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Besides helping the environment, what other benefits can restaurants see from green food packages?

Restaurant curbside pickup evolved from the old-fashioned takeout service and has gained momentum since COVID. Restaurateurs embrace the concept, and consumers want it. Curbside pickup will remain an essential restaurant distribution method even after the pandemic.

Do off-premises restaurant services add a burden to the environment?

The surge of restaurant off-premises services (curbside pickup, takeout, or delivery) could harm the environment because many retailers use food containers and packages made of plastic for one-time usage. Research shows that our world populations produce 130 million tons of single-use plastic a year (including more than food packages here), but in the U.S., only 8% of all plastic products get recycled.

Some restaurants have begun using more sustainable materials in food packaging (e.g., disposable containers). Their efforts deserve a round of applause! Nevertheless, it is unclear if their good deeds can also bring them monetary rewards. For example, can green food packages help restaurants attract new and retain existing customers for the curbside pickup service?

The Study

To address those questions in mind, I worked with Dr. Michael Lin at Hong Kong Polytechnic University on a research project. We published the results in the International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, answering three research questions:

  1. Do green food packages affect consumers’ purchasing decisions before trying a restaurant’s curbside pickup service for the first time?
  2. What effects do green food packages have on consumers’ overall experience of a restaurant’s curbside pickup service after trying it?
  3. What ripple effects do green food packages have on the restaurant’s business, such as positive word-of-mouth (WOM) behavioral intentions, extra efforts to purchase in the restaurant, and (increased) share of future purchases?

We examined the consumers’ curbside pickup process under the service encounters framework and collected 314 valid questionnaires for statistical analysis. We analyzed the data with a choice experiment, ordinary least squares regression, and PROCESS modeling.

Finding 1: Factors Affecting New Customers’ Purchasing Decisions 

Green food packages have no effects at this stage. The two influential factors are:

  1. WOM encounter --- having over 80% positive reviews from major social media platforms (vs. having mixed 50/50 reviews).
  2. Function encounter --- having an app or a website for ordering food and tracking the order online (vs. calling to order)

Finding 2: Factors Affecting Consumers’ First-Time Curbside Pickup Experience

After trying the service for the first time, what affects their satisfaction becomes:

  1. Service results encounter, e.g., food temperature, quality, hygiene, etc.
  2. Distributor encounter, e.g., courtesy of the servers, wait time, etc.

Surprisingly, consumers perceiving low importance of restaurant green practices tend to have a significantly higher rating of their experience when they see a restaurant using green food packages. It is plausible that this group of consumers see green food packages as a “delightful” add-on to the curbside pickup service, boosting their positive feeling about the order.

Finding 3: Green Food Packages’ Ripple Effects 

  1. Positive experiences will lead to positive WOM intentions toward curbside pickup and then toward the restaurant providing the service.
  2. Positive WOM intentions toward the restaurant will eventually lead to an increased share of future purchases in the restaurant.
  3. Using green food packages can increase consumers' efforts to purchase curbside pickup through their satisfaction, which further leads to an increased share of future purchases in the restaurant.
  4. Consumers who appreciate green restaurant practices are more willing to travel farther, pay a higher price, and/or wait longer for the service if the restaurant uses green food packages.

What Do the Results Mean to Restauranteurs and Policymakers?

  • Both restaurants and third-party ordering websites/apps must feature visual content (e.g., food and beverage pictures and green food packages) to attract new customers.
  • Restaurants should encourage satisfied customers to post positive online reviews of the restaurant.
  • They should also respond to those negative reviews to show they have addressed the service failure issues.
  • Providing high-quality F&B items and friendly service is still the key to customer satisfaction in curbside pickup.
  • If using green food packages, restaurants should communicate their efforts and initiatives clearly with their target customers.
  • Policymakers may consider both the costs and benefits (ripple effects) of using green food packages as they encourage or require restaurants to use green food packages for all off-premises services.

The Conclusion

No study is perfect. While there are limitations with this research, our work confirms that the influential factors on consumers’ curbside pickup experiences can shift as they move from the pre- to post-consumption stage. Using green food packages might not help attract new customers. Still, it comes with many positive effects beyond benefiting our planet at the later stages of the experience.

