Restaurants face two new and unavoidable challenges: rising utility costs and the “greening” of food service. Fortunately, from an operations standpoint, these two issues are related, and tackling the energy and water bills rewards you with environmental brownie points. It’s a win-win that’s worth taking advantage of.
Knowing where to start is the difficulty for most operators. The place to begin is with the simplest, most cost-effective actions—the no-brainers, the basics that are required of any restaurant that wants to call itself “green.” Here are some examples:
Analyze your utility bills.
A stuck valve on a water softener in the back room can hemorrhage 3,000 gallons of agua a day and go unnoticed for months, but it will be revealed by a bump in the water bill. Figure out how much you are paying for electricity, natural gas, and water by tracking utility costs from month to month. Make a simple chart of monthly energy and water use; a simple spreadsheet will do. Draw a line through the points, and look for trends and anomalies. Is it going up or down? Know where you started and where you are going, and get that trend line moving south.
Maintain your refrigeration.
Keeping all your refrigeration in peak condition saves money 24 hours a day, every day of the year. The maintenance list includes cleaning all the refrigeration coils: inside and outside the walk-in boxes, on the roof, under soda machines and prep tables, inside ice machines, and on top of reach-ins. Keep the air flowing through your coils, and you will save on electricity and expensive repair calls.
In addition to the coils, the doors often need extra attention. Make sure they shut all the way. Beware of sagging doors, ice that prevents closing, slightly cracked-open doors, torn gaskets, and prolonged propping. If the door is open, warm air is getting into the box, and you are paying for it.
Insulate your hot water lines.
Under ideal* conditions, insulation saves $4 to $5 per year per one foot of pipe, which means it will save about twice that amount in an actual restaurant environment. This is a simple DIY fix that can save money and increase the performance of your hot-water delivery system—for instance, this simple project will shorten the wait for hot water at your hand sinks. Simply tape commercial-grade one-inch foam insulation securely into place. Include every inch of pipe you can get to. The more you cover, the more you save.
Turn off what you’re not using.
It’s no surprise that kitchen appliances are energy guzzlers. What is surprising is that the guzzling is split about evenly between the obvious, larger cooking appliances and the dozens of not-so-obvious plug loads like coffee warmers, steam tables, heat lamps, hot food holders, plate warmers, and conveyor toasters. Implement and enforce a start-up and shut-down schedule. It will cut the energy wasted by these loads. (Don’t forget to add the kitchen exhaust hood, the dish-machine exhaust hood, and the tank heater to the list—three items that often get left on unnecessarily overnight.) Place stickers on appliances to remind staff, and reward the kitchen manager for following through. This is a no-cost way to save lots of money.
Okay, I know these recommendations are not very sexy. If you’re thinking that they’re just basic good management, you’re correct. Still, according to my experience, there is a chasm between knowing these energy-and-cost saving measures and implementing them. In fact, about 90 percent of the restaurants that I visit during my energy audits fail to put one or more of these fundamental practices to work. It doesn’t take much time or investment to make the changes and see the results. Going green is not rocket science—it’s profitable.
*Ideal lab conditions stipulate 70[º]F with no air movement. In the real restaurant world, pipes are often located in cooler places with better air movement. Therefore actual savings in the field could be greater than those calculated in the lab.
The National Restaurant Association is leading the charge to increase the sustainability IQ of the food-service industry. Visit the NRA’s Conserve Web site, and join the effort by signing up for the Conserve/EPA Energy Star Challenge.