I am a college student home for the summer, and I was able to find a summer job with a lot of earning possibility at a nice restaurant at a golf course. I had previous experience working in restaurants and overall, I really enjoy it. However, since I have been back in a restaurant looking at the whole thing through a new lens, I noticed a big negative aspect of the job that I had paid little attention to before.
While scrolling through Instagram last week, I saw this meme:
This can apply to many jobs in our society, but it totally spoke to me, because it's exactly how I have been feeling about working in the restaurant industry! The people are great, I make good money, and there are plenty of employees who try to be as environmentally conscious as possible. That said, the waste produced is unbelievable. If you've never worked in food service, you probably can't imagine the amount of food waste thrown out every single day. My restaurant does not yet compost, but I'm looking into a way to make that happen. A compost bin might not be utilized by every person in the restaurant every day, but even if it led to 25% less food waste headed to landfill from my restaurant alone, I would consider that a huge accomplishment.
Still, food waste is only a part of the total amount of restaurant waste. Primarily because of health regulations and cleanliness, restaurants use a ton of plastic. I'm not kidding - everything has to be wrapped up in plastic by the end of the day. It's sensible because, in the service industry, each restaurant is responsible for serving safe, uncontaminated food to its customers. And, to prevent even more food waste from happening, ingredients must be kept fresh. It's just really unfortunate that the easiest, most cost-effective way to do this is to use so much plastic that just gets thrown out the next day.
In particular, the restaurant that I'm working at right now uses plastic ramekins, or small containers, for every sauce and dressing that customers ask for. Conveniently, we can stick lids on these ramekins for to-go orders, but eventually, they all end up in the garbage. When I asked some of the management at my restaurant if we could make a switch to metal ramekins, I was told that they become expensive to replace because they accidentally get thrown out so frequently. Nonetheless, the managers heard me out and promised to look for more eco-friendly options in the future.
The restaurant already has a pretty good line of to-go boxes made out of recycled materials, which is definitely a step in the right direction. We also recycle lots of glass bottles and aluminum cans. Aside from that, though, I see a huge amount of waste produced all the time. Especially as a server, I see so many receipts and papers crumpled up and tossed in the trash. Our computers print out a merchant copy, customer copy, and itemized list every time we close out a table. It's supposed to be that way for the customer's benefit, but more often than not, I end up throwing out two of the three papers because they aren't necessary.
Yet, like anything else, I see plenty of people doing their best to keep the environment in mind in their day-to-day lives. The other day, I offered to box up a customer's leftovers. She thanked me but denied my offer, saying that she already had her own Tupperware to take her food home in. I was thrilled! In my restaurant that day, she saved us one box, but in her life, those boxes will add up each time she uses her own. It's really a simple action to take, and we are all capable of making those little changes that have such a big impact.
So, even though the restaurant industry is less than an eco-friendly system, I'm happy to say that I see plenty of good things come out of it. The change will come, even with actions as simple as bringing your own containers or looking for plastic-free alternatives.