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How to go zero waste at a restaurant

When you are eating at a restaurant, you get to transform into a zero-waste mastermind, always on alert for opportunities to avoid trash. 🕵️‍♀️ In particular, keep the following in mind:

  1. Stake out the premises
  2. Recruit the staff
  3. Bring your gadgets

Reminder: Be polite and patient, and show gratitude to the restaurant staff. Your impact lies not only in the waste you prevent, but also in the conversations you have. Make the most of your interactions with others to send a positive, encouraging message about what it means to be zero-waste. Even if the restaurant’s response is “no”, happily walking out of a restaurant that won’t accommodate a reasonable zero-waste request is more impactful than storming out without making a good impression. Just having the conversation can make a difference!

🔍 Stake out the premises

When you walk into a restaurant, immediately start taking inventory of trash wherever it may be lurking: paper menus? paper napkins? plastic straws? plastic cups? plastic straws in plastic cups on paper napkins?!? You must employ constant vigilance!

If you’re on alert as soon as you arrive, you can be prepared to politely request a drink without a straw or decline a paper menu in favor of looking it up on your phone. Common restaurant culprits you may want to be on the look out for include:

  • paper napkins (these could be hidden under drinks or wrapped around silverware)
  • disposable utensils
  • disposable cups
  • straws
  • single-use paper menus
  • food wrappers
  • sauce packages
  • toothpicks
  • to-go containers

🤝 Recruit the staff

Invite the restaurant staff to help you with your zero-waste efforts. Instead of just requesting silverware without a paper wrapper, explain that you are doing a zero-waste challenge and see if you can get the server on board.

The general script is: “Hey, weird request, I’m doing a zero waste challenge so I’m wondering if there’s any chance you could let me know if my order has any paper or toothpicks or other types of waste in it?” At this point, they’ll either say “Sure!” or they’ll say some form of no. If they say no, persist to your comfort level. Often, if you ask again in a different way you’ll get some form of yes. In fact, the server may even offer to remove any wasteful items from your order. They are your accomplice now!

🧰 Bring your gadgets

It’s good practice to arrive to any zero-waste mission with your full arsenal of gadgets: cloth napkins, reusable cutlery, takeout containers, a reusable water bottle, etc. I keep a set of these essential tools in my car, and I almost never go anywhere without a cloth bag in my purse or pocket. It feels so satisfying to have just the right gadget at the right time.

Also, like any mastermind, you sometimes may need to get a little creative. Use a napkin as a plate or a bag. Improvise some chopsticks. Change the definition of finger food. The zero-waste world is yours for the taking.

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