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The City of Portland, Oregon

Sustainability at Work

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Restaurant Case Study

We visited Laughing Planet Café to see how this local restaurant chain is reducing costs and environmental impact by using more reusable durable dishware.

Durable dishware for “to-stay” customers

Christina Blanchard, the manager at Laughing Planet Café on SW 4th, noticed a problem: people were asking for their food to-go but eating in house. This meant Laughing Planet Café was buying disposable containers and then paying to have their container-filled waste bins emptied and hauled away. It also had an environmental cost, given the energy and raw materials needed to produce, transport and dispose of one-time-use containers.

So the team at Laughing Planet Café came up with ways to encourage customers to use more "real" dishware. Here's what they did:

To-go containers on a counter 
To-go containers are easily accessible for customers who want to pack up their leftovers.

  • Train staff: Staff ask customers if they’re eating at the cafe or taking their food away. If they plan to stay, staff serve food on durable dishware and let the customer know they can grab an easily accessible to-go container if they have leftovers.
  • Make to-go containers accessible: To-go containers are set out near condiments and silverware. Most customers never need them, but if they do have leftovers, they can grab one without having to wait for a staff person. By making containers accessible, customers feel more comfortable eating with a durable dish.
  • Change the default: Laughing Planet used to package every to-go order in a paper bag, with utensils and a handful of napkins. Now staff ask customers what they want, and the reduction in disposables has resulted in reduced costs and waste.
  • Observe customers’ behavior: Staff noticed some people took the foil wrapper completely off their burritos so they could eat it with a fork and knife. This was especially true for groups who met for lunch meetings at the Café. The solution? Offer burritos “naked.” Customers now can “Make it Naked” and skip the foil altogether.
    "Make it Naked" section of the overhead menu 

Durable cups

The team at Laughing Planet noticed another trend: customers were asking for their drinks to-go, even if they got their food to stay.  But their waste bins were still full of to-go cups, suggesting many customers were actually finishing their drinks onsite.

  • Train staff: Staff suggest customers get their drink in a “for here” cup and offer customers a free refill in a to-go cup if they want one before they leave.

Water station for customers

Self-service water station 

Laughing Planet Cafés set up a self-service water station near the condiments, with durable plastic cups (no disposable options).

This allows customers to get the amount of water they want and to refill their cup without having to wait for staff. It also saves staff time!

Staff mugs

Hannah Cooley, manager at the Mississippi Laughing Planet Café, noticed staff sometimes went through multiple disposable cups per shift. With many shifts per day, the cost of purchasing and disposing of all those cups added up.

So Laughing Planet started providing employees with durable mugs to use while at work, further reducing waste and engaging employees around sustainability.

Durable mugs for staff use 

  • Each employee gets their own Laughing Planet branded reusable cup that can be used for hot and cold beverages.
  • Staff label their mug, which is used, washed, and left in the staff mug area for their next shift.

Dishwashing, and valuing staff over stuff.

Moving from disposables to durables can have substantial cost savings – less stuff to buy, store and dispose of – but it does require more dishwashing.

When asked about this trade-off, downtown Laughing Planet Café manager Christina Blanchard confirmed that switching to more durables had saved them money and lead to hiring additional dishwashing staff. Christina saw this as good thing, explaining, “[it’s] more worthwhile to spend money on a person than napkins.”

As Laughing Planet’s staff have continued to find ways to reduce waste, many of the cost savings go back to employees in the form of better hours, higher wages, and paid days off for birthdays.

Tip: Motivate staff to look for ways to reduce waste and make durables work. Good ideas comes from all areas – kitchen, customer service and clean-up.

Questions? Ready to start using more reusable items in your workplace, but not sure where to start? Contact us!