a lot of restaurants are embracing the green movement and you can too. In this article you will find 12 ways to stay sustainable when dining out.
12 Ways to Stay Sustainable When Dining Out
While sustainability has gained more attention in the media, it seems as though we throw all that out the window when dining out. I don’t know about you, but when I dine out I don’t stop to think, “Is this lettuce wrap locally sourced and organic?” The phrase “out of sight, out of mind” gets thrown around here — if we don’t see the impact of it in our own homes, we definitely don’t think about the impact of it in a restaurant. It’s time to change that.
- Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can Chew. About 1/4 of diners leave food on the table at the end of their meals. As Americans, we love our huge portions and we love to have options. Because of the way we eat, preventing food waste that will end up in landfills is a major concern. Practice portion control. If you know you can’t finish a whole pizza, fries, and steak by yourself, chill out and don’t order it all. Consider eating out “family style” by ordering multiple plates with your table and sharing each plate with one another.
- Bring Your Own Tupperware When Dining Out. Eyes bigger than your stomach? We’ve all been there–it happens more often than not. There will be times when we just cannot finish our foods no matter how hard we try to stuff it all in. Take food home without the guilt of wasting plastic or styrofoam and pack leftovers in your own reusable tupperware. It sounds weird, but there’s nothing embarrassing about being eco-conscious. Plus you might inspire the person next to you to do the same.
- Spruce Up Your Leftovers. But what to do with all your leftovers? Save the energy, water, and electricity you would have used to make a new meal by revamping what you already have. It’s a great way to limit food waste and save your hard earned money. S-c-o-r-e.
- Keep Reusable Utensils in Your Lunch Bag. Plastic is one of the biggest causes of landfill waste. With plastic utensils, we use them once and throw them away. If you’re eating at a restaurant that uses plastic forks, knives, and spoons, bring your own reusable utensils instead. They have the life expectancy a million times that of plastic ones.
- Carry a Tumbler or Mason Jar. Can you imagine all the plastic cups we throw in the trash everyday from coffee shops, cafes, boba places, or pressed juicery locations? If one person limits their daily cup consumption by just one, they can reduce their plastic pollution by 23 pounds per year. Not convinced? Some drink places offer discounts or rewards for those who bring their own tumblers or mugs. Do good, save money. It’d be a crime not to participate.
- Say ‘No’ to Straws. Straws are a huge environmental problem because it’s another “one time use” item. Either bring your own reusable straw to use or don’t use one at all. Trust me, you can easily drink water without it. Some restaurants and coffee shops have even banned straws from their stores because of their wastage. It’s awesome.
- Take Your Extra Napkins Home With You. Everyone knows this scene: you order food at a counter then leave with a stack of napkins to take back to your table. Most times, we don’t end up using them all. Instead of throwing these napkins in the trash or leaving them on the table to be cleaned up (they will get thrown away by the restaurant anyway), give these napkins a second chance by taking them home to use. They’ll end up saving a sticky car spillage situation one day.
- Give Water a Fighting Chance. If we were to collect all the water that was left over in cups after diners leave a restaurant, we’d have enough water to fill a small lake. All of that clean water that could be used to quench another person’s thirst just got dumped in the drain. How wasteful! The next time you are out at dinner, finish your water and say no to refills if you know you can’t finish it. Or use the leftover water to refill your reusable water bottle. Tip: Whenever possible, always order tap over bottled water.
- Support Restaurants Who Get Their Organic Foods Locally. Local farms grow foods that travel less miles to get to you — lessening the carbon footprint on your food. Organic foods are also grown with less harmful chemicals that can hurt the environment. Save the Earth while you save yourself from putting bad foods in your body.
- Explore Raw Food Options on the Menu. Raw foods are just as delicious as grilled, sautéed, and fried foods. Try it out! Replacing one cooked meal with a raw one can help save cooking energy. Raw foods also use up less water and energy to be grown, prepared, and eaten.
- Keep Your Meat Options Open. If you’re a lover of protein and can’t even imagine eating a raw meal, consider changing up the different types of meat you eat. Expanding your palate keeps one animal from going endangered too soon. It will also prevent their increasing number of mass production. But if you want to be hardcore, opt for meatless options every now and then to take strides in agriculture pollution (I’m still not giving up on the raw option idea!).
- Lower Your Carbon Footprint. This is one of the easiest way to make your dine out more sustainable. Pile your friends up in one car and carpool to your destination. If you don’t mind a bit of an adventure, consider taking public transportation too.
You don’t have to give up the pleasure of dining out, but you can make the experience more sustainable by embracing the green restaurant movement. A lot of up-and-coming restaurants are beginning to provide more sustainable foods as well as becoming more eco-conscious with their tableware. It’s really so awesome. We need you to help too. The next time you dine out keep some of these options in mind. Every little change makes a huge impact!