The following is drawn from Wolf’s article in QSR Magazine:
The good news is that no one is expected to turn green overnight, but brands are expected to be truthful about their progress. “Restaurants should be honest about the extent to which they’re green. It’s OK to say you’re taking steps and not where you want to be,” Roth says.
Roth’s “secret green sauce” recipe to help avert the skeptical activist is to “prove it conclusively.” He cites the Green Restaurant Association, which is a third-party endorser of legitimate green practices by restaurants that has been around for 15 years but only recently gotten the industry’s attention. “I’m enthusiastic about their methodology because it’s about progress: It’s easy to enter, but to maintain affiliation you have to get progressively better every year,” he says.
In terms of getting the word out, social-media vehicles seem to be the method of choice among the experts I spoke with. Menken says that since it is only the activists and business people who have been getting the word out about green practices, “quick serves need to reinvigorate their messaging by going directly to the consumer. In the consumer space and the restaurant industry, these companies need to directly engage customers through blogs, online, and Twitter. Skip the influencer and go peer to peer.”
Roth agrees. “It’s a new paradigm,” he says. “With the development of social media, companies who are effectively communicating green practices are engaging their customers through this medium. Engage your own consumer as if you, the entrepreneur, are involved. It’s a communal premise—it’s not advertising.”
Benchmarks and Basics
That premise is exactly what seems to have helped Amanda West launch her restaurant, Amanda’s, in Berkeley, California, in 2008 that serves “quick-service foods that are better for both customers and the environment.” West’s background as a blogger on healthy and enviro-friendly living gave her the perfect forum, and credibility, for attracting dozens of local media, including television, restaurant guides, eco-publications, and other grassroots endorsements to create buzz about her store and attract patrons.
“I started out doing monthly e-mail newsletters to anyone I met,” West says, including to a local news reporter she met at a city council meeting who became Amanda’s first TV interview. “Networking is really effective. I met a woman at a Chamber of Commerce meeting who does East Bay green tours. We’re the first stop of the tour.”
West says she also donates a lot to community organizations involved with health and the environment, including the local public radio station. “A lot of people say they heard about us from that,” she says.
In some ways, small-scale operators like West may have an advantage in the green marketing trend. For example, a large company can promote its groundbreaking sustainability program on a national level, but still miss the local piece that consumers experience.
No matter the size of the quick serve, West’s advice is that “it is important to be authentic when you’re marketing. People appreciate our Google spreadsheet we embedded in our Web site that says what we’re doing well and what could do better. That’s really transparent. If you say you’re doing something well, why not say what you’d like to do better?”