Close the Loop: Become a Sustainable Bar Today

Using less of the stuff above is a great step toward becoming a sustainable bar. Image: Pogonici / iStock / Getty Images Plus

There’s a word that’s been buzzing about that will have an impact on your business. In fact, it may have already exerted some influence over your bar, nightclub or restaurant. No, it’s not Millennial. It’s not craft, either.

I’m talking about sustainability. According to industry expert Charlotte Voisey, one of the most popular Nightclub & Bar Show speakers each year, sustainability means a variety of things to different people.

For some, sustainability means adopting methods “of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged.”1 To others, the term is defined, in part, as the “integration of environmental, social, human and economic goals in policies and activities.”2 Another definition is, “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”3

To Voisey, sustainability can be defined, ultimately, as the ability to “maintain something at a certain rate or level” and “being mindful of finite resources.” In other words, identify and commit to responsible business practices that reduce some, most or all waste.

You may be wondering what sustainability means to your operation beyond the obvious: reducing the harm done to the environment and conserving resources. As today’s consumer becomes more interested in sustainability they expect the brands they support to care about it as well. The same is true for potential employees: they want to work for businesses that share their values.

Read this: Earth Day Inspiration: Five Brands Dedicated to Sustainability

So, if you want to connect with consumers to create brand loyalty and attract future employees you’re going to need to adopt sustainability practices. It’s going to be a lot of work but the payoff—a better future for the planet and generations to come, positive perception of your brand, upcharges for certain products—is well worth it, and we’re to help.

To the Extreme

It may seem like environmentally responsible business practices, waste reduction, and sustainability have been topics of conversation for years and years. However, sustainability in the bar and restaurant world didn’t really become a conversation until award-winning bartender and operator Ryan Chetiyawardana opened White Lyan in London in 2013. At this now legendary bar, Chetiyawardana took sustainability to the extreme: citric acid was created and used in the place of citrus, drinks and glasses were pre-chilled to avoid using ice, and a distilling license was obtained so housemade spirits could be used to avoid the large carbon footprint inherent to the transportation of spirits.

Again, the White Lyan was an extreme example of sustainability in bars and restaurants. But if Chetiyawardana, the mind behind Lyan venues (Dandelyan, Super Lyan, Cub), could go to the extreme just five years ago, other operators can embrace more reasonable (for lack of better phrasing) methods to achieving sustainable practices now. As Voisey said during her 2018 Nightclub & Bar Show session “Sustainability in Cocktails,” becoming a more sustainable operation in this industry “doesn’t have to be an all or nothing” proposition.

Become More Sustainable Today

You don’t have to hold an emergency staff meeting and become a zero-waste operation the moment you finish reading this article. In fact, Voisey would caution against doing that. Instead, take one step at a time in your journey toward increased sustainability in your bar, nightclub or restaurant. 

One step you can take today will save you money and, at the risk of sounding grandiose, help save the planet. It’s simply this: eliminate the use of plastic straws. Bacardi launched their in-house “No Straws” initiative just over two years ago, and it’s tied to the brand’s overall Good Spirited sustainability program. Your bartenders or servers may have served guests who have, upon ordering a beverage, said, “No plastic straw, please.”

To leverage this growing guest demand, provide plastic straws only upon request. You can also forego plastic straws completely and instead use stainless steel, bamboo or paper straws (which are, currently, more expensive than their plastic counterparts). Stainless steel and bamboo straws can be cleaned and reused. Along these lines, more plastic can be removed from your operation if you use stainless steel drink stirrers rather than their plastic counterparts.

A more sustainable operation can also be achieved through monitoring your garbage. Trash Tiki, an open sourced online platform and pop-up operation that raises awareness of the waste currently inherent to bars and restaurants while also shining a spotlight on solutions, has pointed out that you can learn much by analyzing what your operation is tossing into the trash. What do you and your staff see in there that could be used to make other menu items? For example, is your garbage loaded with citrus rinds? Rather than toss those after you’ve squeezed out the juice, peel your citrus, using them for garnishes and to make simple syrups. Do you see avocado pits? Those can be used to make orgeat. With summer approaching and watermelon coming into season, don’t toss those rinds: use them to make a cordial.

Water is a precious resource. Just look at Cape Town, South Africa, and their 2019 Day Zero estimate. That is the day that taps in the city will no longer provide water and citizens will have to line up for rations. Cape Town isn’t the only city grappling with this very real challenge. With that in mind, Voisey endorses another of Chetiyawardana’s sustainability tactics: using no ice behind the bar. Instead, pre-batch cocktails (taking the lack of ice into account) and pre-chill them, along with pre-chilling glassware. A number of sustainability practices may seem controversial as they relate to the bar world, and eschewing ice is right at the top of that list. This is a step that some operators may be more comfortable breaking into baby steps, testing it with one signature drinks, adding another, adding a couple more, and so on. Featuring cocktails on tap can further help you reduce water usage in your bar.

Read this: Patrón Tequila’s Secrets to Sustainability

You and your staff aren’t the only people you should include in your effort to become a more sustainable operation. Speak with your suppliers and tell them you prefer to receive your spirits, beer and wine orders with less packaging. As an example, you don’t need your bottles of scotch to be in their tubes when they’re shipped to you. Bacardi and other brands (Patrón, for one) have committed to using less packaging, and making what packaging they do use more eco-friendly.

Tell Your Story, Don’t Preach

Obviously, you’ll want your guests and community to know about your sustainability efforts. It’s a big undertaking made up of several steps and there will be some growing pains. You should be proud of becoming a more sustainable operation but that doesn’t give you carte blanche to preach at your guests.

Voisey recommends telling the story on your menu. This can be done in food and drink descriptions (recognizable descriptors for sustainable drinks are closed-loop, anti-waste, no-waste and low-waste), in disclaimers at the bottom, and a short story about your efforts. Of course, you can also tell your story through your social media channels by posting recipes that share your sustainable techniques and ingredients. Just don’t become that operator who boasts and belittles others. If a guest asks for a plastic straw, don’t shame them; explain that you don’t use them or only provide them upon request to reduce waste.

Becoming a sustainable operation isn’t easy. The topic is relatively new to the bar, nightclub and restaurant world. It’s not exactly considered a “sexy” subject because sustainability is a difficult challenge. But taking one step is better than shrugging off this topic and expecting someone else to figure things out. If every operation adopted one or two practices we’d all be in a better place.



1 Merriam-Webster On-line Dictionary

2 Hargroves, K. Smith, M. H. (2006). The Natural Advantage of Nations: Business Opportunities, Innovation and Governance in the 21st Century. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

3 World Commission on Environment and Development. (1987). Our Common Future. Oxford, England, UK: Oxford University Press.

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