Shake Shack founder says, ‘Do it. Don’t talk about it (sustainability initiatives) until asked.’
Speaking last week at Procter & Gamble’s first-ever Cleaner Products Cleaner Future Summit in Manhattan, Danny Meyer, Shake Shack’s founder and acclaimed restaurateur, said his sustainability choices have largely been done for “intuitive” rather than “intentional” reasons.
For instance, Union Square Café, his first restaurant, opened on 19th Street in 1985 because it was a block away from Union Square Park’s farmers market. French chefs went to farmers markets every morning to secure fresh ingredients and he “thought the food would be better” if his chefs did the same. He also knew that doing so held the added benefit of supporting local farmers.
His restaurants banned smoking 12 years before New York City did so because he didn’t want patrons going home “smelling like an ashtray.” His no-tip policy in 2015 focused on establishing “a more sustainable labor model” as wages for servers and bartenders had grown exponentially higher than cooks
His chefs have removed BLT from the menu in certain months because tomatoes are out of season and did away with filet minion because the whole animal couldn’t be used. Plastic straws were removed after one of his children showed him pictures of tortured sea turtles. He said of his kids, “Every time we don’t do the right thing, we hear about it.”
Indeed, sustainable choices are about “doing the right thing,” he said.
Getting the sustainability message out is more challenging. “Local” and “seasonal,” he estimates, is written on 80 percent of restaurant websites.
Even though he has taken these steps, Mr. Meyer’s rule is to refrain from talking about sustainability efforts “unless they ask.” A lesson about withholding information until people are ready came in his early days running Gramercy Tavern. Extensive knowledge on the wide range of cheeses available was shared after meals, but Mr. Meyer found a majority of diners felt the servers “just wasted 12 minutes of my life.”
At the same time, Mr. Meyer noted with recipes easily found online, a restaurant now has to stand out for more than “great food,” and one aspect could be sustainability. He said, “The thing that‘s going to make you fall in love with a place is to have stories. When you leave there, you feel better and we left you with something that you can share with your friends.”
- Cleaner Products Cleaner Future Summit – Procter & Gamble
- Are You Ready for the Honest Generation? – The Consumer Goods Forum/CSRwire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What lessons might retailers and brands learn from Danny Meyer’s approach to sustainability and transparency? Do you think a “don’t tell until asked” about sustainability rule makes sense for consumer goods and retail?