9 Sustainability Tips to Reduce Waste, Save Money and Enhance Your Business’s Public Image

9 Sustainability Tips to Reduce Waste, Save Money and Enhance Your Business’s Public Image

Just for Fun, Restaurant, Retail

By John Garvey

We’re going to be real candid here. Most things marketed as “sustainability” efforts are more accurately “waste reduction” initiatives.

What’s wrong with waste reduction, you ask? Nothing whatsoever—it’s great! What follows are some proven insights on how to reduce waste, adopt more sustainable business practices, boost your bottom line and win customers. While progress towards sustainability and cost savings may seem at odds, there are plenty of win-wins. Some of the following tips apply mainly to retailers, others to restaurant managers, but many are flex options that apply to various industries.

1) Adopt a paperless documentation system

M&E painting in Fort Collins recently rolled out a paperless documentation system. While this saves hundreds of pounds of paper, the more impressive benefit is saved time.

Off the cuff, M&E Founder Matt Shoup estimates that M&E’s new paperless documentation system saves each team member a couple hours a week. While the new system was challenging to implement, he expects it to pay for itself many times over.

“It’s been received really well,” notes Shoup.

“The other thing that it did was it freed up a lot of physical space in our office where we were storing paper and filing cabinets,” he adds.

Stack of paper cups in a coffee shop2) Default to waste reduction options with day-to-day customer service

When was the last time you ordered a drink at a coffee shop, fully intending to enjoy it there, and were given a to-go cup complete with a plastic lid and sleeve? Yesterday? Last week? Conversely, when was the last time you came home with carry-out and said, “Great! I don’t have to borrow silverware from my neighbor because they put plastic utensils in my to-go bag!”

You get the picture. Giving out single-use, throw away items usually isn’t the best practice to default to from a business perspective. Changing that default is a quick win, saving money and reducing waste without compromising your customers’ experience.

Additionally, compostable utensils, cups, napkins and to-go boxes are now affordable for most businesses, thanks to industry leader Eco-Products and other companies.

3) Identify low-hanging fruits for energy savings

LED lighting and other commercially-available, affordable technologies cut utilities bills substantially. LED bulbs cost more than conventional bulbs, but they pay for themselves several times over in the form of lower utilities bills and much longer life cycles. If your frame of reference on pricing or quality isn’t current, take a fresh look: The Department of Energy reports that the price of LED bulbs fell 85 percent from 2008 to 2013, and is still dropping. Their light quality and longevity have improved over the same period. Yay LEDs!
Various light bulbs hanging
Still not sure? Check out this resource: Philips LED savings calculator to help make informed decisions on building upgrades.

If you own the building you conduct business out of, or if you’re responsible for utilities on a long-term lease, consider an energy audit and retrofit. With a deep energy retrofit, a company such as Efficiency Matters, here in Fort Collins, first takes a thorough look at your building to identify the most cost-effective ways to improve its efficiency. They then retrofit the building, strategically insulating key portions of it, sealing leaky areas, changing out incandescent light bulbs and, in some cases, replacing windows.

These deep energy retrofits may have a long financial payment period in terms of utilities savings, but they have an immediate payback in terms of comfort. Perhaps more enticing to a landlord or property manager, studies show that energy-efficient buildings have lower vacancy rates and less frequent turnover than conventional buildings.

If you have an open-minded landlord, he may be willing to assume the cost of these upgrades. The building owner is really the long-term beneficiary here because buildings that have low operating costs, good indoor air quality, minimal ambient noise and minimal temperature fluctuations attract better tenants. That’s property management 101.

Red bike parked in front of an office4) Incentivize alternative transportation

If you’re in a multi-tenant building you may be able to renegotiate your lease to unbundle on-site parking. Encouraging employees to bike, carpool or use public transportation is easy in places like Colorado’s Front Range, but admittedly not everywhere. That said, if you can save a couple hundred dollars a month by freeing up a couple parking spaces, why not try?

You wouldn’t be the first to do this. Every lease at Boulder Commons, a Net Zero Energy office building in Boulder, has parking and office space unbundled. The fewer parking spots your employees take up, the more your business saves.

Installing bike racks in front of your store is another way to encourage biking to work that can also attract clients. This is both because of the signal it sends and because of the convenience.

Orange tire hung on brick wall as planter5) Use drought-resistant landscaping

Next time you’re giving your landscaping a face lift, using indigenous plants can cut back on water bills. If your business has minimal or incomplete landscaping this is also a good investment. Why? Views of nature increase productivity and reduce sick days, studies show. Potted plants or, if you’re really ambitious, a living wall may also improve indoor air quality, which improves mental focus, self-reported happiness and employee health.

