Saying 'No Thanks' to Restaurant Waste

There is a huge amount of waste at quick-service restaurants

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By David Hammond

I like Five Guys well enough. In fact, last week, I ate there twice in a 24-hour period (it’s located across from FFC, and after a workout, a burger sounds so good).

It took those two trips to bring home the fact that there is a huge amount of waste at quick-service restaurants.

Both times I went to Five Guys, I found myself leaving behind six or so of the eight or so napkins they gave me, plus water cup, paper peanut boat, aluminum foil and inner wrapper, and bag – this last seeming totally unnecessary for those who dine in.

I understand that sanitation requirements probably make some of this waste necessary, but I’ve consistently been given three times as many napkins as I need, and this is bad because such waste:

* Is obviously eco-insensitive; it wastes perfectly good paper by providing, in some cases, at least twice as much as necessary.

* Cuts into profits. I’m not sure how much Five Guys spends on napkins a year, but it would surely help their bottom line to cut costs for that items by 50% or more.

* Teaches people that wanton waste is part of the deal in America. I believe restaurants are centers of education: without our knowing it, they school us in what’s important and how to live. Chicago restaurants like Uncommon Ground, Province and any of Rick Bayless’ places put a premium on being as green as  possible. Dining at these places, one becomes more ecologically aware; dining at Five Guys, one becomes numb to ecological implications.

So, the next time I order at Five Guys, I’m going to say, in the friendliest tone of voice of I can muster, “Hey, please just give me two napkins, okay? I’ll try to eat less like a pig than usual, and you can save some money on paper costs.”

It’s a small step…but it’s a start.


Reader Comments

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Parker from OP  

Posted: December 22nd, 2011 4:34 PM

It would be better in lots of ways if a restaurant like 5 G's used reusable service, hired people to collect and clean the plates and what not. That would be a real business appropriate to a progressive community keeping the environment and workers in their plan.

David Hammond from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: December 20th, 2011 11:26 AM

Dave, yes, absolutely. People always seem to grab a fistful of napkins and use about half. As I recall, Falafill in Chicago (and, we're told, soon in Oak Park) has napkin dispensers that permit only one to be extracted each time, thus reducing the tendency to grab a bunch. It makes ecological and economic sense: less resources used, less landfill required for disposal.

Dave Coulter  

Posted: December 20th, 2011 7:52 AM

This might be a good time to ask people not to take 20 napkins, etc for one meal also!


Posted: December 19th, 2011 3:46 PM

Maybe thats why 5 Guys is expensive. To pay for all the free stuff they give you.

Tim from DPROP  

Posted: December 19th, 2011 2:59 PM

I agree with your sentiment although the amount of napkins at Five Guys is justified considering how messy the burgers are.

Phil of Ideas  

Posted: December 19th, 2011 1:28 PM

The extra napkins are to keep the grease from the fries from eating throught the brown paper bag.

Lisa Miller Browdy from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: December 19th, 2011 1:04 PM

I agree, David! We should all do our part to reduce excess waste. I seldom visit fast-food places (except Chipotle, which lets you take exactly the amount of napkins you need, and uses antibiotic-free meat as well), but I sometimes keep those extra napkins in my car, where they tend to come in handy.

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