Guacamole always tastes better when saltwater is draining from your nose after a four-hour session … That’s just the way it goes.

Chances are that on your last trip to the North Shore you remember that Sashimi Trio at the Banzai Sushi Bar, or maybe every time you’re in Encinitas you have to hit the Union Kitchen and Tap. And what's better than watching those last few waves of a fall swell break off the jetty from Langosta Lounge in Asbury Park?

The Surfrider Foundation’s Ocean Friendly Restaurants initiative certifies restaurants that meet the criteria of sustainability. Photo: Courtesy of LangostaLounge.com

Food has always been part of the experience of adventure from a Euro tour to chasing swell up the California coast. Is there anything better than grabbing two friends, scoring a hurricane swell and then stretching the truth about that last wave over tacos on the patio?

As anyone in retail can tell you, we spend more money on experience these days (which includes hunting down amazing meals) than we do on “things.” We’re also becoming more conscious consumers, choosing to support businesses that share our values.

Healthy oceans depend on the choices we make. Photo courtesy of Micah Camara/Flickr

Understanding current movements, the Surfrider Foundation launched the Ocean Friendly Restaurants program this year to let the public know exactly which eateries in the U.S. are making sustainable choices for our oceans – ultimately reducing the amount of plastics that can enter our waterways. That plastic is having devastating effects on marine life, the health of the oceans and eventually the future health of humans.

“Restaurants and owners are telling us the Ocean Friendly Restaurants program not only helps them communicate their efforts in reducing single-use plastic pollution and protecting the ocean, but it also helps their customers to make more informed choices when they are dining,” Trent Hodges, Surfrider’s Plastic Pollution Manager tells ASN. “A lot of businesses are trying to do the right thing and the Ocean Friendly Restaurants program is helping them to do this through information about sustainable products, access to vendor discounts for eco-friendly alternatives, and connecting these restaurants with customers who want to support ocean friendly businesses.”

According to Surfrider, in the U.S. alone we use an estimated 100 billion plastic bags annually. The recycling rate for plastic water bottles is 31 percent, meaning that roughly 34 million of them went into landfills or became litter. A restaurant uses an average of 5,800 gallons of water per day, and we know that plastic does not biodegrade. We’re just learning the amount of plastics we’ve put into our waterways and that’s not even counting the massive piles of petroleum-based products that we’re leaving other generations to deal with in landfills.

Surfrider has outlined a list of criteria that restaurants must follow in order to receive accreditation. As a benefit, restaurants are seeing more business from ocean-minded patrons and are able to use the program’s reach to tell their story of sustainability.

There are four basic criteria that each restaurant must meet, which include no use of Styrofoam, proper recycling practices, all reusable tableware with only disposable utensils for takeout upon request, as well as no plastic bags for takeout. Then the restaurant must choose to meet three additional criteria from a list of options that include plastic straws being provided only upon request, no beverages sold in plastic bottles, discount offered to customers with reusable cups, mugs or bags, and vegetarian/vegan options. Not to mention ‘Best Choice’ or ‘Good Alternative’ seafood rated by Seafood Watch or otherwise certified sustainable, making efforts to conserve water, and energy efficient initiatives.

La Jolla’s Wheat & Water is just one of some 300 Ocean Friendly restaurants in California alone… mmmm… wood fired pizza. Photo: Courtesy of WheatandWater.com

If a restaurant meets all 10 criteria, they are recognized as a Platinum Level Ocean Friendly Restaurant. According to Hodges, TS Restaurants, which has 13 businesses in Hawaii and California, is on the path to register its entire family of eateries as platinum OFR and have started to transition away from glass bottles for wine and beer towards kegs to cut down on glass waste.

The program is also educating the dining public.

“Restaurants are community gathering spaces and once they become Ocean Friendly, they help spread awareness about the issues facing our ocean to people who may have not connected their individual choices with the issue of plastic pollution,” Hodges tells ASN. “Public awareness about the harms of single-use plastic has been growing in the last few years and the OFR criteria helps take that initial awareness to the next level. The goal for the program is that the public will seek out Ocean Friendly Restaurants when they go to dine because they know that they are supporting a business that aligns with their environmental values.”

Clean ocean, clean waves. It starts with where we choose to spend our money. Photo courtesy Brandon Compagan/Unsplash

As our oceans come under increasing threats, it’s important for industries to take it upon themselves to curb our habits. There’s no better place to start than at great eateries.

More Environmental Content From ASN

Being the Most Eco-Friendly Surfer You Can Be

Caribbean Island of Dominica to Completely Ban Single-Use Plastic and Styrofoam by 2019

Dispatches Andros Island: Ecotourism and the Preservation of This Beautiful, Remote Archipelago