A new type of restaurant-goer values taste, quality, and sustainability

Today’s diners want to know where their food comes from as well as how it tastes
Reviewing crops
Checking crop health
Sustainable restaurant kitchen
Training restaurant staff to understand sustainability practices
Cook TREEHOUSE line cooks use the entire vegetable including the root and peel
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Irresistible dining experiences are on offer in eco-friendly eateries

Over the past several years, a new type of restaurant-goer has begun to transform Hong Kong’s dining landscape: foodies who value not only taste, quality, and ambience, but sustainability.

The change has begun to affect restaurants from the luxury sector to fast food, but it began with a small number of higher-end trendsetters who were at the forefront. Peggy Chan, a plant-based chef who now operates Zero Foodprint Asia, was an early adopter. “I brought my own passion for sustainable consumption to my restaurant in Hong Kong, and it ran for eight years,” says Chan. “Now, as a consultant, I am starting to see more restaurants pick up on the ideas of sustainability and creating initiatives around it.”

Others saw it as part of a broader transition in consumer preferences. For Tony Higginbotham, Executive Chef at Le Meridien Hong Kong, Cyberport, the realisation came during an executive chef workshop focused on sustainability. “An external company analysed the trends, and showed that for guests throughout Greater China, where the fish comes from is now more important than how it’s cooked.”

Sustainable consumption

The journey begins with menu design, particularly with reducing the proportion of meat dishes. Chan comments, “I’m not saying it has to be all plant-based food. You can shift your menu away from eighty per cent meat to a forty per cent composition, and you will already see major changes.”

Chef Christian Mongrendre, founder of TREEHOUSE restaurant, agrees. “Our food is all plant-based and achieves a low carbon footprint.”

Even the concept of what makes a high-end meal has already been transformed. According to Higginbotham, “Now we include vegetarian, vegan, and sustainable choices: it’s a big contrast with before, when a big, hearty piece of beef is what customers wanted from a luxury menu.”

In addition, a close examination of the supply chain forms the core of any restaurant’s sustainability program. Chan says, “Most of the emissions are derived before the farm gate: land use, fertilisation, and machinery, and the energy they use.”

Fair trade produce

Availability of the right suppliers is crucial for restaurants who want to offer more options to diners. Mongendre points out, “When we first started, we found it incredibly difficult to source certain ingredients, spices, and plants to create our dishes. As a result, we had to import them ourselves. Now, this situation is improving.” Today, according to Future Green, a consultancy, vendors supply restaurants in Hong Kong with more products like fair trade coffee, tea, and sugar, cheese, organic cacao from Taiwanese farms, and even sustainable wine. At the recent Hong Kong Restaurant & Bar exhibition, products such as oat milk, organic vegetables, and compostable food packaging and utensils were on prominent display.

The nature conservancy

Much of the hard work of sustainability goes on behind the scenes – either in the offices or in the ‘back of house’, where diners rarely venture. In the kitchen, TREEHOUSE line cooks use the entire vegetable, including the root and peel, and any leftovers are turned into high-quality compost and replanted. Le Meridien donates more than 1,000 of its leftover oyster and mussel shells to The Nature Conservancy each month to help with reef building, while the remainder of its food waste goes to O·PARK1, a government food waste facility; its waste cooking oil goes to a biofuel producer.

Choose to reuse

Consumers also take direct action when choosing delivery options such as reusable or plant-based packaging. According to Ronald Ho, Head of Public Affairs and Sustainability at foodpanda Hong Kong, since 2021, foodpanda has sold 223,400 units of sustainable, plant-based bagasse packaging to vendors to meet this demand. This year, the delivery company’s focus is on the ‘Choose to Reuse’ pilot programme: foodpanda users pay a ten Hong Kong dollar deposit per container when they order food from the Reusable Box Menu and then return their empty containers to a container machine collection point to collect their deposit, along with foodpanda vouchers for their next order and Carbon Wallet points. More than 7,000 individuals have selected this option since the programme launched.

Environmentally conscious diners

As the purchasing power of today’s environmentally conscious Millennials and Gen Z grows, restaurants are watching closely. These younger consumers are already influencing menu options among mainstream establishments due to the ‘vegan veto’ phenomenon, whereby a single diner can influence a group’s choice. Figueiras comments, “I gave advice to a restaurant: if you have one vegan teenager and the family is looking to order dinner, then you have to have something on the menu for everyone.”

Plant-based and locally sourced ingredients

Fundamentally, however, Hong Kong’s chefs increasingly believe sustainability is an inextricable part of an attractive restaurant experience. ‘Individuals do not necessarily visit TREEHOUSE because of our approach to sustainability,’ says Mongendre. “Rather, they come to us for our high-quality, plant-based and locally sourced ingredients. Having said that, when clients do understand more about our brand values and proposition when being at the physical location, it is a happy surprise and an added bonus.”

Text Genevieve Hilton / Photos as indicated