Jeff Clark, director of the National Restaurant Association’s Conserve sustainability program, talks about the industry's energy use and how operators can be more efficient and save money on utility costs.
Interest in sustainability seems to be catching on?
It’s starting to gain traction. A lot more restaurant operators are interested in sustainability generally. The NRA’s What’s Hot survey lists top culinary trends in the United States. For the second year in a row, environmental sustainability this year ranked as the third hottest menu trend. That’s huge.
But reducing energy is still a challenge?
Many restaurateurs may not see energy as one of their most pressing concerns. Utilities typically represent around 3 percent to 4 percent of operating costs for restaurateurs. Compare that with labor and food, which cost nearly 10 times more. If you’re a franchisee or independent restaurateur, you’re probably more worried about labor costs and preparing food for your customers than you are about energy use.
Why is saving energy important?
Though it isn’t as expensive as labor or rent, energy costs are on par with many restaurants’ profit margins, and that’s significant. From a cost perspective, for example, Energy Star says replacing eight regular light bulbs with LEDs or compact fluorescent light bulbs could save $330 a year in electricity costs. To make that same amount, a café with a 5 percent profit margin would need to sell $6,600 of food.
What can a restaurateur do to start becoming more energy efficient?
There are three things you can do immediately:
Keep your walk-in refrigerator doors shut and well maintained. Don’t erode your energy savings by propping the door open. Also, add a strip curtain and door closer. With a little training, you can save hundreds of dollars a year in energy costs.
Establish a start-up/shut-down schedule. Most cooking equipment only needs to be pre-heated for about 20 minutes. When the equipment is not in use, turn it off.
Optimize hot water temperature. Water temperature is set by health code mandates: typically 120 degrees Fahrenheit at hand sinks and 140 degrees F at dish machines. You must meet those requirements. But if you’re setting the water hotter, you're wasting energy that will cost you hundreds of extra dollars a year.
Visit the National Restaurant Association’s Conserve program to learn how to practice sustainability at your restaurant.
Pictured, top right: Conserve's Jeff Clark; above: energy-efficient light bulb