How B Corp Certification Could Help Build a Better Restaurant Culture
Restaurants that have pursued this certification say it has increased longevity and reduced staff turnover.
“This is our 36th year in business, and I’m trying to build a company that has a legacy,” said John Finger, CEO and Founder of Hog Island Oyster Company. “B Corp Certification has allowed us to build that legacy into our business.”
Hog Island Oyster Company, which runs four restaurants in Northern California and farms oysters over 160 acres in Tomales Bay, C.A., is one of only thirty restaurants in the world that has gained B Corp Certification. The certification verifies business practices to certify that companies are balancing purpose and profit and considering their impact on workers, customers, suppliers, communities, and the environment. B Lab has certified over 2,500 companies across 150 industries worldwide.
B Lab, the non-profit behind the certification, uses an online analysis tool called the B Impact Assessment to explore four main impact areas of interest within a company: workers, environment, governance, and community. As they complete the assessment, companies gain points for a wide variety of criteria—from the pay gap between the highest and lowest paid employees, to the number of jobs the company has created in its community, to the availability of maternity leave or paid time off. The maximum number of points is 200, but the minimum score to pass the certification is 80.
The mission of the certifications is focused on social responsibility, but the process of certifying has also been good for the company, Finger said. The company has seen reduced turnover in staff since they became certified in 2015, because employees have clear channels through which they can communicate with management.
“If you’re being spoken to in a way you don’t like,” Finger said. “We have specific policies that say ‘no, this isn’t ok, and this is who you talk to, and this is where you can go,’ and it works, and people do it.” Implementing those types of policies offers an added layer of security for chefs and restaurant owners who are stepping away from the historically hierarchical, often abusive culture of kitchens to try to create more sustainable work environments. These types of policies are particularly useful as restaurant groups expand, since it can be difficult for company leadership to insure that the culture they’ve worked to build is being maintained.
Jael Rattigan, co-owner and CEO of French Broad Chocolate in Asheville, North Carolina, says that becoming B Corp certified gave the company language for their mission.
“We take care of our employees because we believe in service to humanity and taking care of each other,” she said. “A lot of these things were already in process, I think the biggest change was making it more official and writing policies that brought a little bit more structure to the things that we were already doing.”
In small restaurants that are just starting out, Rattigan acknowledges it can be difficult to pause and think about policies. “In restaurant culture, it’s easy to see policies and procedures as corporate ,which is bad, but if you think about it the way B Lab does, that it brings accountability for ownership to create policies that are taking care of people, and provide structure so people know how to succeed in their jobs, then it’s really positive to create all of that documentation,” she said.
As French Broad Chocolates has expanded and continued to pursue a higher score, they’ve relied on the business expertise of the companies around them to help. Across the country, B Local Committees made up of Certified B Corps work together to further the mission of B Lab and help companies as they pursue certification.
Rattigan’s local committee holds panel discussions, social events, and working sessions where the leaders of certified B Corps sit and help their peers work through the certification. The effect is that the certification has helped create structure for French Broad Chocolate, and the community has alleviated some of the loneliness of running a small business.
“If I call another B Corp and say, ‘Do you have any guidance on this issue I’m having?’ people are always willing to help and give support and advice,” Rattigan said.
Seeing the B Corp logo on a company’s website or on product packaging allows customers to trust claims that restaurants and food brands make, from how they treat their employees, to how they source their ingredients, said Adeline Druart, President of Vermont Creamery, which has been a B Corp since 2014. So many companies now claim to be sustainably run or to treat their employees well, an advertising technique that Druart calls "do-good washing."
“You question the integrity of those messages sometimes,” Druart said. “So what B Corp certification does is it says, ‘Well, when you say you’re good, show me how.’”
“It is complicated, and it is more work, but it helps us to hold ourselves accountable as well,” Finger said. “We now produce 85% of our electricity out on the farm, and we’re looking at how much water we’re using, and can we do things that decrease the amount of water usage? You have to measure these things, but I believe in the long term that this makes us more profitable, and therefore longer lasting.”
In an age of cinnamon bun apology emails and an increasingly saturated restaurant market, restaurants who are able to prove, materially, that they’re working to take care of their employees, the environment, and their communities are at a real advantage. Customers are seeking ways to ensure that the restaurants they love are trustworthy - that claims they’re making about staffing and sourcing are true. As staffing shortages continue across the country, restaurants’ B Corp Certifications could help set them apart to potential employees.