Sustaining the Earth and Customers’ Goodwill: The Impact of IoT

Picture the life of a manager with a portfolio of 30 restaurants. Every quarter, the manager sends a technician to each location for preventative maintenance, concentrating on the oldest equipment.

In between, though, a refrigerator shows signs of wear at one site, a fryolator takes too long to heat the oil in another, and a dishwasher stops working mid-cycle in a third. So technicians climb into their trucks, making three extra 40-mile round trips to complete the necessary repairs.

Could these extra trips be prevented? This is just one of the questions restaurants are tackling in their focus on sustainability. Whether they’re trying to cut down on gas emissions due to repair calls, become more energy efficient, or keep more equipment out of landfills, restaurants are finding creative ways to foster sustainable practices.

Not only are restaurants themselves driving this sustainability movement, so are their customers. The National Restaurant Association, summarizing its 2022 State of the Industry Report, notes that 30 percent of surveyed consumers would “likely choose a restaurant offering food grown in an environmentally-friendly way or raised organically over one that doesn’t.” Moreover, “70 percent of millennials and 72 percent of Gen Z adults said they’d be willing to pay extra for to-go orders to cover the cost of upgraded, [more eco-friendly] packaging.” 

Simon-Kucher & Partners Global Sustainability Study 2021, surveying more than 10,000 people, also demonstrates that consumers are “voting with their feet.” Eighty-five percent have modified their purchasing behaviors to make them more sustainable.

Addressing a Daunting Challenge

But for restaurants, implementing more sustainable practices can be a daunting prospect. That’s because they’re big consumers of energy by their nature. According to ENERGY STAR for Small Business, restaurants “use about five to seven times more energy per square foot than other commercial buildings. High-volume quick-service restaurants (QSRs) may even use up to 10 times more ….”

When managers are responsible for dozens of restaurants, those numbers can get out of control fast. However, technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) are helping to rein them in.

The movement toward the connected facility and connected kitchen, through which managers can monitor and control the equipment they use from a central platform, enables them to improve sustainability in multiple ways.

Saving Energy and Resources

From Rooftop HVAC Units (RTU) to cooking equipment, lights and signage, IoT empowers restaurant facility managers to optimize their equipment’s use, health, and efficiency across their entire portfolio. One major restaurant brand reduced energy consumption by 21 percent using this strategy.

The advantages here are numerous, since understanding what is on, when it is on, and the associated costs can lead to more sustainable practices. For example, are adjustments being made for seasonal hours or traffic patterns? Are all the air conditioners running simultaneously when they could be staggered?

With 70 percent of restaurant operators surveyed by the National Restaurant Association reporting an employee shortage, IoT also makes it easier for management to ensure that sustainable practices aren’t forgotten.Lights, signs, thermostats, etc., can be preprogrammed, removing the responsibility from time-strapped team members. When wait staff have been concentrating on their customers, it can be easy to forget to turn up one air conditioner and power down another.

Finally, by continually watching what’s happening with their equipment—and spotting data anomalies—management can indeed optimize their truck rolls, asking technicians to complete routine servicing and unexpected repairs at the same time.

Preventing Waste of Precious Commodities—Like Cooking Oil

For restaurants and QSRs, the high price of cooking oil is an ongoing pain point. In January 2022 alone, the cost of vegetable oil rose 4.2 percent (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, reported by Marketplace).

IoT is helping restaurants conserve this precious resource by monitoring their fryers —to ensure they are always running at peak. If early warnings surface showing “out-of-range” data, restaurant managers can tune up the machines in time to prevent the wasting of the oil or the discarding of the equipment itself. 

The same principle works with refrigerators and freezers. With consumers gravitating toward restaurants that serve local food, the fresh produce from nearby farms can give them a competitive advantage. Preempting problems with refrigeration equipment ensures that these signature foods continue to attract new customers—and never go to waste due to an equipment failure.

Water conservation has also become a more important issue, and one fast food sandwich chain has been in the vanguard here for a long time. Using IoT to monitor water usage across hundreds of locations, they were able to save more than 7.4 million gallons in one year (equivalent to more than 11 Olympic swimming pools).

A subset of that restaurant concept also used IoT to identify deviations in equipment data—empowering them to get ahead of problems. At one point, they went from changing 45 compressors every year to just 15—extending the life of these assets, as well.

Bottom-Line Impact

With 8.5-percent inflation (at this writing) and high fuel costs exerting new financial pressures on restaurants, the money-saving impact of these technology-enabled strategies cannot be ignored. “Doing good” for the planet while “doing well” financially is a win-win for all.