How to be Zero-Waste at Restaurants and Bars

My experience as both the customer and server

This January will mark one year that I have been trying to “officially” reduce my waste, but it’s not always easy. There are a lot of #zerowastefails going on. My main problem is with restaurants and bars. I can control what I buy and from where but I can’t stop restaurants and bars from putting a straw in a cup of water before even asking us what we want to drink, or stop them from putting dips in paper cups. You can ask and suggest, but that’s not always fun.

One thing that has helped me feel better about asking for things without a straw, in my own cup, or for it to be in my containers is that my customers are starting to ask. I work at the Peterborough Saturday Farmers Market (yes the one with the Marketplace episode and lots of drama). I work for a local business that sells food, most often in paper bags but sometimes in styrofoam or plastic containers. Peterborough has stopped recycling styrofoam (I have no idea why I assume it costs too much) so many of my lovely customers started bringing their own containers/jars to get food put in. I love these customers! Every time someone uses the styrofoam or asks for a plastic bag I die inside. Knowing how easy it is for me as an employee to use a customer’s zero-waste container makes me more comfortable asking others to do the same.

I’ve even had customers try to talk my boss into a discount for bringing your own containers (not gonna happen) and ask why we even have styrofoam, which is great. She explained that she buys in bulk and has to wait until they run out of the styrofoam before buying a different type of container. I wonder if that’s true or not, but we’ll see.

Even if you ask there are some things you can’t stop. One battle I’ve been loosing is with straws because I’ve been given so many straws at restaurants and bars this year. This fail is partially my fault, I often forget straws exist, but I have asked for no straw and then been given one, or given a drink with other plastic junk in it. One time I ordered water (no straw), and they gave me a lemon with a plastic stick in it. I didn’t say that I wanted it without straw for zero waste purposes so it does make sense that they wouldn’t think just to give me a lemon wedge. My real question is why does a lemon wedge need a plastic stick. It just doesn’t make sense to me. 

Many restaurants also bring waters with a straw to a table immediately before asking what a customer would like to drink, and this drives me nuts because often someone will ask for another drink (like a pop) which results in another straw and the water doesn’t get touched.

The best thing you can do is ask. It seems awkward at first but as long as you act like you always do this no one will question you. Make sure you pick your battles! If you ask for a drink with no straw and they bring you a straw don’t argue with your server, especially if its busy. If it’s not busy nicely, say you didn’t want a straw or just forget about it. I ordered a drink at Starbucks with my cup, but they had a mix-up and made it into a disposable coffee cup. There was no point in getting mad at them, so I just took the drink (and my empty cup) and left. The cup was already used and would need to be thrown out anyways.

You can always ask after. If you get a drink with a straw in it (and it’s not busy) you can ask them why they don’t do straws on request. Even just saying that it would save them money might have a bigger impact than you think.

All you can do is your best. No one will ever be fully and perfectly zero-waste (at least not anytime soon) we just don’t live in a society with a zero-waste infrastructure.

Let me know how your experiences are going below!

 

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