water and light savings

A Recipe for Savings: How Restaurants Can Identify and Replace Outdated Equipment

By David J. Alexander

“Turn it off when you’re not using it.”

It’s a common refrain, one many of our parents drilled into our heads when we were younger. It should come as no surprise that this principle applies to driving conservation and cost savings in your restaurant just as well.

Restaurants are among the most energy-intensive spaces of any commercial business, and lighting and water usage make up a huge portion of that. With a typical day including lights on for 16 to 20 hours1 and 5,800 gallons of water used, 2 these two areas are rife with opportunities to save. All it takes is changing a few everyday practices.

Cash down the drain with inefficient appliances
Anyone who has spent time in a kitchen knows leaky faucets are annoying. But have you stopped to think how costly they can be? An unchecked leaky faucet loses one-tenth of a gallon per minute and will waste more than 50,000 gallons over the course of a year, a loss that only becomes more expensive if it’s hot water leaking.1 When you see a leak, move to fix it quickly to prevent additional losses.

While a leaky faucet is perhaps the most obvious example of an unnecessary water expenditure, it is far from the only one. For example, hot water only needs to be heated to 140 degrees, so if a thermometer shows your water is hotter, you can adjust your setup to stop overworking your water heater — and your wallet. Similarly, avoid paying to heat water more than you have to by insulating hot-water pipes with the covers available at most hardware stores, preventing loss of heat as water travels from place to place.

In addition to these ways to avoid heating water more than is necessary, you can look to other heat sources, including those already in your kitchen, to attain the water temperatures your restaurant needs. Many restaurants have turned to heat-recovery systems that siphon waste heat from walk-in refrigerators and freezers to preheat kitchen water, meaning you turn formerly wasted energy into an opportunity to use even less to get water to the temperature necessary to serve your kitchen’s needs.

Another consideration is the adoption of a low-flow pre-rinse spray valve, which uses significantly less water than older, less efficient models. Spray valves from the 1990s routinely used up to 5 gallons per minute (GPM) of water, even valves from just a few years ago used more water than is needed and that can translate to an annual operating expense of $1,500 per valve – if they are only used for one hour a day, which is hardly the case in a busy restaurant.4 More modern valves use only 1.5 GPM and are becoming increasingly common. PG&E currently offers a low flow pre-rinse spray valve (natural gas) rebate at $35 per valve to help business owners invest in energy efficient solutions.

By leveraging some energy efficiency tactics, such as those above, you can significantly reduce operating costs and see your restaurant perform like the well-oiled machine it is.

Lighten the load with LED lighting
There’s a reason people use the term “keeping the lights on” to refer to maintaining a business. But that doesn’t mean your restaurant has to keep all the lights on the whole time you’re open. Many energy-conscious restaurants are turning to solutions such as shutdown schedules to cut back on unnecessary lighting and light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to realize savings when lights are in use.

While those two tactics are excellent first steps, your restaurant may want to consider occupancy sensors, which are great additions for closets, storage rooms, break rooms, restrooms and walk-in refrigerators — any place that goes through frequent and/or long periods without anyone being there. Restaurants can expect to reap savings reflected in their energy bills starting almost immediately, since many lights are automatically turned on when they’re needed and turned off when they’re not.

Reducing overall light usage is a great way to chip away at your energy consumption, but if the lamps you’re using are outdated — as many restaurants’ and other businesses’ are — you are likely paying too much for the amount of light you’re getting, regardless of how good you are about turning off lights when not in use. By replacing outdated tubular fluorescent lighting— with more efficient LED solutions, you can noticeably reduce costs. The best part? Your restaurant may be eligible for rebates to defray or even completely cover the cost of this change.3

Fixtures and lamps aren’t the only light sources you can replace to help drive savings. While bright, visible signage is key to driving customers to your business, if you’re using incandescent-lit signs, you may be leaving money on the table, even as you’re filling seats. By switching to LED signs, you can reduce energy use by more than 80%. Consider replacing menu boards using outdated incandescent spot lights with LED lamps.1

Additional restaurant resources
Looking to learn more about how to best reduce energy usage and see maximum benefits to your restaurant? Download PG&E’s "Best Energy Efficiency Rebates for Quick-Service Restaurants" eBook to discover even more energy efficiency tactics and how to save.

  1. Pacific Gas and Electric Company
  2. Full-Service Restaurants Magazine
  3. Pacific Gas and Electric Company
  4. Food Service and Technology Center

Looking to drive savings and #sustainability at your restaurant? Consider these easy-to-implement tips
  • SMB Blog Author
    David J. Alexander
    Senior Product Manager of Customer Energy Solutions for PG&E, plays a large role in the products and solutions that support SMBs. Involved in the company's energy-efficiency programs since 2006, Dave is also an energy solutions manager for the field engineering services team. He's been instrumental in the design and launch of PG&E's initial LED-focused programs and continues to serve as one its leading lighting experts in the field.

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