Restaurant to-go food in containers

As we recently passed another trip around the sun to celebrate the 51st Anniversary of Earth Day, it got us thinking: What can we do in the restaurant industry to help the efforts now, and in the future, considering this year’s theme, “Restore Our Earth.” Pre-Covid, sustainability efforts were beginning to creep up onto every restaurant owner’s radar as a major consideration; however, when owners were forced to shut down and let go of countless staff members, that spot on the radar faded into the distance and everything became strictly about survival.

During this week’s Tip Share, RASI New Business Strategist, Dave Downs, sits down with the RASI Purchasing Department, and honored guests, Jake Handy with P&R Paper, and long-time RASI Client, Shawn Walchef, and Eric Olafsen of Cali Comfort BBQ out in San Diego. Restaurant owners can have a major world impact and start the snowball effect of others going green – for the future of our planet, our kids, and ultimately our corporate social responsibility as an industry, and here’s what that looks like.

The Future of Compostable Restaurant Items

Before the pandemic occurred, sustainability was on the rise; it was then swiftly placed on the back burner as owners and operators had other agendas on which to focus. As the ice has slowly begun to melt, the topic of compostable items and sustainable packaging has once again started to emerge from the darkness. Operators are once again asking about their options, but as with anything in the restaurant industry, going green doesn’t come without its own set of complications. An unavoidable fact of going green is the higher pricing that comes hand in hand. Jake Handy, Territory Manager at P&R Paper in California has seen this conundrum firsthand, but he’s also seen some operators take alternate routes to mitigate the higher pricing. An option? Some restaurant owners are opting to charge the customer more to help offset the price of sustainable packaging.

It’s going to take time for operators to feel comfortable paying for higher pricing within packaging, and not all operators feel comfortable charging their customers for the higher price either. Still reeling from the effects of shutdowns and regulations, many operators are choosing to stick with the cheapest option; not only because it’s price-conscious, but because for some food, foam just so happens to work better. For Eric, GM & Cali Comfort BBQ, foam simply can’t be beaten when it comes to keeping barbecue hot and consumer-ready. Although Eric has opted to utilize foam in order to keep the integrity of the food at the highest standard, there are still other areas he and his team have been able to focus on shifting towards sustainability until foam has a sustainable equivalent; Moving from plastic carrying bags to paper bags is an area where he’s realized he can start the process of a greener future.

Cali Comfort Owner, Shawn Walchef agrees that a greener future is critical, and every restaurant owner has to face the inner challenge of making it a priority, although it’s absolutely going to take a mental and operational shift to understand how to successfully implement greener stands across brands without losing out on the quality of your food. Owners should start taking the steps to understand how they can help towards a more sustainable future, even if the change is as seemingly small and simple as changing from plastic bags to paper bags.

“All these factors are going directly into a restaurant owner’s decision-making process. It’s like yes, I want to have a sexy to-go box for my ribs, but is that also going to work for brisket? Is that going to work for pulled pork? That’s exactly why we need to have great partners to help us work through those issues and let the experts guide us in proper packaging.”

– Shawn Walchef, Owner, Cali Comfort BBQ

Working With The Right Partners For Proper Packaging

Proper To-Go Packing Protects Your BrandAs many full-service restaurants are painfully aware, the shutdowns forced owners and operators to look at a new way of doing business. Cali Comfort pivoted to just doing takeout and delivery. They went from solely utilizing Door Dash as their third-party vendor to adding UberEats and GrubHub as well. They focused on working with technology that integrated their 3rd Party Vendors into their Point Of Sale System, and they optimized their indoor dining setup to focus directly on that to-go service by turning it into a mini-factory for packing to-go bags with all the necessary accouterments. They implemented digital systems to ensure their new to-go process was successful, and finally, they focused very specially on their packaging to make sure quality and cost were accordingly met.

The top 5 steps to selecting proper packaging, for Shawn and Eric, were asking themselves the following questions:

  • What menu items are we going to sell to-go?
    • Cali Comfort decided to focus on what they do best – Barbecue. They got rid of breakfast Saturday and Sunday, which was a lot of items, and items that are always harder to pull off when it comes to to-go.
  • How are we going to package those items?
  • How are we going to brand that packaging?
  • Where can we meet sustainability goals in our packaging?
  • What’s the cost association?

“Is it [sustainability] the most important thing for us right now? No. Should it be? Yes. I know it’s going to be important to my kids to know how much trash we go through. I understand how important it is that we as leaders in the restaurant space work to go green. It starts with us and we have to figure out a solution and simply say, we’re going to prioritize this. We need it to fit into our budget, we need it to fit into our branding and we need it to be important. That’s the goal of Cali Comfort and that’s what we’re trying to work on as a part of the social fabric in our community and world.”

– Shawn Walchef, Owner, Cali Comfort BBQ

Finding the right paper distributor to collaboratively work together towards finding quality and the end goal of both the product and sustainability, all while remaining cost-effective, is essential to every restaurant operator moving forward with the to-go-heavy direction of the industry. Since working with P&R Paper, Shawn and Eric have seen savings of around 30% on their packaging, while keeping quality at a high standard to make sure their brand is protected.


Pickup & Delivery Trends In 2021

In 2021 and beyond, digital is the name of the game. The equation to solve for Shawn and Eric at Cali Comfort? How do they make more barbecue, and get it out to more of San Diego, and how do they do that in an all-digital way? The second half of the equation Shawn knows better than anyone; in fact, his Podcast is even graced with the namesake “Digital Hospitality.” Shawn is, in his own right, a restaurant media mogul. He’s used his ability to story-tell, support his community, and support his peers to create his digital brand for Cali Comfort BBQ in a way that stands out among the sea of barbecue restaurants across the nation. He’s now catapulted his digital prowess to solve the first piece of the puzzle to tackle the pickup & to-go operations moving forward. Shawn and his team converted 60% of their on-premise dining into a master smokehouse, with the addition of 10 “friendly ghost kitchens.” They’ve also opened the bar back up within the restaurant as well, and aren’t bringing back servers, but they are bringing back bartenders. You see, customers will be able to sit at the bar, order from a QR code on their phone, pay via mobile, buy a beer, and wait for their hot, fresh, perfectly packaged bbq. Restaurant quality food and service at the fingertips of the customer, all within the comforts of their own phone.