Get noticed for creative use and reuse of sustainable materials and fixtures

(re)Claiming style
By André LaRivière
September 20, 2011


Get noticed for creative use and reuse of sustainable materials and fixtures

While there is no shortage of opportunities to ‘go green’ in most every foodservice operation, the fact is that they’re most often found in the back-of-house and not in plain sight for diners to appreciate (and applaud).

As more and more menus and beverage lists embrace local, sustainable products, both restaurant operators and their customers are looking elsewhere for tangible evidence of a comprehensive, considered commitment to a greener future. And the best place to look is right upfront.

Beyond upgrading to cost-saving, energy-efficient equipment, ventilation and lighting, every renovation ‘makeover’ or new construction offers a wide variety of opportunities to build in some leading-edge sustainable materials, along with perhaps some creative reuse of existing ‘stuff,’ in the dining room and other front-of-house areas.

Best of all, incorporating recycled or reclaimed materials requires no compromise of modern, leading-edge design and style. In fact, it’s clearly the reverse.

Here are just a few conspicuous examples of how put your sustainability efforts on display:

Walls and floors

When it’s feasible, attractive and supports your concept, it’s hard to go wrong with stripping down to original vintage brick or stone walls and hardwood floorboards. 

However, when you need to cover up and over, there are many fresh and refreshed options. There are many types of woven and other textured, wall treatments made from 100 per cent recycled paper and fibres.  Create feature walls and room dividers with bamboo, natural grasses, recycled aluminum tiles or glass block panels.

Nethris/CGI Jan - 2016

Under your feet in the dining room or bar, wood flooring created from reclaimed planks is becoming easier to find and contributes a noticeably distinctive and distinguished look.

Tables and chairs

Reclaimed woods, from restructured vintage tables, doors and other sources, are also being assembled into new tabletops and banquettes coated with non-toxic, environmentally-friendly finishes.

To combine new with some used, you can turn to elegant and eye-catching wood substitute materials, such as PaperStone or Kirei. As well, an increasing number of wholesalers are offering refinished and/or re-upholstered versions of their classic seating options.

Other classic chairs are being re-imagined with new materials. One of the best examples is the aluminum Emeco Navy111 chair, now available in 100 per cent recycled plastic sourced from Coca-Cola in the U.S. It’s sturdy and superbly finished, and ‘raises the bar’ on plastic chairs.

Another option, especially if your concept style runs to the eclectic side, is to contrast modern building design elements with a collection of one-of-a-kind pieces, such as vintage bar stools.

Counters, bars and cabinetry

As it always has, a bar top is an excellent place to feature something unique, such as a zinc covering. Recycled mixed glass, whether as tiles or full countertop surfaces, can create a functionally elegant resting place for cocktails.

Another unique look is to use lumber reclaimed from bowling lanes, complete with inlayed markers and ‘foul lines,’ and reshaped into table tops for sports bars and sports-themed operations. But the sports connection isn’t a necessity; veteran executive chef Tim May recently used reclaimed bowling lanes as counter tops at his Red Can Gourmet catering operation in Tofino, BC.

Sustainability can also be found in using materials that were thought to be unusable. Whistler, BC’s Alta Bistro used wood harvested from pine-beetle damaged forests, which features a unique pale blue shading, to build its dining room cabinetry and open shelving.

The green outdoors

Adding a green touch doesn’t stop at your operation’s interior spaces. On the patio, start with flooring tiles made of recycled rubber tires and top them with tables and benches made of 100% recycled plastic poly-lumber.

Of course, the ultimate convergence of sustainable foodservice design and operations would be to add a (seasonal) living green wall of herbs or planters for an edible garden…contributing very-local ingredients to your menu.

While any or all of these initiatives may very well speak for themselves, it’s also important to proudly and effectively point out your built-in sustainable amenities to your guests, through a menu insert or discreetly placed sign in the foyer or restroom area to spark customer inquiries and comments.

You’re sure to find it’s one of the most satisfying aspects of going green.

See also:

About the author:

André LaRivière is executive director of the Green Table Network, a Vancouver-based organization helping operators, suppliers and diners across Canada to put ‘sustainability on the menu.’ Find more information at

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