Is going to restaurants actually bad for the environment?
Posted at 2022-03-20 12:00:55 by Ditte
I often hear the statement that eating out at restaurants is worse for the environment than cooking at home. As a food lover enjoying exploring new cuisines this is obviously a statement I am not happy about. Therefore, I set out to find rock hard facts why this is so, in order to be able to make more conscious restaurant choices in the future.
I found it hard to pinpoint exactly why it is bad. Although I understand some restaurants have a lot of food waste, I am also aware of economies of scale and that cooking at a restaurant could be more efficient than at home. However, one source1 claims that a restaurant meal emits more than 3.5times the amount of CO2e of a home cooked meal and a big part of that is due to the energy consumption. In the US roughly the same amount of energy is spent for restaurants as for home kitchens, however only about 22% of the meals they eat are from restaurants2.
As mentioned, if considering economy of scale cooking at restaurants should be more efficient. You have the possibility of cooking large batches and the oven doesn’t need to be re-heated over and over again.
In the article2 the energy consumption of home cooking was broken down and the following was the main consumers:
Kitchen heat/AC 24%
The article doesn’t give us any breakdown of the restaurants’ energy consumption, but I do think the above information gives us some insight into why restaurants are less efficient.
Refrigeration: I do not want to give any bold statement why refrigeration vmight be consuming more energy, but I can imagine that food cooked in a restaurant requires more space than in a tightly packed home kitchen.
Kitchen heat/AC: To me this is fairly obvious. At a restaurant you do not only need to heat/cool the kitchen, but also all other spaces. This differs from the breakdown of the home kitchen. A household’s energy will be allocated only for the heating/cooling kitchen, but not dining/living room.
Cooking: Even though it is possible to cook in batches, this is probably often not the case for restaurants. Many meals will be prepared individually. Personally, I can also imagine that although you do not need to preheat the oven, the oven is most likely on for the entire service, meaning potentially a lot of down time especially during less busy periods.
Considering that refrigeration and kitchen heat/AC accounts for more than 50% of home cooking it is worth noting that this consumption will still be there, while you go to a restaurant and therefore will count double.
However, a carbon footprint calculated in an article 3 indicates that eating a meal at a restaurant only is slightly worse than cooking a comparable meal at home. The calculation does indicate that energy consumption at a restaurant is higher, however the study also takes into account the fuel spent when the home cook purchases ingredients for the meal. But, the transport from home to the restaurant is not included and according to me, this must be comparable and therefore, I believe that in any case, restaurants are worse than home kitchens.
Even though it is not possible to say exactly why restaurant visits are worse than home cooking, it is quite clear from the studies that energy consumption plays a big role. And looking at the bright side if a restaurant uses primarily electrical devices, they have the opportunity to purchase renewable energy.
What I didn’t touch much previously is the ingredients. However, what is interesting is that the ingredients according to one study 3 account for around 60% of meals and of those 60%, 70% comes from meat products.
What can we learn from all that?
Choose a restaurant that purchases renewable energy. And if not, ask them why and let them know it is important to you as a customer.
Ingredients still have a big impact on the CO2 emissions and by choosing plant based meals at home or at restaurants, will potentially save 40% of the emissions.
Consider your mode of transport both to the restaurant and to the grocery store. By not taking the care you avoid around 20% of emissions, depending on the distance.
Kling, M.M. and I.J. Hough (2010). “The American Carbon Foodprint: Understanding your food’s impact on climate change,” Brighter Planet, Inc. ↩