Restaurants

Easy Recipes for Boosting Your Restaurant's Energy Efficiency

By Alice Bredin

Whether you run a snack counter, cafe, sit-down restaurant or other type of kitchen, a restaurant is an energy-intensive business. The tools you need to store, prepare food and create an appealing atmosphere require a significant investment in power.

This intense power use is also the reason restaurants have a huge opportunity to save. Most restaurants can gain immediate benefits from seeking energy efficiency in the setup, maintenance and use of their equipment.

Review the following areas to find energy-saving ideas.

Optimize exhaust hoods
Kitchen ventilation can be the biggest energy drain in commercial food facilities, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) program ENERGY STAR®.1 Exhaust hoods use energy on their own, but they also have ripple effects on energy usage elsewhere: An inefficient exhaust hood allows heat and smoke to seep into your kitchen, prompting you to turn up the air conditioning more than you’d otherwise need to.

Try these steps to increase the efficiency of your exhaust hood:

  • Check that your cooking appliances are pushed back to the wall to ensure the hood hangs over them as much as possible. It’s a simple fix, but it makes a real difference in terms of capturing heat and keeping a kitchen cool, according to PG&E’s Food Service Technology Center (FSTC).2
  • Adopt the EPA’s advice to add side panels to the hood to better capture spillover heat.  
  • Consider a demand-based exhaust control, which uses sensors to adjust the exhaust fan speed according to how much you are cooking.

Make fixes to your fridge or freezer
Restaurant refrigeration and freezer units are constantly running, so a poorly operating unit can drain away a considerable amount of energy over time.

To keep your units operating at peak levels, try these ideas:

  • Keep coils clean. Both the evaporator coil (the cold one inside your refrigerator) and the condenser coil (the warm one outside the unit) should be checked about once a quarter, according to the FSTC.3 Researchers also recommend using a vacuum or coil brush to scrape off the dirt or debris, instead of a broom. Keeping coils clear helps your fridges last longer and run more efficiently.
  • Turn off door heaters in reach-in units. These heaters are set to run constantly in order to minimize condensation, but they are often unnecessary and easily switched off. Only use them when condensation begins to form around the doors.
  • For walk-in units, hang plastic strip curtains or swing doors to help retain cold when you have the door open — make sure they cover the entire opening and have no patches missing, or they won’t be nearly as effective.

Clamp down on hot water usage
A combination of water-saving tools and good employee practices can help drastically reduce water usage, which in turn saves energy.

Keep these ideas in mind:

  • Install low-flow spray valves. Pre-rinsing dishes before they go in the dishwasher consumes thousands of gallons of water per year in a typical food service establishment, and the EPA notes that using a high-efficiency, low-flow spray can make a big difference.4 These valves have smaller nozzles to direct water more effectively, keeping a strongly directed spray but using less water in the process. They are often relatively easy to install in sinks.
  • Ensure you have restaurant policies in place that help cut down on hot water usage during dishwashing, such as advising staff to only wash fully loaded dish racks.
  • Issue water-saving reminders to staff by hanging signs that remind them to turn off faucets or dishwashers when not in use.

Direct your heat more effectively
Ovens, especially if they are older, may have caked-on dirt and grease that impedes their ability to operate at full capacity, and they may also work better with a few mechanical tweaks.

For ovens, make these tips a priority:

  • Institute a policy to clean ovens as soon as possible after a spill (before the food gets hardened) and to do a deep clean at least once a month to help maintain your machines. Check your owner’s manual to see if your oven has any recommendations for how best to clean it.
  • Check the seals to make sure they are fitted tightly — if you can stick a paper between the door seal, it’s time to tighten the hinges.
  • Use an internal thermometer to make certain your oven is running to the set temperature. If the thermometer gives a different reading than the dial indicates, look into recalibrating the settings on your oven.

Small changes can help boost your energy efficiency now, but if you want to look into upgrading to high-efficiency equipment, download PG&E’s Quick-Service Restaurant Rebates Guide to learn a cost-effective way to do so.



Sources:
  1. EPA ENERGY STAR, “Guide for Cafés, Restaurants, and Institutional Kitchens.”
  2. Food Service Technology Center, Green Sheet: “Push ‘Em Back, Push ‘Em Back — and Boost the Performance of Your Kitchen Exhaust Hood!”
  3. Food Service Technology Center, Green Sheet: “Cold Cash: Are You Wasting Money on Inefficient Refrigeration?”
  4. EPA, “High-Efficiency Pre-Rinse Spray Valves.”

Easy Recipes for Boosting Your Restaurant's Energy Efficiency
  • SMB Blog Author
    Alice Bredin
    Alice Bredin is an internationally renowned small business expert and author. Small business owners worldwide have relied on her books and columns to improve their productivity and success. She is a former small business commentator for public radio's Marketplace program and has helped shape small business policies through her testimony to the Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship. Alice is president of Bredin, Inc., a B2B marketing agency that helps the Fortune 500 sell to small and midsize businesses.
 

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