A culture of sustainability innovation at Restaurant Associates

Catering 8 min read

How Restaurant Associates are empowering staff to own ESG 

Restaurant Associates sits within Compass Group UK & Ireland, whose mission is to deliver exceptional hospitality for workplaces and venues across the UK and Ireland.  

The clients they work with span quite a few sectors, as well as some of the UK’s top visitor attractions – from financial institutions to media companies, museums, stately homes, and even zoos! 

We caught up with Luxagini Dayanandan, Head of ESG across the entire Restaurant Associates client portfolio, who talked us through their roadmap to net zero, and what differentiates their approach to sustainability versus other caterers – both within Compass and across the wider catering sector. 

Can you tell us a bit about Restaurant Associates and your role within the business?

Luxey: “We’ve got three main arms of the business – Classics, Venues and Rapport. Classics spans corporate clients in Business and Industry, and Venues covers visitor attractions like zoos and museums. We’ve also got Rapport, our Facilities Management side of the business.

I’m Head of ESG, and I look after our roadmap to Net Zero and our sustainability strategy across Restaurant Associates. 

We’re a bit different to other brands within Compass, as we really focus on the dining experience we provide, and on making that as exciting as possible for our customers.”

Net Zero by 2030: A time-bound and measurable roadmap across scopes 1, 2 and 3

What sustainability targets are you working towards at Restaurant Associates, and how are you measuring progress towards those? 

Luxey: “Because we sit within Compass UK and Ireland – who are our parent brand – we share a lot of their targets. Like other Compass brands, we’re on a journey to Net Zero by 2030.

And that high-level roadmap has been validated by the Science Based Targets initiative, which means that all our goals are time-bound, measurable and cover scopes 1, 2 and 3.

What we’ve done at Restaurant Associates though is to take that target and turn it into a roadmap that works for the unique attributes of the business that we work with, and what that means for us.” 

Sourcing, society and environment: the three core pillars of Restaurant Associates’ sustainability strategy

What does your sustainability roadmap look like at Restaurant Associates? What makes your approach unique to other catering brands?

We’ve built our roadmap around three main areas – sourcing, society and environment.

We also have a 3 star accreditation from the Sustainable Restaurants Association in the Food Made Good standard. This underpins our approach to hospitality, and we’re the only Compass sector that holds a 3 star accreditation, so we’re really proud of that.  

It aligns with our ethos because our offering sits more on the premium side of the hospitality spectrum. This year, we’re working on re-accreditation for this – the framework has changed slightly, so we’re planning on reevaluating whether we meet those standards, and hopefully we do. 

Not only is the SRA accreditation a really great external accolade, but it’s great for business, too.  It instils confidence – both for existing and current clients – because they can see what we’re saying we’re doing has been validated by an external body. 

The Restaurant Associates Roadmap to Net Zero

How are you getting Restaurant Associates staff onboard with the ambitious initiatives you’ve got going on? 

Internal engagement and comms are just so important in making any of our sustainability work stick. Without our operational teams onside, it won’t work!

At Restaurant Associates I founded a group called Climate Club, which brings teams together face-to-face on a monthly basis. We have everyone from Ops Managers, to Marketeers, Head Chefs, and Front of Line teams, who come together as our Green Champions to share best practice and any innovative approaches they’ve developed at their sites.

“Me and my team, we’re subject matter experts, but Climate Club is a way for us to empower our staff on the ground  to become experts, too

For example, if a site has successfully eliminated single use plastics, or implemented reusable food-to-go containers, they can present their work back as a case study. From a leadership perspective, it’s a great forum for promoting initiatives and getting stakeholder engagement, too, if there’s something new we’re introducing. 

I think it’s so valuable for our staff – not only so they can understand our strategy and cascade that down to their teams, but so they can feel confident to have those conversations with their clients, and articulate what we’re doing in a way that’s not misleading or greenwashing. Me and my team, we’re subject matter experts, but Climate Club is our culture piece to empower people to become experts, too. 

Giving teams the autonomy to approach sustainability in a way that works for them 

Can you give us some examples of how chefs and onsite teams have collaborated with clients to create their own approach to sustainability? 

We’re lucky in that our operational on-site teams are really forward thinking – they often come up with quite innovative ideas in partnership with the client. And out of all the Compass brands, we probably give our teams the most autonomy to do that. 

We’ve had one that implemented a circularity model – funded by the client – where employees used reusable containers that are then dropped back at the site and used again the next day. Another uses wonky fruit and veg for their juice station. Some use coffee grounds in brownies, leftover porridge in muffins, you name it. We’ve got some really creative chefs doing pickling and fermenting, which our clients love. 

All those cool ideas and recipes that our team have come up with are collated in our Zero Waste cookbook, so that other sites can see what they’re doing. That’s really helping us create a culture of sharing and learning from one another. 

Let’s talk about food waste! Was there a reason you first started working with Olio across your sites to redistribute food to the local community? 

We’ve got such innovative chef teams, but sometimes having food left at the end of each day just can’t be avoided – sadly that’s the nature of this sector! But partnering with Olio is helping us with that final part of the journey when we really can’t avoid food waste, and helping us make sure it reaches people who need it. 

Olio has an impressive reach and you’ve got so many volunteers in London. For us, with such a big concentration of our sites being in London, we knew we could have a really powerful impact on the communities surrounding our clients via Olio. And we have been able to do that. 

“We love that we can track the impact we’re having in such clear terms” 

An example of the impact reports that Olio shares with catering sites

On the reporting side,  we love that we can track the impact we’re having in such clear terms via Olio’s impact reports. That helps us link everything back to our Net Zero Roadmap, and that social pillar of our strategy, too.

Plus – your founders’ story is very empowering! We recently learnt about Olio’s origins and how Tessa and Saasha’s were two mums on a mission to solve the problem of food waste – it all feels very authentic. Saasha recently spoke at our Compass Climate Summit and everyone was really engaged. 

At a site level, what’s the feedback you get from your teams on their work with Olio? 

From our sites, I’ve heard that there’s a really good level of flexibility and communication. Your team is always really responsive, and very quick to come back to us if there’s been an issue with a pick-up for whatever reason. 

From clients, we’re still at the early stages, but I know many are using Olio’s impact reports to promote internally to their clients and externally on platforms like Linkedin. It’s really nice to see them getting involved like that. 

For my team and centrally within Restaurant Associates, it’s been so helpful that your reporting uses standardised, credible frameworks to quantify impact. It’s difficult when things aren’t standardised across our industry, but it’s great that Olio has this substantiated methodology – it makes our life much easier!

Is there anything you’d add on how Olio helps Restaurant Associates deliver social impact? 

Luxey: “There are such huge issues with food insecurity up and down the nation – with so many visiting food banks and  struggling just to make ends meet – both because of the cost of living crisis and food inflation too. 

Especially in bigger cities like London, Bristol and Manchester, for us, partnering with Olio doesn’t just mean we’re doing the right thing. We’re delivering something really tangible – meals – that will measurably improve the lives of local people.” 

Want to learn how Olio could help your catering business cut out food waste, support communities and make faster progress to Net Zero? Get in touch with our team today