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    From Ocean to Table

  • Sustainable seafood programs among quick serves are growing. Here’s how to get started.

    Gilligan’s Beckner says the experience the South Carolina Aquarium staff brought to the table was remarkable.

    “They’re the pros at it, and they bring an amazing background to the relationship,” Beckner says of Westmeyer and her staff. “They helped us with the educational part, they reinforced why we should be doing this, and they helped us identify new options for our menu with sustainability in mind.”

    Many operators with a sustainable mindset then pair the information of advocacy groups with information from other sources, including suppliers and government agencies. Noting the rise of sustainability as an important issue to restaurant operators, suppliers have increasingly made their sourcing information available and sought partnerships with advocacy groups.

    Gilligan’s leadership team, headed by owner Randy Marvin, routinely visits the boats of its local suppliers to get a firsthand look at operations.

    “I don’t know of a supplier that’s gone as far as only serving sustainable seafood, but in most cases they’re making sales sheets and categorizing what they sell,” Bowman says. “Most realize that effective sustainable seafood practices are a win-win all around.”

    Though discussion of sustainable seafood has multiplied, consumers have only sparingly heard the message. In the 1990s, McDonald’s developed a sustainable program for its Filet-O-Fish sandwich while Long John Silver’s pledged similar efforts. Although both industry giants initiated the programs—in part—to strengthen their supply chain, neither constructed a broad marketing campaign around the issue.

    Experts suggest operators make customers aware, educate staff, and think outside of the tackle box.

    “Restaurants are in the unique position to encourage new options and spread out consumption to different species and that’s something they can take advantage of,” Westmeyer says.

    Restaurants can prepare different seafood in a delicious way and introduce fresh species to customers’ palettes. Common alternatives include tilapia, catfish, and striped bass, while more obscure options, such as sheepshead or amberjack, can draw consumer interest.

    By preparing a new seafood dish with flair, Westmeyer says, restaurants can gain a following for their unusual menu options and build a special around the item. Additionally, operators can enjoy cost savings since underutilized species often have a lower wholesale cost given supply overruns.

    “In the short term and long term, there’s much benefit to adopting a sustainable seafood program,” Westmeyer says.