Restaurant energy efficiency initiatives

Biz Quiz: How Much Can a Restaurant Save with an Energy Audit?

By Megan Porter

Restaurants are some of the most energy-intensive businesses there are, using five to seven times more energy per square foot than most other commercial buildings.1 Yet, when it comes time to look for cost-cutting measures, restaurant owners and managers often focus on staffing or food-related costs, sometimes ignoring energy consumption altogether.

Even when energy costs are addressed—for example, by buying new kitchen appliances—the focus can fall too heavily on cheaper equipment, as opposed to energy efficient products that will save more money in the long run. Restaurant energy efficiency initiatives can go a long way toward reducing energy consumption and associated costs, while also leading to a more sustainable and efficient operation.

The first step on the path to restaurant energy efficiency is to perform an energy audit. Learning more about how a restaurant uses energy leads to a better understanding of how the business operates, as well as finding ways to reduce consumption and costs.

Planning an energy audit
Some restaurant owners and managers, especially those with technical expertise, might consider performing their own energy audits, without the aid of an experienced contractor. And it is a task that can be accomplished without expert advice.

However, working with experienced lighting and/or heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) contractors provides more opportunities to save money; find rebates, incentives and financing options;2 and avoid missteps when choosing equipment and developing a restaurant energy savings plan. Experienced contractors can also be very helpful with restaurant energy efficiency budgeting, since they have the benefit of knowing how much restaurant energy efficiency initiatives usually cost.

Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) customers have access to numerous rebates and incentives that can help reduce the upfront costs of installing and implementing restaurant energy efficiency tools. There are also PG&E third-party programs and its list of vetted trade professionals,3 which can help restaurant owners and managers find certified contractors in their area.

10 energy audit questions for restaurants
Before performing a restaurant energy audit, or even during the process itself, there are 10 questions that restaurant owners and managers will want to ask themselves and their contractor in order to ensure that the project reaches its energy efficiency goals.

These questions are:

  1. What are your specific goals for any restaurant energy efficiency initiatives?
    Set specific goals in order to be able to measure success.
  2. What is the restaurant’s biggest energy expense?
    For instance, if lighting accounts for more than 13% of the restaurant’s average energy consumption (which is the average lighting consumption percentage for restaurants),4 then it might be best to focus on restaurant energy efficiency initiatives like installing light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs.
  3. How does your business’s energy consumption compare to other local restaurants?
    Energy Performance Benchmarking makes it easy to compare and contrast your restaurant’s energy usage with other businesses.5
  4. Have you asked employees if they have any energy saving recommendations?
    Employees can be one of the most effective restaurant energy efficiency tools. They work with the restaurant equipment every day and may have suggestions about how to be more efficient.
  5. How old is your kitchen equipment, and which pieces use the most energy?
    If any pieces of kitchen equipment are several years old and/or operating inefficiently, consider replacing them with ENERGY STAR-certified products.6
  6. Where is energy potentially being wasted?
    The average energy consumption breakdown in a restaurant is as follows: Food preparation (35%), HVAC (28%), sanitation (18%), lighting (13%) and refrigeration (6%). If your restaurant is operating above those numbers, it is likely that energy is being wasted in one of those areas.
  7. During which months does the restaurant use the most and the least energy?
    The answer to these questions is often a function of busy seasons versus slow ones, but studying when energy is used most and least efficiently can provide useful information for setting up restaurant energy efficiency initiatives. Restaurant owners can decipher energy use trends for their business by reviewing their monthly energy use through their online PG&E account.
  8. Is the restaurant current with state and federal energy efficiency requirements?
    More stringent federal and state efficiency requirements have put more of an onus than ever on businesses to improve their energy efficiency. An experienced California lighting or HVAC contractor can help restaurant owners get their business up to code.
  9. How big is your potential energy efficient retrofit budget?
    Having a clear idea of the amount of money you are willing to spend on an energy efficiency project will determine which measures you pursue. Remember, though, that by installing more expensive but highly efficient equipment upfront, you can save thousands in the years to come. This is another area where working with an experienced contractor can help with making better informed decisions. One financing option available to business owners is PG&E’s On-Bill Financing program, which provides zero-percent financing for energy efficiency upgrades.
  10. Which areas should be prioritized in an energy efficiency retrofit?
    Make a list of all desired energy efficiency initiatives, then decide which ones should be given the highest priority. Energy waste should be a top concern, but aesthetic or customer-focused solutions will also likely be important considerations.

Performing an energy audit
Once these questions have been reviewed, or even before the checklist is approached, it will probably be beneficial to consult a lighting or HVAC contractor. Their experience and expertise can be crucial to lowering upfront costs through rebates and incentives, ensuring that the proper replacement equipment is chosen, and that energy efficiency requirements are met. Learn how to better work with a contractor by downloading PG&E’s "The Complete Guide to Working with a Lighting or HVAC Contractor".

  2. Pacific Gas and Electric Company
  3. Pacific Gas and Electric Company
  4. Pacific Gas and Electric Company
  5. Pacific Gas and Electric Company

Biz Quiz: How Much Can a Restaurant Save with an Energy Audit?
  • SMB Blog Author
    Megan Porter
    Senior Program Marketing Manager at PG&E, is a recognized leader in solutions marketing for small and medium-sized businesses. Megan uses her proven and practical expertise to bring energy efficiency education to businesses in every industry. In this vital role, she develops and oversees highly successful initiatives that result in the adoption of more efficient long-term energy management behaviors.

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