6) Purchase renewable energy credits to offset energy use

Many businesses that don’t have the wherewithal to generate all their own energy with renewables opt to buy renewable energy credits (RECs) to offset their energy use. The Rio, New Belgium, Odell Brewing and dozens of businesses in Northern Colorado do this. Buying wind energy or supporting a solar energy cooperative costs somewhat more than conventionally-sourced electricity, but whether an end in itself or a means of attracting eco-conscious customers it can be an affordable and sound decision.

7) “Gamify” your waste reduction efforts

You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Challenging your team to reduce waste by measuring and charting how much you’re hauling makes waste reduction efforts tangible. This can also be done with energy consumed, total commuting miles by car and anything else that will galvanize employees without seeming overbearing. With a little flair, tracking waste reduction can be fun and morale-boosting.

8) Restaurateurs: Compost when feasible

Hands holding dirtCase in point: Happy Lucky’s Teahouse

Happy Lucky’s Teahouse, one of our partners in Fort Collins, quickly became a downtown staple after opening in 2009. In fact, my first visit to Happy Lucky’s completely changed my conception of what tea is supposed to taste like. I’ve been back many times.

“Our biggest waste reduction, started when Happy Lucky’s Teahouse opened in 2009, is composting our used tea leaves,” notes owner and “Chief Leafster” George Grossman. “Through the years different customers have brought in five gallon buckets which we fill with our spent tea leaves.

“Composting tea leaves happens fairly quickly even in our relatively dry Colorado climate. My worms in the basement love them too. Composted tea leaves smell great and can help any garden.”

Depending on they kind of organic waste your business disposes of, different composting methods (basic composting or commercial/industrial composting) may be used. Industrial composting “is financially advantageous over landfill-bound waste hauling in areas where a compost facility is within 50 miles,” notes CBRE Sustainability Manager Emily Willson, writing for GreenBiz.com.

One man’s waste is another (cow’s) treasure

If you’re in, or near, an agrarian community, livestock can take a lot of food waste off your hands, saving you hauling fees and eliminating a major source of atmospheric pollution. To touch on that second point: food breaking down in landfills it produces methane, which has over 25 times the greenhouse effect as CO2. You may even get a modest additional source of revenue if you’re a brewery or cidery because leftover apple pomace mash and spent brewers grains are nutrient-rich (and livestock love them). Here in Fort Collins, Summit Hard Cider, New Belgium, Horse and Dragon Brewery and several other beverage makers do this. It’s a win-win.

That said, food waste is a bear. Different composting processes are required for different types of food waste. If not contained and hauled promptly it can also become an odor hazard. Companies like A-1 Organics that specialize in industrial food waste composting may be able to serve you affordably if your business isn’t far away. The U.S. Composting Council website is a great resource for restauranteurs interested in implementing a composting program.

Case in point: Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant

“With compost in particular, there’ve been issues with finding people to haul it,” discloses Erich Whisenhunt, the Director of Food and Beverage for Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant (“The Rio”).

Whisenhunt lives on a small farm and gives food waste from the kitchen prep line (vegetable trimmings and the like) to his pigs.

“For restaurants on a small scale, that’s a pretty good solution,” he states.

During Whisenhunt’s tenure as Kitchen Manager, he oversaw various waste diversion efforts including glass-to-glass recycling, food waste composting and vegetable oil recycling for biofuels.

9) Finally, make sure you take rebates into account if you’re looking into ROI

Rebates vary by state and locality, but they can often nudge a waste reduction effort from a “no-go” to a “go” by shortening the payback period of certain sustainability initiatives. If you’re on the fence about a lighting retrofit or food waste composting plan, double-check with the relevant local, state and federal offices. Yes, some rebates distort incentives, steering people to the less beneficial of two initiatives, but we’re here to help you run a business, not critique policy.

While some sustainability investments are a values call, many have a decent bottom-line justification. In other words, environmental stewardship and sound business judgement are often one and the same.

Going back to the point we opened with, however, make sure you’re walking the talk. You don’t have to obsess over sustainability to run a good, admirable business, but if your behavior is out of sync with your public voice it’s likely to be labeled as “greenwashing.”

We’d love to hear from you if you choose to implement any of these ideas, wish to add to the discussion or even disagree with anything.

