When I accepted the offer to become chief executive of the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) back in the spring, I knew that part of the brief would be to oversee changes both in this great organisation and across the whole hospitality sector. But, like many others, I was blindsided when the whole political landscape turned upside down on 23 June.
Brexit undoubtedly presents some serious challenges for the sector and adds new flavour to the sourcing, environment and societal issues that make a restaurant sustainable. The skills gap in the industry has never been wider and threatens to become a chasm if EU citizens are no longer permitted to work in the kitchens and dining rooms of UK restaurants. Hikes in food prices are widely anticipated. The future of policy, in employment, nutrition, energy, climate change, farming and more, is shrouded in uncertainty.
Now is a good time for everyone in the restaurant business to stand in front of the mirror and reflect. What makes a restaurant good? What role can food play in connecting us all to the big issues? How can the sustainable food movement and the industry learn from each other? What role do we each have to play? This is a fantastic opportunity for British restaurants and for good food to create change.
And while there are some big challenges ahead, it’s not as if we’re tackling them from a standing start. Far from it. We are brilliantly placed to meet these challenges and our sustainability framework can help businesses tackle issues such as the skills shortage and sourcing head-on. By coming together, we can develop training and skills across the hospitality sector, enhancing its desirability as a career path. By using this moment to review sourcing policies and develop closer ties with local producers, restaurants can capitalise on Britain’s majestic and diverse larder as well as its high standards of animal welfare.
By making sustainable choices and showing leadership, we can grow as businesses. Addressing these issues with a positive mindset the sector can show itself for what it truly can be: the most progressive in the world, building further on its reputation for being among the most innovative.
Sustainability issues are constantly evolving and with that, just as the Brexit vote has shown us, priorities fluctuate. It’s really hard for businesses to keep on top of the shifting tides of sustainable seafood, for example, while also making environmentally positive changes within the supply chain and exploring ways to cut food waste. Consumer patterns are accelerating the relevance of sustainability issues for us all. The stakes are high.
Which is why we’re here – as a platform for the issues, challenges, news, views and most importantly your stories, your solutions, innovations and best practice. We are working hard at being the right partner for the future of the planet and for the industry. I’ve worked in sustainability for my whole career and, in the past 15 years, I’ve seen time and again that we can only tackle the biggest challenges when we work together. Through the SRA, we’ll connect the bright sparks and the radicals, allowing them to do more, go further and inspire the rest of the industry to be more progressive.
My predecessor oversaw dramatic growth in membership from 50 sites to more than 6,000. Now the time is right to work even more closely with this incredible resource of like-minded businesses. Our combined buying power, commitment to greater resource efficiency and social capital have staggering potential.
I am excited about our role in unlocking that potential and helping create positive change. To enable restaurants to do this and engage the great British dining public, we’ll be slicing up sustainability into manageable chunks through a calendar of campaigns to give restaurants, the industry and its customers a focus.
Whether it’s tackling the obscene mountain of food the industry wastes, improving kids’ menus or helping cut energy use, we will provide a platform for calculable changes. If you’re not a member, there will be plenty of ways to get involved too, as we believe making food good is not just the preserve of the few.
As we move slowly towards the European door marked ‘sortie’, now is the time to be building on other established unions, which can help the industry achieve its sustainability goals and move it further, faster forward. Come and see what we’re doing at www.thesra.org.
This article first appeared in the September issue of MCA’s sister title Restaurant magazine.