May 2006 Edition
Dealing with Rising Energy Costs

Energy costs are on the rise and are expected to increase over the next few years.  But higher utility costs have a double toll when it comes to restaurants.  Not only do they affect operating costs, but as consumers have less disposable income, it reduces the amount spent on eating out.  In fact, according to a survey conducted by the National Restaurant Association in October 2005, nearly 90% of quick service and 66% of fullservice restaurant operators mentioned that high gas prices and utility costs have already negatively affected their business.

In the past, the restaurant industry has traditionally lagged behind others in implementing energy-efficient innovations as the focus has been on guaranteeing quality food and service.  With rising costs now affecting the bottom line, restaurants are moving energy efficiency off the back burner, and many are attempting to reduce their utility costs by upgrading their equipment or changing their operating procedures.  As good as these intentions may be, experts warn that if not properly maintained, the benefits may only be temporary.

One leading energy consulting company recommends taking a “regular” maintenance approach rather than a “preventative” approach.  For example, simple procedures such as scheduling regular refrigerator coil cleaning could save money over time.  Once the coils get dirty, the heat doesn’t go anywhere and it takes more energy to cool the food.  The same theory holds true when it comes to maintaining air-conditioning equipment, exhaust-and-supply fans and cooking thermostats.


Adding Energy Efficiency to the Menu


However, it’s not all doom and gloom.  Canada’s EnerGuide for Existing Buildings (EEB) works with a network of partners and service providers across Canada to provide information ranging from technical equipment retrofits to staff training.  Their goal is to help Canadian businesses and institutions reduce costs and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by becoming more energy efficient.  Through the program, there are currently are over 1000 registered businesses who have not only made commitments that will contribute to reducing Canada’s GHG emissions, but who have saved money and energy.


One Ontario-based franchise owner noticed a reduction in his restaurant’s energy use within a year of joining the organization.  His main areas of improvement included upgrades to lighting, refrigeration, and heating, ventilation and air conditioning.  The company is still in the process of upgrading, but once the entire energy plan is implemented, the restaurant owner hopes to reduce his annual energy consumption by 20%, saving him over $150,000 in energy costs a year.

 “We’re trying to combat rising costs in the energy marketplace by reducing our consumption,” says the restaurant owner.  “We’ve attacked energy use because it was our highest rising cost.  Energy costs keep going up, but we can’t keep raising our food prices.”


Fighting Back with Retrofit Solutions


Focusing on retrofit efforts was the best solution for this particular restaurant.  After setting clear efficiency targets and developing an action plan with the help of a professional energy consultant, the owner began to implement the energy-saving measures.


“The plan helped make sure we did it properly,” says the owner.  “Instead of me trying to figure out what lights to use, I could rely on the consultant’s expertise to bring down the costs.” 

One key area of improvement involved retrofitting the lighting.  Three 60-watt incandescent spotlights at the front entrance were replaced with 20-watt compact fluorescent bulbs.  In the kitchen and storage areas, 55 surface-mounted fixtures and a number of other lights were replaced with T-8 fluorescent bulbs and electronic ballasts.  Washroom lighting was also replaced with T-8 bulbs.  The total estimated energy-savings is $736 a year.

The restaurant also replaced their hot water heater with a high-efficiency condensing boiler, saving them $1674 a year.  One other change was installing energy-saving digital controls to shut off the fans in public washrooms and other areas when the restaurant was not serving patrons.  This small change reduced the number of hours the fans were running by six hours a day, saving the restaurant $101 a year.


The restaurant’s next phase of improvement will involve replacing equipment as it ends its life cycle.  Instead of only looking at price, the restaurant owner is planning to add energy-efficiency into the decision by choosing such items as high-efficiency fryers and refrigeration units with air-cooling systems rather than liquid cooling as they use less energy. 


With small steps for improvement and a committed plan, restaurants can fight back against rising utility costs, without having to increase prices or reduce quality.   “In some cases, it’s (the savings) not a lot of money, but small changes add up,” says the franchise owner.


Five Quick  Energy Saving Tips:


1)         Look for the Energy Star Label when purchasing new equipment.

2)         Choose a kitchen exhaust system that automatically varies the fan speed 
            so it doesn’t run at full speed all day.

3)         Use inexpensive, decorative fluorescent lights wherever possible.

4)         Ensure air-conditioning and heating units aren’t operating at the same time
            and use a programmable thermostat to set back the temperature at night.

5)         Install low water dishwashers and toilet fixtures.