More than half (56 percent) of diners would pay more for a meal if they knew the restaurant was investing in reducing its environmental impact and taking its social responsibility seriously, according to new research from the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA). Some 43 percent of diners would pay up to 10 percent more for a meal in a sustainable restaurant.
The Discerning Diner: How consumers’ attitudes to eating out have become more sophisticated is based on the findings of consumer research by the SRA, which was supported by Unilever.
The survey of 1,000 people across the UK, carried out by Populus, shows a significant shift in diners’ priorities. Food waste, health and nutrition, and locally sourced produce are the three top issues on which diners want restaurants to focus.
When the SRA asked consumers the same question in 2009, they ranked local sourcing, employee treatment and organic as their highest priorities. Only five percent of those asked this time ranked organic as one of their main concerns, compared with 45 percent when the survey was first conducted in 2009. The SRA says price, and the public perception that the argument for organic has not advanced in recent years, are the main factors behind this decline in interest.
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Mark Linehan, Managing Director of the SRA, says the results demonstrate that the dining public has adopted a broader, more informed approach to eating out and now expects more from the restaurants in which they eat, even if diners remain reluctant to ask outright.
“In 2009 diners’ priorities were focused very much on the food on their plates,” Linehan said. “These latest findings show that the dining public is taking a more sophisticated approach, recognizing the importance of wider issues like food waste and health and nutrition. Customers are building on their awareness of how the range of issues affects them personally, towards an awareness of how it affects society as a whole.”
“This increased understanding has been aided by much wider mainstream coverage and discussion in the media,” he added.
SRA says that increased interest in these issues has fueled diners’ desire for more information and diners do not feel restaurants tell them enough about the things that matter to them most — some 85 percent say they know little or nothing about the social and environmental standards of the restaurants in which they eat, while almost exactly the same number (84 percent) want restaurants to tell them more about their own sustainability.
According to the survey, diners want to hear more in particular about the three issues that matter most to them: food waste, health and nutrition and locally sourced produce. Only six percent of those asked said restaurants they ate in communicated what they were doing about food waste.
Diners also want to know more about what is in their food, SRA says. 81 percent think restaurants should be more transparent about what is in the meals they serve and 89 percent said they didn’t receive any information about the nutritional value of their meal.
In another recent report, the Center for Culinary Development (CCD) conjectured that a growing consumer awareness of the vulnerable state of the global environment and food supply, along with increased education about ecologically sound foods, will lead to a long-term increase in environmentally conscious eating.