When you order takeout, delivery, or curbside pickup service from a restaurant, do you pay attention to its food packages? How much do green food packages affect your overall experience and repurchase behaviors?

Note: This article is also published on Hospitality News Magazine publishes an even shorter highlight of this research. 


  1. Dr. Kwok,
    Restaurant curbside pickup has indeed evolved significantly, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. While it offers convenience to consumers and has become a staple in the industry, it's crucial to consider its impact on the environment. The surge in off-premises services has led to an increase in single-use plastic packaging, contributing to environmental issues.
    Your research on the use of green food packages in off-premises dining services is intriguing. It highlights the importance of sustainable practices in the hospitality industry. It's encouraging to see that consumers' perceptions of green food packages can positively impact their overall experience and willingness to engage with a restaurant's services.
    As the industry continues to evolve, it's essential for restaurants to consider the environmental impact of their operations. Sustainable practices, such as using green food packages, not only benefit the environment but can also enhance the overall customer experience and drive positive business outcomes.
    -Simon Demchuk 04.06.2024

  2. Dr. Kwok,
    I personally believe that the shift to using sustainable packaging in restaurants can only help to boost a restaurant's reputation and profits. There have been a couple of times where I order food using the curbside pickup service or I'm just packaging my food to-go where I am pleasantly surprised to see sustainable packaging. If there's one thing that bugs me about to-go packaging, it's whenever there is an excess in plastic packaging. I trust that those in HR positions in restaurants will continue to advocate for the use of sustainable packaging for their food. For me, I know that I definitely feel more inclined to re-visit a restaurant that uses sustainable and environmentally-practices. This gives off an impression of care and responsibility from the restaurant that continues to draw me in.
    - 04/16/2024


  3. The surge in off-premises restaurant services like takeout, delivery, and curbside pickup has become increasingly common, especially post-COVID. However, does this increased service add to environmental burdens? Many retailers use single-use plastic food containers and packaging, potentially harming the environment. Research shows that globally, we produce 130 million tons of single-use plastic annually, yet only 8% gets recycled in the US. Some restaurants have begun using more sustainable materials in food packaging, but it's unclear if their efforts yield economic rewards. Advocating for green food packaging not only protects the environment but may also positively impact overall customer experience and repurchase behavior.(Yufeng Zhao)

  4. This research sheds light on the intricate dynamics between green food packaging, consumer behavior, and restaurant operations in the context of curbside pickup services. It's encouraging to see efforts to mitigate the environmental impact of off-premises dining, although the study's findings present nuanced insights.
    While green food packaging alone may not significantly influence initial purchasing decisions, its presence contributes positively to consumers' overall curbside pickup experience. This suggests that sustainability initiatives, including packaging choices, can enhance consumer perceptions and satisfaction, potentially leading to positive word-of-mouth and increased future patronage.
    Restaurateurs can leverage these findings by not only prioritizing high-quality food and service but also transparently communicating their sustainability efforts to customers. Visual content showcasing green practices, coupled with prompt responses to online reviews, can help foster trust and loyalty among patrons.
    (Kiley Nguyen)

  5. The findings of the research were certainly very interesting and surprising! The conclusion that so far, a business using green packaging does not greatly affect consumers purchasing decisions was what shocked me. From my own personal experience, the newly upcoming generation of adults is taking sustainability very seriously, now more than ever before. When my friends and I decide to pick a restaurant to order from we take into account what the business stands for and how they try their best to be sustainable. If we are unsure about these pieces of information we decide to give the establishment a try, but if we see they use too much unnecessary plastic, or their packaging is not very thought out, we will not order again or not as frequently. I think that restaurants could get more traction if they advertised that they are practicing sustainability because from my experience it is now a determining factor on whether people choose to go to a certain establishment. Additionally, restaurants could potentially benefit from using green packaging in the future, this is because of all of the new environmental laws that are being put in place. There is a high possibility that in the near future, businesses will be held to stricter regulations and start implementing new green taxes. To avoid businesses getting hit with hard with these new changes, switching over now would be a great idea and help uphold their social responsibility. -Karime Garcia


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