When I lived in San Francisco, I was obsessed with a local lunch chain called Mixt Greens. Analogous to its name, the restaurant offers a variety of organic salad fixings and veggie-heavy sandwiches. I was transfixed by Mixt– I’d fill a frequent buyer card in no time and tell everyone I knew about it. Sure, the salads were delicious, but the hip green buildings with outdoor seating and the compostable takeout containers had me hooked. Before I knew it I was spending a small fortune on salad. And I didn’t even feel bad about it.
Mixt registered the trademark eco-gourmet® to describe its brand of environmentally responsible food. All of the media buzz and most of the marketing materials they’ve written talk about this philosophy. But it doesn’t really take a trip to their web site to see the impact they’re making on the environment. Restaurant menus educate customers about the organic, local ingredients while they wait in an exorbitantly long line, and trash bins are divided into compostables, recyclables, and plain old garbage. At the end of the lunch rush, guess which bin is filled the least? (Of course, there’s also the option of washable and reusable bowls and silverware for those dining in.)
“Why doesn’t every restaurant do this?” I thought. For the answer to this question, I turned to my roommate/boyfriend/maybe common-law married by now (who knows?), who just so happens to be a professional chef. The number one reason restaurants don’t hop on the Mixt bandwagon is cost. Granted, using non-environmentally friendly products like Styrofoam in San Francisco is akin to killing your first born, but in other cities, it’s the more cost-effective alternative.
There’s hope for other restaurants that want to follow in Mixt’s path. The Boston Herald reported today on The Green Restaurant Association (GRA), a Boston-based nonprofit that gives qualified restaurants around the country a “green” seal of approval. The good thing about this certification is that it gives restaurants a formula to figure out how to reduce their impact without skyrocketing costs. While early adopters like Mixt forged a path several years ago without a certification in place, now GRA-certified restaurants can talk about their achievements in a way that eco-conscious consumers recognize. According to the Herald piece, restaurants and catering establishments claim that having the GRA logo attached to their brands is boosting business.
We’ll no doubt continue to see restaurants that claim to be environmentally friendly, since the market is there for such products. It’s a good thing that restaurants now have the GRA goal to aim for and keep them in check. Hopefully, like Mixt, they’ll make these eco-changes apparent in their restaurant. For Mixt, the power of putting your money where your mouth is made customers line up for blocks in a city that’s saturated with restaurants.