Many restaurant managers believe that they can lose more money “comping” food to unhappy customers than what any energy management solution could save. They insist their place is in the dining room among guests, not in the back room studying energy consumption. But reducing energy consumption does not have to be a laborious undertaking, and it can significantly reduce operating costs.
Restaurants can reduce energy usage and cut costs by implementing simple changes to lighting, HVAC and refrigeration, but more significant opportunities can be found by analyzing — then regulating — their usage patterns.
Restaurants thrive on consistency. When a patron orders something off the menu, it needs to come to the table with the same taste and quality every time. When servers greet customers, they must present the same manner and appearance to each person who walks through the door. In a franchised restaurant chain, customers expect the same overall experience in New York as they do in Boise. The same principle applies when it comes to energy management.
Consistency Yields Efficiency
Before any changes can be made, a restaurant must know how much energy is being used in various modes of operation: dark store; preparation; operations/open; and recovery. The first step is to get control of energy usage. The goal is to remove variations caused by people doing things differently.
Do you have detailed, written procedures on how the kitchen is to be brought online? When do employees fire up the ovens and exhaust hoods? When do they turn on the dining room lights and television sets? What about the ventilation system or the background music? If those decisions are left to individual employees, energy usage each day will be different (and likely inefficient). If a restaurant does have not documented procedures detailing the most energy-efficient practices, or employees are not following those procedures, the process is probably out of control.
A fundamental concept of quality involves establishing efficient procedures and following them consistently. That’s the starting point for reducing energy consumption. Consistent efficiency practices will automatically generate cost savings. For example, during dark store hours (such as 2 a.m. to 7 a.m.), monitoring usage might show jumps in consumption at certain times, or certain days. Maybe a lighting timer is set incorrectly or the night was unseasonably warm and caused the HVAC to spike. (With no one in the restaurant at 4 a.m., the HVAC should remain static regardless of the outside temperature.)
Savings will come from looking at the days that were high in energy consumption and setting a goal for all days to match those of lowest consumption. Simply by establishing consistent, efficient practices, a restaurant’s savings can be anywhere from 2% to 4 %. So a store that spends $100,000 per year on electricity could save between $2,000 and $4,000 without capital investment.
Once energy usage is consistent, the next step is to identify additional ways to reduce consumption. There is a veritable buffet of options — it’s up to each restaurant operator to pick and choose the options they believe will yield the most rewards.
Blown Away? Check the HVAC
HVAC is one of the biggest spends for restaurants. Two conditions are quite common and very costly: rooftop air conditioning units malfunctioning undetected, perhaps for a very long period of time because others have “picked up the slack” — and ventilation hoods blowing cool dining room air out to the roof.
Of course, weather also impacts HVAC cost. Night set-back is important; aim for 80°F in the summer and 64°F in the winter. Filters need to be changed for greater efficiency. In addition, air balance is very important, so check it each time an exterior door is opened, especially in winter. Also, keeping the summer air moving with ceiling fans will allow for higher acceptable temperatures on the thermostat.
Most restaurant operators know that simple changes in lighting usage can make an impact. Use occupancy sensors in restrooms and walk-ins. Use ambient light whenever practical, such as during cleanup.
Lighting options, ranked best to worst in terms of efficiency are: ambient (outdoor light); LEDs; modern fluorescent (CFL, T-8, T-5); classic fluorescent (T-12); metal vapor; incandescent; and last but not least (a staple of fine dining), candles. A lesser known fact is that lighting maintenance is important, too — clean fixtures provide more light.
On the topic of refrigeration, everyone knows that lights should be off when walk-ins are unoccupied. Also, gaskets are important, suction lines should be insulated and filters changed, refrigerant charge should be checked and maintained and coils should be clean. Fan motors should be high-efficiency, and air should circulate around indoor coils.
Door heaters are often not necessary and can cost $75 per year. Also, defrost cycles are often too long and frequent — try 15 minutes four times a day (weather dependent). This could save up to $800 per year. Shading condenser coils can make a big difference in sunny, hot areas. And cogged V-belts save 2% on energy costs.
In the kitchen, everything should be turned off at night (including hoods, dish machine, etc.). Maintenance is very important: clean clogged burners, monitor pilot flames, calibrate temperatures, and clean or replace oven gaskets. Hand sinks should have aerators to reduce water usage, and water temperature should meet requirements precisely.
Hood air balance is important to monitor and maintain in the kitchen. It is costly to pull cool dining area air into the kitchen and to blow hot kitchen air into the dining room. Hood side panels can capture more cooking effluent, and variable hood volume control is worth the investment. Make sure to check the flue damper on the hot water heater — it is probably not working or may not exist at all.
The Bottom Line
The goal for restaurant owners and operators should be to only use energy that delivers value to guests. This is no different than how restaurants use their labor or food/supplies. Of course, restaurant operators must attend to safety, the guest experience and crew effectiveness, but they also need to include energy costs in their decision-making.
A big concern of restaurant operators is that some of the tactics mentioned in this article will reduce the guest experience and cause more problems than they solve, but this is not the case. They also may be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of choices. Not to worry. Just taking a few small steps toward reducing energy consumption will not only position a restaurant as a good environmental steward, but it will ultimately reduce operating costs in this challenging economic environment.
— Paul H. Stiller is the director of energy management at Summit Energy Services. A Professional Engineer and Certified Energy Manager, Stiller has 34 years of energy management experience and has assisted hundreds of facilities in North America and Europe in becoming more energy-efficient.