13 ways to painlessly improve profitability in 2013: Schedule your energy
By Jay Fiske

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Would you schedule your wait staff to work when your restaurant isn't open? Would you want to pay them starting at 7:30 a.m. even though lunch service doesn't start until 11:30 a.m.? Of course not. Well, you may be doing exactly that with your energy.

INDUSTRY PULSE

Do you have an energy schedule at your facility?
  • 1. Yes
  • 2. No

The scenario is a common one. It's early. Diners won't be arriving for hours, but your kitchen staff is already arriving. What's first on the day's agenda? Flip on the lights, turn on the flat top, the broiler and all of the other equipment needed for the upcoming service. Then grab a quick cup of coffee before the day begins in earnest. When you think about it, it sounds crazy, but that has been common practice in the restaurant business for decades.

You can almost hear the electric meter spin. The good news, however, is that much of that "spin" can be controlled by your front-line team members and the assistance of a startup/shutdown schedule. Most of the energy used in a foodservice operation is related to food preparation, followed by heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC).

According to the National Restaurant Association (NRA), the cost of utilities runs approximately 2.5 to 3.4 percent of total restaurant sales, depending on the type of operation. At first glance, that number may seem relatively low, but remember that every energy dollar saved drops right to the bottom line. A dollar reduction in energy is the equivalent of an additional $12.50 in sales, assuming an 8 percent profit margin.

Here's what that can mean to your restaurant. According to the Food Service Technology Center, the average gas broiler (100,000 BTU/h) costs about $1 per hour to operate when idle. By reducing idle time by just three hours a day you can save $1,095 a year if you operate seven days a week. Using the NRA multiplier, that equates to $13,688 in additional sales per year — and that's from just one appliance.

Best of all, reaping that reward won't cost you a dime. It's all about education. As the old adage says, "When people know better, they do better." It's about re-examining how and when energy is used.

There are two important components to the equation — the amount of energy used and when it is used. But where to start?

Gather your team together and look at your options. Below are a few good areas to target:
  • Cooking equipment: When is each piece actively used? How much time does it take to bring it “up to speed” and ready for use? It’s usually about 15-20 minutes.
  • Lights, hoods, signs and fans: This one’s easy — if they’re not being used, turn them off.
  • Front-of-the-house lighting: When are you open to receive guests? Are you taking advantage of natural light? Can you scale back lighting usage during off-peak hours?
  • Back-of-the-house lighting: Are there areas of the kitchen that aren’t used throughout the day? Just like at home — if you’re not using it, turn it off.
  • Exterior lighting: Are your parking lot lights adjusted so they only operate only when needed? Do you adjust that timing seasonally?
  • Heating & air conditioning: Are thermostats programmed to provide the necessary comfort without breaking the bank? Does your dining room really need to maintain the same temperature when not in use? Just a few degrees difference, particularly during peak demand, can save real dollars.
  • Ice machines: Can you install a timer to shift ice production to nighttime, off-peak hours and make enough to last the day? If so, it’s like storing energy; you can cut the energy cost per pound of ice in half.
These are just a few general areas to consider. For more specific suggestions and information, visit FSTC Life-Cycle and Energy Cost Calculators.

You can also integrate startup/shutdown schedules with all of your other operational procedures. Create schedules for each piece of equipment and post them together with prep lists so everything is conveniently in one spot. You might also want to post the schedule for each piece of equipment adjacent to it. If you make it easy to remember, it will be easy to follow.

Then just sit back and watch that energy bill drop — assuming everyone follows the schedule. That can be a big assumption. Old habits are hard to break, and programming new ones can be a real challenge.

See related stories: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Jay Fiske is vice president of business development for Powerhouse Dynamics, developers of the eMonitor energy, asset and water management platform for homes and small commercial facilities. Fiske is responsible for leading the company’s overall sales and marketing strategy, developing and growing market channels, and establishing strategic partnerships.