Can Your Eatery Use Less Energy? Tips for Cutting Operating Costs

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restaurant operating costs

Restaurant bottom lines…they are a subject that all restaurant management and operations professionals are obsessed with because it is the bottom line that shows how well you are doing your job. Every decision that the restaurant management and operations professional makes has an impact on the profitability of the establishment or chain of eateries.

There is a seemingly endless list of issues that could affect that figure, including staffing expenses, materials and inventory, premises rental or mortgage, property upkeep (inside and out), and more. One area where many restaurants struggle to keep costs in check is where their energy is concerned. For this article, we are going to focus on ways for reducing restaurant operating costs.

Staff Policies

Do you have a staff handbook? Training manual? Any written policies? If not, now is the moment to sit down and start creating formal staff policies and procedures – including the steps needed to begin reducing the restaurant operating costs. Although most restaurant management and operations professionals may think that turning on and off some lights is the most they can anticipate, just consider what you might reasonably ask staff (and patrons in certain instances) to do:

  • Turn off bathroom lights when exiting
  • Be sure that taps are turned tightly and water no longer running when done using sinks or work stations
  • Adjust heating and cooling devices at very specific times or under clearly identified circumstances – after all, why keep a restaurant cold throughout the hours that no patrons are seated or heated when no one is expected to be dining?
  • Plugging in or unplugging electrical devices that may be little energy vampires
  • Turning off devices like sound systems, televisions and other devices that are not needed or used – or putting all such devices into a no-energy “sleep” mode

Unless you specifically state this as one of their responsibilities, many of your staff members will not even consider these steps. Clearly itemize the ways you are looking to conserve energy and reduce restaurant operating costs, and encourage staff to be proactive about it.

Amusing Signage

In line with the previous recommendation for restaurant management and operations professionals to use, why not also tack up friendly reminder notices in the most obvious and/or significant areas. For example, a funny sign like “Don’t be a drip” with a graphic showing patrons or staff to shut off the taps is a simple and entertaining way to conserve water and cut costs.

The same can be said about signs near the heating and cooling units or somewhere the staff is forced to see them and be reminded. Investing in signs and making the use of energy reducing policies part of restaurant procedure are among the easiest ways to reduce your restaurant operating costs quickly.

Naturally, you cannot rely 100% on your staff or the patrons to make all of the biggest differences. It is also up to you, as the restaurant management and operations professional to institute an array of steps and practices that start to reign in operating costs. These are going to include some minor changes to the facilities, but each of them will immediately begin reducing your energy expenses.

Hot Water Temperatures

As someone in charge of restaurant management and operations, you know that it is up to you to keep your facilities in line with all health regulations. However, this is also a responsibility that puts some cost cutting options in your hands. After all, your restaurant or eatery is likely to do a lot of dishwashing in addition to cleaning up the pots, pans and even using hot water for sanitation. Because of this, your hot water heating system has to maintain a certain temperature to remain within the required guidelines.

Unfortunately, you may have never looked at the settings on your system to see if you are inadvertently heating water in useless cycles – such as overnight or during down periods. You typically do this by keeping your temperature settings far too high. Instead, just reduce them to the lowest allowed by the regulations that apply to your restaurant AND according to the sanitizing system you might use (steam, heat or chemical and heat).

Though this cuts energy costs by forcing heating elements to cycle far less frequently, it also reduces restaurant operating costs by prolonging the life of your heating system or heating elements. This translates to short and long term savings and reduced energy consumption.

Lighting the Place

There is a lot to say about lighting and restaurant management and operations. Let’s start with the most obvious – which is that a restaurant using incandescent bulbs (which means each unit takes up 100 watts of energy PER HOUR) is wasting huge sums of money and energy. By simply investing in compact fluorescent lights (also known as CFLs) or light emitting diodes (you know them commonly as LEDs), you cut energy costs by 75% or more.

Yes, there is the upfront cost of investing in the bulbs, but just as the adjustment of the hot water heater translated to short and long term savings, so too will the switch to energy efficient bulbs. They have much longer life spans than traditional bulbs and use far less energy over those lives.

This is even more so if you replace those bulbs everywhere and not just your workspaces. Investing in energy efficient fixtures and bulbs in the bathrooms and dining areas, and even on some exterior fixtures, dramatically cuts the restaurant operating costs on lighting.

You can further cut costs by switching over to task lighting rather than lighting any area in its entirety. For example, why not use “task lighting” over the cooking equipment that is less often used. Such as bakeries with those oversized mixers that might be put to use once or twice a day or restaurant kitchens with areas that are little used during business hours. These are places ideally suited for energy efficient task lighting rather than illumination that clicks on whenever you light up your regular work areas.

