Want to green your Fresh-Mex or burrito place? There are some sustainable strategies unique to both restaurants in general and those which serve cuisine like burritos, tacos, and nachos. Here are the top 10:
- Organi-fy your staples. Beans and rice are a staple on most Mexican/Fresh-Mex menus, and represent the grand majority of the calories you’ll be delivering. The great news is that this is an easy thing to get organic without breaking the bank. At our local food co-op, you can get organic bulk black and pinto beans for about 10 cents a pound more than the conventional. It’s clear that people want organic foods, and if the price is close, they’ll spend the extra money more often than not. With beans and rice, it’s easy to do. Once you have this staple part of your menu set, you can then tell your customers that x% of your ingredients are organic, and that you source organic whenever possible and price-feasible. Charging $5 for a burrito with 20 cents worth of organic beans and rice on it vs. 19 cents of conventional beans and rice won’t affect your profit margin, and will make your customers happy.
- Add plentiful and delicious veggie options. Not only are vegetarian foods easier on your body and easier on the environment, they often tend to cost less to produce than meat and dairy products, and need less cleaning and sterilizing.
- Mariscos that are good for the mar. If there are going to be fish and/or shrimp (mariscos, in Spanish) on your menu, make sure the farming or catching practices of your seafood sources are ethical, healthy, and not depleting the mar (ocean). Just because it’s wild caught doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better. Farming certain seafoods can be sustainable.
- Ix-nay the factory farmed eef-bay (and the chicken and dairy). Don’t forget about the other meats, dairy, and products you can’t raise yourself. Look to the whole foods movement (no, not the grocery store) for your inspiration, and buy your beef, chicken, eggs, etc., from ranchers and farmers who let their livestock roam pastures freely and eat grasses (rather than GMO corn and soy) and that aren’t grown with antibiotics.
- Grow the ingredients for your condiments, garnishes, and spices. Have an herb garden to grow all your garnishing and spicing needs. These are easily sustained in small spaces, including vertical gardens. Punch a few extra holes in the bottom, and these can be used to go the extra mile for sourcing produce — do it yourself! Otherwise, source your produce locally and seasonally.
- Green your takeout containers. Burritos need nothing more than a little aluminum foil, so send people home with the knowledge that when they’re done eating, they can simply recycle those foils. For other containers, maybe also encourage your customers to bring their own? Don’t just offer paper or post-consumer recycled containers, like paper bags and sugar cane containers. The sugar cane cases are more expensive than traditional styrofoam ones ($115 for 200 versus $14 for the same count), but asking customers to bring their own means you’ll make fewer orders per quarter. Do what grocery stores are doing these days: knock a few cents or a percentage off an order when customers bring in their own gear!
- Save water. To cut down on container/dish washing/water waste, don’t sell bottled water. It’s long been argued that bottled water is worse for the environment than actually consuming the water we have. This is a really easy step to cut overhead, carbon footprint, and increase your positive environmental impact. As with many of these points, you can go one step further and only serve water to your customers if they ask for it.
- Repurpose your grease. Since you’re making burritos, tacos, and other delicious Mexican foods, you’re likely to be frying some stuff. Reuse and recycle that cooking oil! Take a cue from Red Lobster and Olive Garden — sell your cooking oil to a biodiesel company for conversion.
- Light up with LED. It’s an absolute no-brainer, no matter what rate you pay for electricity. LEDs are far superior to incandescents and CFLs, paying for themselves rapidly due to their exceptionally efficient use of electricity.
- Find a two wheel delivery system. If you’re going to deliver your food, see if you can find a company locally that will do it on bicycles. Check out TCB Couriers in San Francisco, CA, to see this real-world zero carbon footprint delivery service come to life. They’ve been doing it for over 5 years, and if there isn’t a service like this in your town, find some cyclist entrepreneurs and tell them you’ll be their first customer!
In the end, the best way to implement a holistic sustainability is to do it in increments. Restaurants already incur high overhead costs, and to jump in with more than two or three of these strategies will be detrimental to your bottom line. Baby steps will lead to greater return on investment and greater corporate social responsibility.