How to Convince Your Manager They Need a New POS system

How to Convince Your Manager They Need a New POS system

Restaurant, Retail, Technical Tip

Whether you’re a store rep, server, bookkeeper or buyer – not having an up-to-date point of sale (POS) system means you have to grapple with issues you’d just as soon avoid. These may include inventory shortages, customers irked by transaction delays, lost receipts and excessive paper documentation (complete with coffee stains). Unfortunately, a lot of retail and restaurant managers are resistant to change because of the perceived expense and difficulty of switching to a modern POS system.

Here are a few selling points for upgrading to a touch screen, cloud-based POS system. If you’re an employee, you know they’ll make your life easier. Now to convince the boss.

Make inventory management one of your biggest strengths.

NCR Counterpoint has the ability to generate over 160 reports, provide real-time stocking levels, create barcodes and automate purchasing. For businesses with multiple locations, it allows managers to easily transfer inventory between branches. All that amounts to reduced stock outs, spoilage and other snafus.

Say you miss out on $400 a month in revenues due to stock outs. If improved inventory management can reduce stock outs by 80%, you’re looking at $320/month in additional revenues. That’s $3,840 a year in additional sales—using conservative assumptions—from just one dimension of inventory management! Inventory reports that NCR Counterpoint runs can also help reduce surplus inventory, which will further improve cash flows. As a manager or business owner, you can select which inventory reports are most relevant to your business, which ones you wish to view personally and which ones to assign to other managers.

Quality point of sale systems like Counterpoint and, NCR Silver Pro (for restaurants) can generate reports to help guide all sorts of managerial decisions including inventory replenishment, pricing and merchandising.

Prevent theft.

It’s tempting to gloss over the topic of employee theft, but it’s all too common. This is especially true when taking into account non-malicious theft like “discretionary” discounts and freebies to friends and family. How much does it add up to in your business? You can’t manage what you don’t measure, but with modern point of sale systems, the task is much easier.

Say stolen inventory amounts to 3% of Cost of Goods Sold (COGS). If COGS is $50K a month, that means theft amounts to $1,500 a month or $18,000 annually!

With POS systems, Counterpoint or NCR Silver Pro, a business can help flag things like large discounts, excessive “no sale” transactions, voided tickets and other concerning things. Even at more conservative figures than those discussed above, it will pay for itself many times over.

Staff sitting around a table with notebooks and a laptop

Optimize staffing.

Avoid over- or understaffing with point of sale analytics that identify peak hours. If you can eliminate a single eight-hour shift (or two four-hour shifts) at $12/hour, that’s a savings of $96 a week – nearly $5000 a year! Furthermore, ensuring that you have adequate staff during peak hours keeps lines moving, reduces cart abandonment and helps retain customers.

Similarly, employees can clock in and out with Counterpoint, which improves time tracking for payroll. Even honest employees are unlikely to round their hours down, yet many businesses still use manual timecards and rounding. Those minutes at the beginning and end of each shift add up.

Marketing and customer engagement.

According to Hubspot as well as Search Engine Journal, email marketing has an average ROI of 4300% – but only if it’s done right. A good POS system allows customers an easy opt-in and keeps lists up-to-date. You’ll never import another email spreadsheet! A POS system with email marketing integrated can also help segment customers by purchasing history and preferences to deliver relevant, individualized offers. Organized, accessible customer data is integral to effective marketing and systems like Counterpoint make it easy.

Electronic receipts delivered by email also allow businesses to send customer feedback surveys and additional offers with ease. Further, it’s just one additional POS feature that eliminates unnecessary equipment and supplies.

New message about your POS system

Discount and loyalty programs.

Point of sale analytics can inform your company’s discount strategy and manage loyalty programs so they not only make people feel good, but make financial sense. Are there low-margin items you should avoid discounting? Are loyalty programs difficult to manage because you’re tracking them on paper or using spreadsheets? Eliminate guesswork, save time and ensure that loyalty programs actually drive customer retention by upgrading.

If you’re a retailer, data provided by point of sale systems can also identify customers who abuse return policies. You aren’t an equipment rental company, so don’t get taken advantage of.

Stay relevant.

Convenience is everything in an era where it’s “sooo cool” to be busy. Make it more convenient for customers to order from you than an online competitor. Or just add ecommerce to your operations. It’s not as much work as you may think, and we’re here to make it as streamlined as possible! You can place an order from a tablet for a product you may not ordinarily stock, based on a customer’s preferences, and spare her both time and shipping costs.

But as with the above examples, that can only happen if you have a smart POS system.

Modern, cloud-based point of sale systems offer a few other perks. These include the user-friendly touch screen interface, increasing counter space (by eliminating clunky old monitors), reduced human error, shorter lines and other intangibles that make customers and employees just a little happier day to day.

