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National Restaurant Association - Saving money: Focus on energy, water, waste

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Saving money: Focus on energy, water, waste

The sustainability options available today could help restaurateurs lower their per-store operating costs as they open stores again after years of forgoing expansion.

The sustainability movement was just gaining momentum when restaurant development was in full swing before the Great Recession. Experts agree that operators have whole new categories of green kitchen equipment available to them today, while the payback period has been shortened because of rising utility costs.

"If I were opening a restaurant, there are three things I would look at: Energy, water and waste,” says Jenni Bair, a LEED-accredited marketing manager for Hobart. Bair is a featured speaker at a June 15 NRA webinar on sustainability savings.

Energy use is likely to get that increased scrutiny from operators, says Bair. In the past, many operators weren’t aware of how much energy each piece of kitchen equipment uses. That, she says, is almost certain to change as operators realize how much profit is eaten by fuel costs.

She champions the selection of Energy Star-certified equipment for new or revamped kitchens. The equipment earns that designation by meeting federal standards for efficiency, so the hard work of finding energy-saving equipment is done for the operator.

Restaurants that can’t replace existing equipment with Energy Star components can still keep energy costs in check by studying their monthly bills.

"Benchmarking and monitoring is an important first step in sustainability," Bair says. A spike could signal such problems as an equipment malfunction or employees failing to follow recommended procedures, like turning equipment off when it's not needed.

She also suggests that restaurateurs do their homework whether they’re opening a new place or focusing on an existing establishment. They may discover that conventional wisdom no longer holds.

For instance, three-compartment sinks are virtually standard in restaurants, but may not be necessary. A dishwasher could serve the same purpose, possibly at a lower overall expense.

"You think, 'Oh, with a dishwasher, it's another piece of equipment I'll have to get,'" she says. "But it might not be an addition in terms of energy." The water used in the sink has to be heated and held to a certain temperature. "You could end up saving money with a dishwasher because of the efficiency."

Similarly, energy or water-conserving equipment might cost more, but the difference is offset quicker today because the savings are greater, a function of steeply climbing utility costs. "It's really the whole cost of the equipment that you have to calculate -- figure out the cost on a lifecycle basis," says Bair.
She adds that many utilities provide rebates and other incentives for buying more-efficient equipment.

Bair will participate in an NRA webinar Wednesday, June 15, 2 p.m. ET, on how sustainability can cut restaurants' development expenses and operating costs. Register for the webinar here.

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