Factors That Lead to Environmentally Sustainable Practices in the Restaurant Industry: a Qualitative Analysis of Two Green Restaurant Innovators

Open Access
Nyheim, Peter D
Graduate Program:
Workforce Education and Development
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
May 02, 2012
Committee Members:
  • Judith Ann Kolb, Committee Chair
  • William J Rothwell, Committee Member
  • Edgar Paul Yoder, Committee Member
  • Wesley Edward Donahue, Committee Member
  • food service
  • restaurant
  • sustainability
ABSTRACT In recent years, more organizations, including restaurants, have concerned themselves with sustainability. As with any new endeavor, guidance is needed. The purpose of this study was to investigate factors that lead to environmentally sustainable practices in the restaurant industry. Using Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovation Theory as a theoretical framework, this study sought out innovators who could provide insight into ecological restaurant operations. Processes added, management and employee effects, and external influences are covered. A qualitative methodology with certain case study aspects was utilized in the study. Data were gathered through interviews from employees of two different restaurants seen as innovators in the industry. One restaurant was located in an historic inn and offered both casual and fine dining. The other larger one was located in a convention center and likewise offered casual and fine dining. Four employees were interviewed from each restaurant from both the dining room and kitchen components of the operation. A total of eight participants were interviewed. The study found that much of the environmental processes focused around waste streams and local foods. The use of compostable materials and closer inspection of energy and utility levels were also seen. In addition, critical incidents of each process and their uniquenesses due to setting were noted. The study also found that managers affected the processes outcomes in a number of ways. Management interacted with the initiatives’ success or failure through training, purchasing of both materials and local foods, example setting, and through marketing. Employees affected the processes through peer policing of waste stream contamination, peer training on local food sourcing and nutritional value, and communication of new ideas. External influences included customers and competition that either embraced or did not embrace environmental sustainability. While most of the participants agreed that green customers, either as individuals or groups, would drive the ecological demand, non–green competition could hamper it if the offering were vastly cheaper. Based on the findings, recommendations for both management and employees are offered. Lastly, suggestions for future research are given, including future study of environmentally sustainable restaurants.