Six Ways Food Service Businesses Can Save Energy

Apr 6, 2020

Many business owners experience high monthly electricity and utility bills. But did you know that commercial kitchens use more energy per square foot than other commercial buildings like offices or retail stores? It’s true. According to energystar.gov1, restaurants use about five to seven times more energy than other commercial buildings. Now, with COVID-19 devastating restaurant sales, it’s more important than ever to save money. Some restaurants are even taking this time to upgrade equipment and/or decor while customers can only get take-out. Many energy efficiency upgrades are done by businesses that are considered essential services (like HVAC contractors), so it is possible---though challenging---considering social distancing and financial uncertainty. 

Energy efficiency can help contribute to the success of your business, though it is often challenging to reserve cash for major upgrades. Start with some simple actions to help reduce your energy use, which we’ve outlined below. The most effective way to reduce a commercial kitchen’s energy costs is to upgrade to energy efficient equipment. While high-efficiency appliances could cost more up front, lower utility bills can make up for the price difference over time. And, you not only save on energy operating costs, you could increase your profit as well. According to the National Restaurant Association, a $1 savings in energy cost is equivalent to an increase of $12.50 in sales at an average 8% profit margin. And whenever you’re in the market for new equipment or appliances, check with your local utility to see if they offer rebates.

1. Lighting

If there’s a small amount of money in your budget for upgrades, start with lighting. In a typical restaurant, lights are usually on for 16 to 20 hours a day. Many utilities offer rebates for upgrades, so check with your local utility to see what they offer.

  • Install occupancy sensors in closets, storage rooms, break rooms, restrooms, and even walk-in refrigerators. 
  • Use LED lighting and/or T8 orT5 lamps with electronic ballasts.
  • Swap your old Open/Closed and EXIT signs with LED technology for electricity savings of up to 80 percent.

We understand that buying new equipment might not be possible, so check out these easy ways to help lower the energy use in your establishment.

2. Save water.

You might be thinking, but how does saving water save on energy costs? By conserving hot water you trim not one but two bills: one for the water and sewer and another for the electricity or natural gas used to heat the water.

3. Cook wisely.

Ovens tend to be more efficient than rotisseries; griddles tend to be more efficient than broilers. Examine your cooking methods and menu; find ways to rely on your more energy efficient appliances to cook for your customers.

4. Turn equipment off.

If you leave your equipment ON when it is not performing useful work, it costs you money. Implement a startup/shutdown plan to make sure you are using only the equipment that you need, when you need it. According to ENERGY STAR, you could save $200 annually for a gas fryer by cutting four hours of idle time per day.

5. Maintain and repair.

Don’t let everyday wear and tear drive up your energy bills. Leaky walk-in refrigerator gaskets, freezer doors that do not shut, cooking appliances that have lost their knobs—all these “energy leaks” add up to money wasted each month. Thermostats and control systems can fail and fall out of calibration. Take the time to do a regular thermostat check on your appliances, refrigeration, dish machines, and hot water heaters and reset them to the correct operating temperature.

6. Don’t forget the basics.

Windows and doors can be weather-stripped. Roofs can be better insulated. Speakers, sound systems, and TVs can be set to use less energy. Check with your local utility for an audit to find other opportunities for affordable and simple ways to save. 

1 ENERGY STAR for Small Business: Restaurants