The Green Revolution is here - time to get on board! If you aren’t at least thinking about the environmental impact of your establishment’s bar program, you’ve already fallen behind. The modern day cocktail consumer has more on their mind than just getting buzzed. Just as restaurant-goers have embraced the farm to table movement, cocktail connoisseurs now want to know how and where the ingredients in their favorite drinks are sourced from and what your business is doing to support local producers and reduce your eco-footprint.
But sustainability is more than just a trend: it’s become more crucial than ever before that bar and restaurant owners and GMs make critical decisions regarding their environmental footprint, both for the success of their businesses and the future of our planet. Read on for ideas on how to incorporate sustainable practices into your establishment’s bar program.
For further reading, check out CocktailGreen.org, a sustainability web resource written for and primarily by bartenders.
Partner With Local, Organic Farmers And Suppliers
Whenever possible, source your bar’s ingredients locally. By utilizing local ingredients, you’ll reduce carbon emissions, support your local economy and foster connections with like-minded small business owners. Sure, you could source exotic-sounding spirits and mixers from halfway across the world, but the fact is that there are probably folks making fantastic products nearby that are just as good, if not better. Besides, your patrons will appreciate the freshness of ingredients and feel more connected to your establishment and community of local producers.
Develop Seasonally-Driven Menus
If you’ve made the switch to partner with local and organic farmers and suppliers, your selection of ingredients to develop drinks from will likely be dictated in large part by what’s in season. Don’t panic! Setting limitations on your creations actually helps spark creativity and innovation, and your patrons will appreciate the thought and care put into your seasonal offerings.
Reduce Food Waste
As much as your patrons will swoon over your fresh, seasonally-driven cocktails, not every day or menu will be the same and no matter how hard you plan, there are bound to be slow nights and yes - waste. Tracking sales will help you reduce waste but unfortunately you may find that some of your fresh ingredients will go bad. When you notice fresh fruits or vegetables are on their last legs, dry or dehydrate to use as garnishes, use to make syrups or purees, or add to spirits to make infusions, tinctures or liqueurs. When your fresh produce has passed its prime, toss it in the compost.
Reduce waste by looking into composting services near you (try entering “composting services near me” into your search engine). If you’re unable to locate any suitable services, consider building your own composting operation, assuming you have the outdoor space to do so. Check into whether your community has compost-specific regulations before starting this kind of project. Alternatively, you could offer your compost to your neighbors or local community garden. You’ll be surprised by how much of the waste your bar produces can be composted: fruit and vegetable scraps, eggshells, coffee grounds, newspaper and more.
Stretch Your Citrus
Citrus is a crucial component in a multitude of cocktails, but depending on where your bar is located you might not have access to fresh citrus fruits year-round. If you do, the quality, price and availability is likely to fluctuate. Stretch your garnish budget by dehydrating fresh citrus slices to use when fresh fruit is harder to come by. If you squeeze your own citrus juices (kudos to you if you do!), don’t throw out the peels afterwards - use them to infuse spirits or make oleo saccharum. Similarly, if you use whole citrus for garnish, make sure to juice the leftover fruit before tossing into the compost. Use the juice for making fresh sour mix or citrus syrup.
Don’t Waste The Wine
If you serve wine by the glass, you’re bound to have partial bottles go bad every few days. Not only does this eat into your cost of goods but it’s also a source of unnecessary waste. Cook down with sugar and turn those partial bottles into syrups! White wine syrup pairs nicely with light spirits like gin and vodka, bitter and floral flavors like Elderflower and Campari and spritzy summer drinks like White Sangria. Red wine syrup is fabulous with dark spirits like rum and brandy, alongside cold-weather flavors like maple and cinnamon and in bold drinks like Mulled Cider and the New York Sour.
Ice is crucial to a successful bar program - nearly every cocktail requires ice to chill and/or serve. One way to reduce the amount of water and energy needed to chill drinks at your bar is to pre-batch cocktails and store them in glass bottles for service. You can do this for any cocktail served neat (or without ice) that calls for stirring instead of shaking, such as Manhattans, Negronis and classic Old Fashioneds. Not only does this method eliminate the need for ice, it also speeds up service. If you have the space for it, you can also keep glassware in the fridge for extra frosty serves.
Ditch The Disposables
Many bars have already eliminated the use of straws and in fact, cities nationwide are actually implementing bans on single-use plastic straws. If straws are a necessary aspect of your drink program, consider washable bamboo or stainless steel straws or compostable paper straws. Other disposables you can move away from include paper napkins and coasters, both of which can be replaced with washable options.
Consider the cleaning products used in your establishment: what are you pouring down the drain and how is it contributing to water pollution and toxic living conditions for your local wildlife? Using more eco-friendly cleaning products can help to reduce the human health and environmental concerns that come along with cleaning your bar.
Engage With Your Patrons
Let your patrons know that sustainability is important to you and it will become important to them. Educate your staff and engage with regulars about your efforts, promote the seasonality of your menus, highlight local spirits and ingredients, and incorporate sustainability messaging into your brand via social media.
Do What You Can
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the things you haven’t been doing - and all the things you could be doing - to reduce your bar program’s environmental impact, take a moment to breathe. Sure, there’s a lot of work to be done, but there’s no use beating yourself up over initiatives you didn’t know you could’ve been taking. You might feel like you have to implement all of these changes at once, but the fact is that you won’t be able to make them all overnight. Take one step at a time and remember: every step is a step in the right direction. You don’t have to aim to be a zero-waste bar, but you can aim to waste less.
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