Restaurant menu design could impact carbon

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A study using hypothetical restaurant menus suggests that default climate-friendly options and labels showing each dish’s carbon footprint can influence diners’ food choices and the resulting environmental effects. Ann-Katrin Betz and colleagues from Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg, Germany, present these findings in the open-access journal PLOS Climate.

Previous research has shown that an individual’s food choices significantly affect their personal carbon footprint. However, most studies examining factors that influence environmentally friendly food choices have focused on the purchase of groceries consumed at home.

To broaden understanding, Betz and his colleagues explored how restaurant menu design might influence diners’ climate choices. They created nine hypothetical menus to test two design approaches: carbon labels showing the amount of greenhouse gas emissions associated with each dish and, for dishes whose components can be changed, defining the component by fault on a low or high level. – issue option.

In an online study, 256 volunteers each selected one dish from each of nine hypothetical menus, which varied in cuisine, presence of modifiable dishes, climate friendliness of default options, and presence of carbon labels. An example of such a dish was a couscous salad which could be ordered with beef (high emission), shawarma (poultry; medium emission) or falafel (low emission). This appears to be the first published study to simultaneously explore the effects of default options and carbon labels on food choice.

Statistical analysis of the results showed that participants selected more climate-friendly dishes when carbon labels were present, as well as when the default options consisted of low-emission options rather than high-emission options. These findings are consistent with findings from previous studies that have explored the two approaches separately.

These results suggest that restaurateurs could use both carbon labels and low-emission default options in an effort to reduce their business’ carbon footprint. Meanwhile, the researchers note that more research is needed to inform these strategies, including investigations into the interactions between the two approaches, the impact of personal habits – such as vegetarianism – on menu choices and choices menus in real contexts.

The authors add: “If we want more climate-friendly restaurant visits, highlighting the components of dishes on a menu can really be an important parameter because it communicates what is normal and recommended. It’s also perhaps one of the easiest things for restaurateurs to do.”


In your coverage, please use this URL to provide access to the article available for free in PLOS Climate:

Quote: Betz AK, Seger BT, Nieding G (2022) How can carbon labels and climate-friendly default options on restaurant menus help reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with meals? PLOS Clim 1(5): e0000028.

Author countries: Germany

Funding: The authors have not received any specific funding for this work.

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