The bottom line is that point of sale software systems improve margins and customer retention, identify low-hanging fruits and eliminate guesswork with managerial decisions. Select one suited to your business—it will pay off in spades.

Top 10 Restaurant Trends for Restaurateurs to Keep in Mind

Top 10 Restaurant Trends for Restaurateurs to Keep in Mind

Restaurant

The dizzying number of restaurant industry trends can be exciting, inspiring, anxiety-provoking or just confusing,depending on your perspective.  Tech and economic trends, changing consumer preferences, new regulations and supply chain challenges all influence how restaurants will fare in the months ahead.  Here are ten of the most relevant restaurant trends of 2017.

Pile of peppers
  • Hot menu items. A recent National Restaurant Association survey of over 13,000 chefs provides helpful insights about shifting demands for ingredients and menu items.  A few new hot commodities include new cuts of meat, heirloom vegetables and fruits, and ancient grains like spelt, amaranth and kamut.  African spices like harissa are also becoming more popular.
  • “Yesterday’s news.” The same survey flagged a few menu items that are waning in popularity.  These include quinoa, flatbread pizza and sweet potato fries (Say it ain’t so!).  The survey is a great source for market info and new ideas.
  • Social restaurant platforms and apps. Consumers are increasingly relying on mobile apps to decide where to dine.  These apps feature reviews, location-based restaurant searches, and menus.  Some apps, like Hooked, provide flash discounts and a great way to discover local restaurants,others allow you to book reservations, view menus or place carry out orders most allow people to post reviews.  If you’re a restaurateur, you’ll definitely want to have a presence on Yelp, OpenTable, TripAdvisor and at least one additional social platform.  Yelp Check-in Offers are a proven way to bring more people in the door, while OrderUp provides homebodies extra delivery options.
  • Street-food inspired dishes. Chefs and diners somehow figured out that street tacos, arepas, dumplings and kabobs taste just as good when you’re sitting down in a restaurant.  No complaints here!
  • Better restaurant software platforms. Business-facing software has changed dramatically in the last few years.  To succeed in today’s market, a restaurant needs more than a reliable point-of-sale system.  Although reliable and well-known, Square is best suited for smaller cafes and quick service restaurants.  Platforms like Toast, can track inventory and customer data, manage loyalty programs, and allow quick menu modification and tableside ordering. It even generates in-depth reports to help guide managerial decisions.  Different systems have different relative advantages depending on whether you’re running a full-service restaurant, bakery, or restaurant with multiple locations. Using the right consumer- and business-facing applications is essential for driving referrals, improving rankings, attracting Millennials and preventing snafus.
Wontons with dipping sauce on wooden table
  • Healthful kids meals. Today’s chefs are finding it important to offer more healthy kids meals.  All those 30-somethings that grew up on burgers, fries and chicken fingers are pickier than their parents were about their children’s diets.  It sounds kind of cruel until you realize they have more and tastier options.
  • Doing more in-house. More and more restaurants are making condiments, pickles, artisan cheese and artisan meats in-house.  They’re also growing more herbs and produce on-site, and restaurant patrons love it!
  • Local sourcing. Consumer preferences for locally-sourced ingredients are still on the rise.  Many restaurants have capitalized on this by highlighting local farms and artisans on their menus.  Farm-to-table restaurants epitomize this, also catering to consumer sensitivities about sustainability.
  • Chef-driven fast casual. According to the National Restaurant Association, this is the number 1 restaurant concept trend.  In the last decade this category has vastly outpaced traditional fast-food growth.  Chipotle, Panera and a couple others led the charge, but every city has their own small chains or stand-alone restaurants.  Wing Shack in Fort Collins is a great example.
Food truck with woman and child ordering at night
  • And finally, The Food Truck Thing. In case you just escaped captivity after a decade on a remote island, the food truck industry has been growing dramatically.  Yet as the Economist recently reported, “counties that have experienced higher growth in mobile-food services have also had quicker growth in their restaurant and catering businesses.”  The industry has grown faster than the rules and etiquette addressing it, so there will still be some head butting.  Even so, food truck openings will continue to outpace restaurant openings. Interestingly, food trucks are increasingly opening brick and mortar restaurants.  If you’re able to piggyback off the success of a food truck and open a sit down restaurant, you’re probably going to fare well.  Time will tell.

What are some food service trends you’ve noticed as a consumer, chef or restaurant manager?  We’d love to hear from you whether you’ve had success with any of these trends or other insights to share!