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Much has been said about the advantages of integrating sustainable efforts into a quick serve’s operations, but a new study shows that such efforts might not just be good for the environment—they could reap financial rewards as well.
According to a study out of Ohio State University, seven out of 10 customers say it’s good when a restaurant tries to protect the environment, and eight out of 10 would pay more to eat there.
The study, published in a recent issue of Tourism and Hospitality Research, surveyed 455 diners at restaurants in Columbus, Ohio. Jay Kandampully, one of the authors, says he was inspired to research the topic further when he noticed fewer restaurants tapping the green market than he expected.
“Almost all retailing firms have a specific section for organic food,” Kandampully says. “If people are buying food, vegetables, and meat at higher prices, those people go out and eat … [but] we couldn’t find any restaurant marketing this concept.”
The most important factor influencing a dining decision for those surveyed was that a restaurant took action to protect the environment, like getting clean energy from windmills, composting waste, or using biodegradable products. Respondents also found it valuable when a restaurant was able to source organic or local food.
Jack Graves, the chief cultural officer for Burgerville, a Pacific Northwest chain of 39 units known for its commitment to sustainability, says customers have been willing to pay a little more at the chain because it’s “doing the right thing.”
“There’s a group of people who want to know how you are being responsible in your purchasing, and that their food is free and clean of chemicals,” Graves says. “There are people who appreciate that and are willing to pay [more] for that.”
Some costs, like those for wind energy and local produce, have to be passed on to consumers, Graves says, estimating that his products are 5–20 percent more expensive than the competition.
But not all environmental practices are expensive, he says, meaning there is still potential to turn a big profit if products are priced a little higher than normal. So if the customer is happy to pay more to offset any extra costs, quick serves can easily go green without going into the red.
“If the people are willing to pay, the cost is not [absorbed] by the restaurant,” Kandampully says.
By Robert Lillegard