The Sustainable Restaurant Association on why restaurants should place a high importance on the role within their communities
Gathering together to eat has been a fundamental part of what it means to be human since our earliest days. While we shared handfuls of foraged berries while sheltering from the rain or hunkered together around a fire, savouring the aroma of roasting meat, we were forming and strengthening the complex social bonds that would come to define our species. Since the advent of the nuclear family and a cultural shift away from more communal social systems, our public spaces have played an important role in maintaining wider social bonds.
Food spaces are often the biggest focal point for this. Restaurants provide a modern-day substitute for that tribal fire, where those from different households can come together to share meals, socialise, meet new people, catch up with old friends, explore burgeoning romances, gather for celebrations and mourn our dead. As a key part of our social environment, it matters how restaurants and other food spaces interact with their communities. No restaurant is an island.
American sociologist Ray Oldenburg coined the term “third places” – spaces that are neither home nor place of work, such as restaurants. Oldenburg argues that these third places are crucial to the maintenance of the community and social capital, helping to shape how we see ourselves and our place in the wider world. This can be seen in traditional examples like the Irish pub and the American diner, which play integral roles in nurturing social interaction and shaping local cultural identity.
In this article, we’ll examine why forging strong connections with your community must play a key role in any restaurant’s sustainability strategy, and how this can be of benefit to your local area and your business.
Why social sustainability matters
The term ‘social sustainability’ means taking into consideration the ways in which your business interacts with people, including customers, staff, suppliers and the wider community. Social sustainability features heavily across the UN Sustainable Development Goals, including No Poverty, Zero Hunger, Quality Education and Gender Equality. This is why ‘Support the Community’ is one of 10 key focus areas in our Food Made Good Standard.
Because restaurants form an integral part of the social and economic fabric of a community, operators have both an opportunity and a responsibility to have a positive impact. This can include everything from charitable donations to hosting events; from designing procurement policies that support local producers to simply ensuring your restaurant is accessible for every customer.
By nurturing strong connections to your community, you’ll open your business up to new opportunities, while also doing good. Read on for some of the ways in which deliberate social sustainability policies can have a positive impact on both your community and your business.
Benefits to the community
Here are just some of the ways in which restaurants can play an important role in bolstering local communities.
- Boost the local economy: When customers spend money in a local restaurant, the money circulates in the local economy, resulting in increased economic benefits. Businesses that work closely with local organisations and charities can multiply this effect.
- Provide local jobs: Recruitment is an almost constant feature across the hospitality industry. In addition to providing long-term roles for many adults, local restaurants are where many young people find those invaluable first jobs and begin building their CVs.
- Preserve local heritage: Restaurants can help to protect and preserve regional food culture by choosing locally-grown foods and making use of heritage recipes.
- Support local agriculture: Restaurants have the ability to support regional agriculture, buying locally-grown, seasonal ingredients and keeping small-scale farms in business.
Benefits to your business
There are numerous ways in which community involvement can benefit your business.
- Become a local hang-out: Once your business is rooted in the community, it becomes a gathering point – somewhere people feel at home. Your restaurant will inspire loyalty, find its ‘regulars’ and attract more business overall.
- Get noticed: Rolling up your sleeves and getting involved in the community is a valuable way to increase your visibility. Any events you’re involved in and/or donations you give to charity help to get your name out there.
- Build trust: One of the best ways to build trust is to show your customers that you care about more than sales. Working for the good of your community in ways that don’t directly result in your own profit is a fantastic way to foster a strong relationship with customers.
- Enjoy support in return: Making positive contributions to your community doesn’t go unnoticed. People see and appreciate your efforts and feel more connected to your restaurant – making them more likely to choose your establishment for that special evening out.
- Loop in other businesses: There are potential advantages to be reaped from forming friendly relationships with other small businesses in your area. Being involved in the community gives you a chance to meet business owners and find inspiration for collaborations that can benefit both parties.
- Attract better staff: Recruitment is an ongoing challenge in hospitality – and community involvement can help you find better employees when you need them. Not only does it drive visibility, but it also boosts your reputation and makes it clear that social sustainability is a priority – including fostering a positive work environment for your team.