Restaurant menus can affect the carbon footprint of eating out: Study
Ann-Katrin Betz and colleagues at Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg, Germany, present these findings in the open access journal
Previous research has shown that an individual’s food choices significantly affect their personal carbon footprint. However, most studies examining the factors that influence environmentally sound food choices have focused on home-cooked grocery purchases.
To broaden their understanding, Betz and colleagues explored how restaurant menu design can influence diners’ climate-appropriate choices.
They created nine hypothetical menus to test two design approaches: carbon labels showing the greenhouse gas emissions associated with each dish, and — for dishes with modifiable ingredients — set default component to low or high -emission option.
Effect of carbon labels on food choices
In an online study, 256 volunteers each chose one dish from each of nine hypothetical menus, culinary diversity, variable availability of dishes, friendliness with the climate of the default selection and the presence of the carbon label.
An example of such a dish is
The couscous salad can be ordered with beef (high emission), shawarma (poultry; medium emission) or falafel (low emission).
This appears to be the first study published to simultaneously explore the impact of default options and carbon labels on food choices.
Statistical analysis of the results showed that participants chose more climate-friendly dishes when carbon was labeled, as well as when the default value included lower emission options was high.
These findings are consistent with results from previous studies that explored two distinct approaches.
These findings suggest that
Restaurant operators can use both carbon labels and low emission default options in an effort to reduce the carbon footprint of their business.
Meanwhile, the researchers note that more research is needed to inform such strategies, including investigation of the interaction between the two approaches, the impact of individual habits – such as vegetarian – for menu choices and menu choices in real-world environments.
The authors add: “If we want to drive more visits to a climate-friendly restaurant, highlighting ingredients on menus can actually be an important metric because it communicates doing what’s normal and recommended. It can also be one of the easiest things a restaurant owner can do.”