Going Green: Are restaurant owners, managers, and consumers on the same page?
What research tells us ...
By Linchi Kwok , Associate Professor at The Collins College of Hospitality Management
"Americans crave foods that not only nourish them but also help sustain the planet."
The good news is some big restaurant chains, such as Starbucks and McDonald's, have already taken actions in responding to these sustainable trends even though a recent study also suggests that consumers might not want to make a lot of effort themselves to eat at a green restaurant. Do owners, managers, and consumers think alike when it comes to the critical green attributes that matter the most to the restaurant business?
Restaurant owners, managers, and consumers represent three different stakeholder groups in the restaurant business. According to the stakeholder theory, various stakeholders of a business may show particular interest in certain aspects of operations based on their interests. In this case,
- Will consumers value those green practices about their own well-being (e.g., serving organic or healthy food) more than others?
- Will managers pay more attention to those practices that can help them improve restaurant operations?
- Will restaurant owners focus more on the green practices that can help them increase profits?
- Do these three stakeholders have different expectations about consumers' willingness to make extra efforts to dine at a green restaurant?
With those questions in mind, I conducted a study with Yung-Kuei Huang, an assistant professor at National I-Lan University in Taiwan, where we asked 386 consumers, 115 restaurant managers, and 80 owners to rate the importance of the exact 12 green practices that a restaurant can undertake on a 7-point Likert scale (1 = "Not Important At All"; 7 = "Extremely Important"). All informants resided in the United States at the time when the data was collected. The results are reported in the International Journal of Hospitality Management, including the following highlights:
The top 3 green attributes rated by restaurant consumers, managers, and owners
- Minimizing harmful waste (5.61 in a 7-point Likert scale)
- Participating in recycling programs (5.59)
- Using recyclable products, such as paper towels, toilet paper, take-out containers, and so on.
- Practicing energy efficiency and conservation (5.71)
- Practicing water efficiency and conservation (5.67)
- Serving organic food/ingredients (5.59)
- Serving organic food/ingredients (5.96)
- Serving locally grown food/ingredients (5.84)
- Practicing energy efficiency and conservation (5.70) + (tied) Practicing water efficiency and conservation (5.70)
Consumers' willingness to make extra efforts to patronize a green restaurant
When being asked if they believe consumers are willing to make extra efforts to patronize a green restaurant, owners (96.25%) are significantly more likely than managers (85.02%) and consumers (63.04%) to say "yes." In other words, close to 40% of consumers stated they were unwilling to make any extra efforts to dine at a green restaurant, whereas only 14.78% of managers and 3.75% of owners expected consumers would do nothing extra.
In this study, consumers' "extra efforts" were further measured with three different specific items, including "percentage increase in price," "increase in wait time," and "increase in travel distance." Once again, managers and owners are more optimistic than consumers, including:
- Percentage increase in price: 19.02% (average score among consumers) vs. 33.66% (managers) and 31.85% (owners)
- Increase in wait time (in minutes): 19.70 minutes (consumers) vs. 19.99 minutes (managers) and 23.69 minutes (owners)
- Increase in travel distance (in miles): 14.70 miles (consumers) vs. 21.30 miles (managers) and 29.80 miles (owners)
Conclusions and Implications
Consumers, managers, and owners of the restaurant business have their own priorities in terms of what green practices matter the most to a restaurant. Restaurant owners and managers are generally more optimistic than consumers on the extra efforts that a consumer would make to dine at a green restaurant. Restaurant managers and owners, as well as the suppliers who sell green products and restaurant equipment, are highly encouraged to refer to the research findings as they develop effective marketing communication strategies towards these three stakeholder groups.
It is good to see airlines, restaurants, and hotels are switching to more sustainable products because consumers expect more than just their own well-being. Are we doing enough in sustainable tourism? What immediate and future actions can restaurants take for our planet and a greener future?