Ethics has become a key business concern over the past few years, and not just for multinational corporations. Sustainable and moral practice is now expected of every business, no matter what its size or sector. However, in the food and drinks industry, companies have come to compete for the status of ‘ethical brand’ to the point where distinguishing what actually makes a business ethical can be difficult. As Food Navigator comment, “In the absence of an overarching definition of ‘ethical’, consumers are inundated with messages and logos about recycled paper, sustainable fishing, fair trade bananas, plant bottles, local sourcing and organics. Other firms promise to donate money to charity, plant trees or give away a pair of shoes for every product you buy.”
David Browne, senior analyst at Mintel, says, “There is a core group of committed consumers that will buy based on principles”, yet restaurants must appeal to not only dedicated eco-consumers. As Fair Trade USA Chief Impact Officer Mary Jo Cook told Food Navigator, “if price and quality [are] similar, most consumers would likely switch from one brand to another if it is associated with good causes.”
Business Case Studies suggest that ethical behaviour and corporate social responsibility may benefit businesses in numerous ways, including:
- Drawing customers to the firm's products, thereby boosting sales and profits.
- Making employees want to stay with the business, reducing labour turnover and increasing productivity.
- Attracting investors and keeping the company's share price high, thereby protecting the business from takeover.
With ethical practices becoming increasingly demanded by sectors and experts, increasingly appealing to consumers and increasingly easy to implement, maintaining best practice is something every food and drink outlet should be aspiring to. Here are the five key values that ethical businesses should emulate.
Before a food or beverage company can begin promoting their ethical activities in areas such as environmentalism, sustainability and fair trade, it is essential to build an ethical relationship with their customers. As Entrepreneurship points out: “A focus on your customers reinforces the responsibility you have to the market. Your decisions affect your people, your investors, your partners and ultimately, your customers. Serving all of these people is part of your ethical responsibility. Selling your customers short not only risks compromising your ethics, it also risks the long-term health of your company.”
A starting point for all businesses aspiring to ethical practice should be placing real value on their customers, listening to their feedback, catering to their needs and fostering a real sense of community among them. Loyalty points and rewards are a start, but real customer connection goes further. Bill Sledzik notes, “Ethical organizations are involved in the community. They encourage and reward employee volunteerism and often they donate money and resources to enhance quality of life for those around them.” Whether this is getting your brand involved in a local crowdfunding project or simply hosting a special evening for a sector of the community who you know would appreciate a chance to socialise, there are many ways restaurants can demonstrate a true loyalty to their customer community.
The core components of team value are similar to those of customer connection – respect, loyalty and compassion. Prospective restaurant business owners should aim for a hiring process that achieves a diverse team, and during business operation, should value that team highly. As Small Business explains, “An ethical business demonstrates respect for its employees by valuing opinions and treating each employee as an equal.” They continue, “Employees who work for a loyal employer want to maintain the relationship and will work harder toward that end.” From offering flexible working hours to those with family or educational commitments to providing emotional support at times of bereavement, treating staff with compassion is key.
Ensure that you are demonstrating loyalty by actively offering staff all of the employee rights they are entitled to, such as statutory sick pay, parental leave and paid holiday. The hospitality sector – particularly small or emerging businesses – often fall behind on this, but it is incredibly important to building a strong, dedicated team. Every single member of staff – even if they are on a casual or temporary contract – is entitled to these rights in some capacity. If staff recommend your company as employers, this will reflect well on your business as a whole. And after all, happy staff make for a good atmosphere on the restaurant floor. You can find out more about employee rights here.
Within the dining industry, a key focus is environmental sustainability. Begin by ethically sourcing everything from meat to soft drinks, spend the time searching for the most environmentally-friendly, sustainable brands. From there, Eat Out Magazine reports that, “most restaurants can cut their energy bills by as much as 20 per cent simply by implementing a series of simple efficiency measures to control their heating, air conditioning and lighting.”
These simple steps including ensuring you have the most energy-efficient models of dishwashers, freezers, fridges, boilers and lightbulbs, regularly servicing equipment to check for any energy-wasting problems and limiting hot water use. Minimising waste is both ethical and fashionable, as consumers love to see dishes where every part of an ingredient is used. You can also improve your company’s sustainability by simply educating staff to ensure they follow procedures such as ensuring equipment is not left on unnecessarily.
Whistleblower Security advises, “An ethical business has concern for anyone and anything impacted by the business. This includes customers, employees, vendors and the public.” Trading is a key area of good business ethics. Restaurants and bars should seek to buy ingredients from local producers and businesses wherever possible. Small Business again points to respect as a key value here, saying, “An ethical business respects its vendors, paying on time and utilizing fair buying practices.”
It is also important to research partner businesses’ own reputations before collaborating with them. This means investigation, but in order to be truly ethical this is a step that cannot be skipped. You may be conducting your own business morally, but if you are essentially financing a brand that engages in poor practice, this affects your own company’s ethicality. Buy food and drink products that are traded fairly, created in an environmentally-sustainable way, and that are created by a team who are treated fairly.
Transparency and reflexivity
Entrepreneurship explains, “Sticking to your beliefs might be the ultimate representation of good ethics.” It is not enough to fulfil the basic requirements for ethical procedure without following through with these principles through difficult situations. In order to be truly ethical, restaurants must be consistent and committed. However, businesses must also be transparent, letting consumers know where they stand on core issues, and reflexive – accepting feedback and reflecting on areas that could be improved. In this way alone will your company continue to grow and develop as an ethical leader.
As Environmental Leader insists, “a brand is a promise delivered… so consider what makes your brand unique from competitors and develop key initiatives to support that.” For your food and drink business to truly stand out in today’s increasingly socially-conscious culture, its ethics must stand up. Follow these five core steps and foster a commitment to correct practice, and your customers will listen.