Rather than relying entirely on ceiling fixtures, a switch to task lighting allows you and your staff to control the use of such lights, limiting them only to operating hours. This can dramatically reduce restaurant operating costs over the long term.

Weather Stripping and Sealing

The windows in any building are guilty of allowing too much heat in during the warmer weather and too much cold during the winter months. Quite often it is due to two things – the way that the windows and glass are made and designed, AND the gaps around them that allow air to escape.

Homeowners are able to request that their energy provider come in and do audits. These are technical inspections that may pump air into a room to find where energy (treated air) is escaping in addition to finding all other sources of energy waste. This means that restaurant management and operations professionals may also want to hire or request experts to provide such an energy audit.

By identifying which doors and windows are guilty of allowing conditioned air in or out, they can then be effectively weather stripped or even re-installed if gaps are too substantial. Again, this may feel like a major investment at the time, but over the long term it achieves are remarkable number of goals.

  • It stops you from losing cooled or heated air during the seasons.
  • It prevents your HVAC equipment from constantly cycling on and off – costing energy and putting wear and tear on the systems.
  • It maintains a more comfortable climate. Patrons may find themselves avoiding restaurants and eateries if they feel like they are stepping into a refrigerator or will be too hot or cold while dining. This provides a quality experience and ensures repeat visits.

You will also want any inspection of seals to apply to refrigeration, cooking and freezing units, too. After all, it could be that your restaurant operating costs continue to skyrocket because one or more seals on large units are failing. This causes them to cycle on and off on a constant basis, it may cause your heating or cooling system to be affected, and worst of all is that it could allow food to be quickly spoiled or even contaminated.

By checking any and all “seals” in the restaurant – and making it a regular part of annual maintenance – you can see energy costs reduced quite measurably.

Insulating Film to Windows

Directly in line with the previous subject is one that many restaurant management and operations easily overlook – the way that windows affect energy usage. As one report for restaurant management and operations professionals explained, “Business (sic) and homes that have applied insulating film to their windows report a 35-50% combined energy savings per year.”

Can you imagine seeing your energy expenses reduced by 35 to 50% in a single year? Consider too that these insulating films can also reduce glare or the intensity of light. This can enhance your patrons’ comfort if you have banks of windows that typically experience afternoon exposure, usually necessitating the use of blinds or shades. Though it may seem like a stretch, the use of the film does more than insulate (cutting energy costs) but also reduces the need for such décor as those blinds and shades. These can be quite costly and amount to substantial restaurant operating costs as you get started or redecorate the space.

What are some further tips for cutting restaurant operating costs?

Well, have you considered upgrading entirely (or one by one) to energy efficient appliances and equipment? Do you maintain and clean your equipment to ensure it is never struggling to operate. For instance, ventilation hoods need constant attention to operate effectively – especially if they are pulling greasy and oily air out of the kitchen. Are you on a regular service or maintenance plan? The gear to consider includes the ovens, refrigeration units, freezers, dishwashing gear, ice machines, deep fryers and more. Don’t overlook water filtration units either as they can be wildly inefficient if full of deposits.

And with water being mentioned, have you looked at ways to conserve water? One expert recommends “pre-rinse spray valves that use less than one gallon of water per minute, faucet aerators, and the [a] container rinser.” You also need to consider supplying water only to patrons who request it.

Have you looked at the layout of your kitchen? After all, you might have placed machines like ice makers, freezers or other colder devices in areas where ambient heat remains too high. Look at the kitchen with an eye for hot and cold zones. If you find that everything is a mixture, try to re-map the kitchen to remain efficient but also far more energy efficient by separating heating and cooling gear.

What about the ventilation? Kitchen hoods are supposed to change oily, smoky air for fresher air. However, most vents are energy gobblers. You can reduce the amount of energy they use in a few ways – one is to be sure that all of your equipment meant to be against the walls is as tightly against the walls as possible. This prevents air from being trapped. You should also be sure that all hoods have at least one side wall. This is a bit of engineering, but it ensures air is forced faster into the hood. Lastly, consider using only an “on demand” system that cycles on only when sensors recognize that it is needed and then shuts down automatically.

As someone who focuses on restaurant management and operations, you already know that your field is one that does a great deal of “nickel and dime” considerations. You may opt for some supplies over others simply because they are, literally, pennies cheaper. You do this because you know that restaurant management has to have both the long and short views to be effective. This is why you must consider all of these recommendations for cutting your restaurant operating expenses.

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