Going Green, Saving Green: Energy Efficiency Tips for Restaurants

In the highly competitive restaurant industry, where profit margins are often razor-thin, every penny saved and every green initiative adopted can have a profound impact on the bottom line. 

In recent years, the food service industry has witnessed a growing emphasis on sustainability and energy efficiency, making it imperative for restaurant owners and managers to seek out energy consumption curtailment strategies while ensuring a pleasant and comfortable atmosphere for their patrons and staff.

This article will shed light on a range of restaurant-specific energy efficiency tactics and explore several recommendations—from low-to-no-cost actions that require minimal investment to more substantial and strategic approaches that promise a significant return on efficiency-related expenditure. 

By implementing these measures, restaurant owners and managers can not only reduce operational costs but also contribute to the larger sustainability movement. Ultimately, these greener initiatives will bolster profitability and demonstrate commitment to environmental responsibility, attracting eco-conscious customers while enhancing brand reputation.

Applying Low-to-No-Cost Measures

Quarterly Preventative Maintenance

One of the simplest, yet most effective ways, to optimize a restaurant’s energy efficiency is by implementing a comprehensive preventative maintenance plan. This strategy outlines small but essential tasks such as changing air filters, checking outdoor air dampers and cleaning coils.

Addressing these maintenance tasks on a regular schedule can help restaurant owners and managers avoid accumulating substantial expenses by avoiding serious issues, such as replacing big-ticket appliances, in the future. Preventing breakdowns and maintaining the HVAC system and other equipment can translate to significant energy savings overall.

Temperature and Setpoints

Maintaining optimal temperatures in a restaurant is crucial for both customer satisfaction and energy efficiency. Consider using standard setpoints like 67°F for heating and 72°F for cooling and fine-tune them based on outdoor temperatures during different times of the day. Adjusting the temperature according to the outside weather is an easy way to reduce energy use and maintain a pleasurable temperature. However, it’s important to strike a balance. Employee comfort is equally critical. Avoid propping doors for airflow, as this can strain the HVAC system and freezer, causing them to work harder to maintain desired setpoints. Also, be mindful of thermostat locations within different areas of the restaurant. If a thermostat is influenced by an open door or cooking equipment, it may increase unit runtime.

Windows and Doors

Addressing potential sources of heating and cooling loss through windows and doors is crucial for energy efficiency. A simple and highly effective strategy is sealing gaps in these openings with weather stripping or caulking. By blocking cracks and holes, managers can maintain a more consistent indoor temperature, reduce the load on heating/cooling systems and make the space more comfortable while saving costs. Also, consider regularly inspecting and maintaining the seals and gaskets on refrigeration units, as air leakage can lead to excessive energy consumption.

Indoor and Outdoor Lighting

Lighting is another area where energy efficiency improvements can be made quickly, easily and cost-effectively. Quick-serve restaurants can benefit from schedules for outdoor lighting, including turning off parking lot lights and signage during daytime hours. This conserves energy and aligns with natural daylight patterns, reducing unnecessary illumination. Sensor-based lighting in low-traffic areas like bathrooms can help save energy too. These sensors ensure lights activate only when there is a human presence in the area, ensuring lighting is used only when it’s needed.

Getting a 'Bigger Bang for Your Buck'

Kitchen Equipment

Some of the more energy-intensive elements in a restaurant are found in the kitchen. Proper sizing of larger appliances, including ovens and dishwashers, is critical for both functionality and efficiency. An oversized appliance results in excess energy usage and generates unnecessary heat, potentially causing discomfort in the kitchen environment. An undersized appliance may lead to overworking, increased energy consumption and reduced equipment lifespan due to constant strain. By accurately sizing kitchen equipment to match a restaurant’s specific needs, owners and managers can strike a balance between operational efficiency and energy conservation.

Consider investing in energy-efficient appliances, which often have energy-saving features and better insulation. While they may have a higher upfront cost, they can lead to substantial savings in the long run.

Energy Management System (EMS)

To take energy efficiency to the next level, consider implementing an Energy Management System (EMS) in the restaurant. An EMS allows facility managers to monitor and control the HVAC system in real time, all in one place. This dynamic control not only results in more comfortable indoor conditions for customers and staff but also extends the lifespan of HVAC equipment by preventing unnecessary wear and tear. An EMS provides remote accessibility, allowing flexibility in making quick adjustments and strategic decision-making. This can ultimately lead to reduced energy consumption, operating costs and environmental impact. An EMS enables automated schedules for heating and cooling, optimizing equipment performance and responding to changing conditions efficiently.

In conclusion, energy efficiency in the restaurant industry is not just about saving costs; it’s also about reducing environmental impact and contributing to a sustainable future. By implementing low-to-no-cost measures like preventative maintenance, temperature control, window and door sealing and efficient lighting, the restaurant industry can make significant strides in reducing energy consumption.

For more substantial energy savings and enhanced control, appropriately sized kitchen equipment and implementing an Energy Management System are considerably effective. These bigger initiatives not only save money but also create a more comfortable and eco-friendly dining environment for customers.

Improving energy efficiency unlocks long-term financial benefits and drives the global effort to conserve energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. At a time when sustainability is increasingly valued, restaurant-specific energy efficiency is a win-win for everyone.