The term “sustainability” can mean many different things to different diners. According to Shelley Balanko, Hartman Group senior vice president and a speaker at the Association’s 2016 Sustainability Executive Study Group, customers perceive a connection among sustainability, freshness and quality. She says customers are looking for smarter, fresher, exciting food experiences, and “sustainability continues to be about doing the right thing for customers, the community and the environment.”

A Sustainable Foodservice study indicates that, from the restaurants where they choose to eat, customers most value fresh sourcing of ingredients and fair treatment of employees. With that in mind, Balanko stresses the importance of transparency with customers. “They want an honest account of what your goals are and where you’re at in that process,” she says. “Transparency is about consumer choice – letting them see and judge for themselves. It’s the gateway to building trust with customers.”

Balanko offers these tips for marketing your restaurant’s sustainability efforts to customers:

  • Engage on digital platforms in a helpful way. Make sustainable dining an easy choice for guests. Share pertinent sourcing and nutritional facts online. If your target is millennials or Gen Z, you can even go beyond social media. For example, the Chick-fil-A CFA One app offers pre-ordering, customization of sandwiches (which can cue freshness) and nutritional information.
  • Promote your positive working environment. Highlight your restaurant’s community and local economy engagement. Invite millennials to participate in these efforts with you. Create an open dialogue about this with your diners so it resonates.
  • Be passionate. Go beyond being open and honest about the sustainability practices you’ve implemented. Tell your sustainability stories. “[Customers] want to pull the information from you, but they don’t want it pushed on them in a didactic tone. Keep the language simple,” Balanko says.
  • Act on the customer feedback you receive. “At the end of the day, if you don’t have anyone that wants to buy your product, you don’t have a business. If they’re not going to buy because of lack of trust or if you haven’t evolved and everyone else has, the point is moot,” Balanko says. “Meet your customers’ demands.”

To learn more about sustainability trends, download our 2018 State of Restaurant Sustainability report.