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January 31, 2024
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The theme of eco-sustainability is an important one, and many bartenders around the nation are now thinking of creative ways that they can minimize their impact on the local environment. Simple steps – such as getting rid of plastic straws for cocktail drinks – can go a long way. Here’s a closer look at some of the steps, both small and large, that you can take to make your bar more eco-friendly.
Perhaps the easiest step you can take is to get rid of plastic straws. Some bars are now shifting to paper, bamboo or compostable straws, which are better for the environment. Other bars are doing away with plastic straws entirely.
And that same approach can also be used with napkins. It might seem traditional or practical to provide disposable napkins with every single cocktail or glass of wine served, but there are alternatives. For example, you could replace paper napkins with reusable leather coasters or cork-based coasters, both of which would eliminate the need to provide a napkin with every new drink. (Moreover, from a purely marketing perspective, it might be possible to make that coaster an important element of your bar’s overall branding,)
If your bar is part of a restaurant, then it might be possible to recycle or upcycle some of the food from your cocktails for the kitchen (and vice versa). For example, what about any spent citrus rinds used to make tropical cocktail drinks? Those oranges, lemons or limes can easily make their way into kitchen creations. And some bartenders use any juice left over from the bar to make syrups and cordials. The key point is this: try to think of multiple uses for any food that your bar uses. Food scraps from the kitchen can be used to make spectacular tiki cocktail drinks.
Ice is an essential ingredient for many cocktails, but the production of ice also requires water and energy to make. And some ice is not used efficiently. For example, consider the standard practice of a drink shaken over large ice cubes, and then strained over new ice. Those large ice cubes – although barely used – are then simply disposed of. So what’s the solution here? One approach that is gaining favor is simply serving drinks that are pre-mixed and chilled.
In addition to these smaller steps detailed above, you also have the potential to make much larger changes to the overall bar layout, to the type of equipment you use, and even the type of glassware that you use. For example, if you change your glassware, you can change the loads that you are using for the dishwasher. The less the dishwasher runs, the less energy you use. Moreover, what about your freezer? It’s now possible to buy energy-efficient freezers that will have a reduced impact on the overall environment.
Carbon footprint refers to all the carbon that is sent into the atmosphere as the result of physical actions. That’s one of the reasons why the farm-to-table movement, for example, has really taken off: your carbon footprint is much smaller if the distance between the supplier of food products and the actual restaurant using them is as small as possible.
Well, you can use that same approach when thinking about ordering food items for your bar. Limes are a great example. There are certain times of year, of course, when they will be out of season. That means that the delivery of those limes will need to come from far away, and that will lead to a huge carbon footprint, once you add in all the shipping or trucking costs. Thus, before dreaming up new ingredients to add to new cocktail creations, first take a moment to consider how foods are made, grown and transported. By doing so, you will go a long way in reducing your carbon footprint.
This step is perhaps the hardest, because it forces you to go public with your support for the environment. It requires you to do more than just re-tweet a great suggestion, or to like a comment from an environmental advocate. It forces you to become part of the solution, and not part of the problem.
The way that you can have the greatest impact is by going after suppliers, brands and elected officials. Tell suppliers that you will only use them if they can show you their attempts to adopt environmentally friendly practices. Focus on using brands of alcohol that are known for being champions of the environment. And take time to become more informed about laws and regulations that might need to be changed.
To facilitate your job of making your bar more environmentally friendly as easy as possible, don’t forget about the role played by positive role models. For example, the London bar White Lyan became famous for becoming a zero-waste bar. At the outset, it committed to just a single bag of trash per night. And it committed to all the small steps that made it possible – the bar celebrated a policy of no ice, no fresh citrus, pre-batched cocktails and off-brand spirits. That’s a story that you can really celebrate. And once one bar does something extraordinary like that, it becomes much easier for other bars to join in.
Also, keep your eyes open for cocktail competitions organized around sustainability. That is a great way to raise the profile of your bar, as well as to meet other bartenders who care about making the environment part of their overall approach to running a bar. A few local examples can become a movement, but it takes people to transform a basic concept – making a bar more environmentally friendly – into reality.
Just remember – bartenders can set a positive example, not just for staff members, but also for every single patron who sits down at the bar and orders a drink. All long journeys start with a single small step, and just making the decision to eliminate plastic straws at the bar can be your initial step on a long journey to eco-sustainability.
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