My mother never encouraged the use of straws — they cause wrinkles, she says. That’s bad enough, but there are also serious consequences to the environment that have caused bars and restaurants to turn away from disposable plastic straws altogether.
“There’s already been a conversation going on within our industry, so I don’t know if it’s a completely new thing,” says Omar Yeefoon, owner of Shoals Sound and Service in Deep Ellum. “But it is a kind of learning experience: There are certain things you do all the time without thinking, and now we have to pay attention to straws, where you used to always throw straws in and hand [them] to a guest."
Shoals never used disposable straws, choosing to buy reusable straws from the start.
The talk has spread to social media in posts from advocacy groups such as Project Refuse the Straw: “It takes 200 years to break down … into tiny toxic particles,” and most of that is coming from us, with the United States and the United Kingdom throwing away nearly 550 million plastic straws per day.
It sounds like a lot, but think about how often you sit at a table, and the water in front of you already has a straw in it. Then the cocktail that comes out next has a shorter straw in it.
For an industry that’s so used to this being a part of every meal, it’s an adjustment.
“It was kind of a race into figuring out how we were going to do it because I just didn’t want to have straws,” Yeefoon says. “There are certain drinks that we have that would require a straw. With crushed ice and others, it’s hard to enjoy them without having a straw.”
So Yeefoon purchased steel straws — reusable and swanky enough to find a home at Shoals. So if someone gets a tall drink or one with crushed ice, or just wants a straw, that’s what he or she gets.
“At the very beginning when we were opening, making a decision like that, business-wise, is a little slightly irresponsible because it’s very expensive,” he says of the straws, which are about 50 cents each. “But I think that’s like convictions. Now that it’s kind of starting to become a conversation, there’s a little bit of validation.”
Whiskey Cake Kitchen and Bar is also part of this conversation.
“During a brainstorming session, our concept chef, Aaron Staudenmaier, brought up the viability of reducing/eliminating straw use,” says Scott Sharrer, Whiskey Cake’s vice president of operations. “That initial conversation led us to make the decision to offer straws only upon request, and the straw to be offered will be corn-based and biodegradable.”
“We don't want our marine life to suffer, so removing straws from our restaurants is the first step to tackling this issue and showing other restaurants in our community that by changing one thing, we help out a greater cause,” says Margaret McKoin, who does marketing for the restaurant. “Getting rid of plastic straws, which can end up in landfills and our oceans, is just one of many things we can do in the food industry.”
Restaurants that don’t want to spend extra cash on special kinds of straws can simply stop delivering glasses with straws, explaining to the customers that they’re available upon request but that the establishment is committed to sustainability.
Not every drink needs a straw, which can affect the temperature of your drink. Think about it: Have you ever seen anyone drinking wine from a straw?
Sharrer his restaurant's change draws the notice of others.
“We hope to make a bold statement to our guests about our beliefs and that we lead the way for other restaurant groups to make similar decisions that are in the long-term best interest of the environment,” he says.
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Yeefoon agrees. It’s one thing for his bar and restaurant and a few others to take a step. It’s another for customers to start taking their own steps. But certain places can really make a big impact on the number of straws hitting the trash.
“There’s this really busy bar in Austin called Dirty Bill’s; I absolutely love this bar, its super fun,” he says, “It’s a plastic cup place, and they’re making all of those changes: They ditched straws, all that stuff. When I saw that, I thought, ‘Wow, how do they do that? They’re way busier than I am.’ They just said, ‘No, we’re not going to give you straws anymore.' I think it’s a gamble that you just have to take.”
Yeefoon believes places like Dirty Bill’s can make a huge difference in the fight against unwanted plastic.
“When the bars that are bringing millions … say, ‘We’re going to start being more responsible with our waste,’ then people will start to take notice and make moves," he says.