Brandon Tidwell, Darden Restaurants’ sustainability manager, is helping identify ways to operate the company’s more than 2,100 restaurants in more environmentally efficient and cost-effective ways. Since 2011, Darden has reduced its energy and water use as well as waste. The parent of Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, Red Lobster, Bahama Breeze, Seasons 52, and Capital Grille, Darden is looking to achieve a 15 percent reduction in energy and water consumption by 2015. Tidwell shared thoughts on the importance of sustainability and how to switch to more efficient lighting.
Why is sustainability important to Darden?
Darden is a values-driven company. We’ve put a lot of effort into caring about and respecting the earth’s natural resources. It is part of the way we do business. Our employees also are a major motivating factor. During tours of our restaurants, and through our safety and sustainability teams, we continually hear from our employees that sustainability matters. Last, from a utility-management standpoint, it makes good business sense to pay attention to rising costs and find ways to reduce our costs through more efficient lighting.
How do you successfully switch to more efficient lighting, save energy and money?
We’ve completed back-of-the-house re-lamping, moving from the typical incandescent bulbs to compact fluorescent lamp lighting. We’ve also had to determine if recycling mechanisms were in place for the old CFL bulbs. We’ve even piloted some LED lighting systems, although the technology is still developing.
For the front of house, like all restaurateurs, we’ve had to look at the infrastructure to make sure the right electrical equipment is in place to actually make the change to LED lighting. Our program started in 2009 and has achieved our monetary and energy saving targets. Since 2009, we have reduced our per-restaurant energy use by more than 12 percent.
What are some of the biggest challenges in switching over to more efficient lighting in a restaurant?
One of the biggest challenges for restaurants is making sure lighting products provide the same guest experience. You want your lighting changes to be more efficient, but you don’t want them to be brighter or starker so that they won’t provide the warm and comfortable feeling guests want when they dine out. You want to make the right decisions, but you also have to keep the guest experience in mind.
How do you achieve the right balance?
Our facilities teams work with the right suppliers to see what technologies are available. They make sure suppliers are continually testing and refreshing those technologies to ensure their effectiveness. One of the challenges is that you always have restaurants that are older facilities. These may not have the right electrical wiring systems to support new technologies. Some technologies are easy to adapt and others are not. When we build a new restaurant, we definitely use more efficient lighting or energy-efficient pieces. But if it’s a remodel, we may have to phase it in as part of the remodel.
Visit the National Restaurant Association’s Conserve program for more information about best practices in sustainability for restaurants.