“One third to one half of the electricity used at a restaurant goes to food prep,” says Richard Young, lead engineer and director of education at the Pacific Gas & Electric Food Service Technology Center in San Ramon, Calif. “In fact, a single cooking appliance over its lifespan can rack up utility bills equivalent to the cost of an entire house.”
“You only make money on energy used directly for food production,” Young points out. “Every dollar you can save on utilities will go directly to your bottom line.”
Smart operators can tweak their kitchens and operations to reduce utilities costs. On/off schedules, cook line analysis, high efficiency cooking technology and life cycle calculators are four painless ways to cut utility costs and enhance your bottom line.
Develop On/Off Schedules
The first thing many operators do when they arrive at their restaurant in the morning is to turn on ovens, grills, fryers and hoods. But unless they’ll be serving customers right away, this common practice is taking money from your bottom line.
“In fact, most pieces of equipment need only 15 minutes to be ready for service,” Young says.
Young describes three steps to take control of your appliances and save money. First, create a start up and shut down time table for each piece of primary equipment. Then, go back and finesse the schedule. “For example, if you have double-stacked ovens, can you turn one off during slow times?” Young asks.
Second, create a start up/shut down time table for secondary or support appliances — conveyor toasters, hood or, dish room equipment such as pulpers and disposal sinks.
And third, walk through the kitchen and identify all the plugged in items, including heat lamps, coffee warmers, toasters, plate warmers, etc. Train staff to turn them off when not needed. “When it’s not obvious that the equipment is turned on, the units could well be using electricity 24-7,” Young says.
Optimize kitchen operations
Your kitchen may have the most efficient equipment on the market, but that won’t help your bottom line if it’s in the wrong location.
“Watch your cook line for three hours during a meal period,” advises Paul O’Keefe, vice president of National Accounts, TriMark United East in South Attleboro, Mass., whose team specializes in restaurant design. “Keep track of how many times your chef had to leave the line and why he or she left. Was it to go to the walk-in for additional supplies? To go to the dish area to get plates? Next, challenge yourself to eliminate the reasons why that employee had to leave the line.”
O’Keefe tells of one customer whose chef was convinced he needed a fully stocked bun rack to get through lunch rush, yet kept running out of burger patties and toppings because there was no space for a refrigerator. A closer look at product actually used revealed that buns were being overstocked. At that point, “the lightbulb went off,” O’Keefe says. “We replaced the full-sized bun rack with a worktop refrigerator, and added two over-shelves to store the buns. The change saved the chef eight to 12 re-supply trips to the walk-in, 100 feet away, in the middle of rush periods.”
High-tech and energy-efficient equipment
Newer technology such as induction burners and high wattage microwave ovens can speed service times without placing a hit on utility bills. “How many times have you wished that two burners of your six burner stove were on the other side of the line? Induction ranges can fix that problem,” O’Keefe says.
Countertop and drop-in induction equipment in the form of conventional ranges, stockpot ranges, single hobs, and even woks or planchas, offers controlled heating without adding to your kitchen’s HVAC load. Bonus point: Induction cookers can be used in non-traditional areas and usually do not need to be vented.
Microwaves are another evolving equipment category to check into for speedy, energy-efficient cookery. “Microwave hybrid technology — whether that’s a ‘steam microwave’ or a ‘speed’ cooker — gives you options that are less expensive than a full speed oven, yet more versatile and powerful than traditional microwaves,” O’Keefe says. Look into models made by Amana/ACP Bakers Pride, Panasonic, Alto-Shaam and Waring, to name a few.
Life cycle calculators
“High efficiency units are better at moving the energy you purchase into the food you’re selling,” Young points out. Precise controls, better insulation and improved heat exchangers and burners all play a role in making one model of equipment more energy smart than another. When it comes time to add equipment to your kitchen, life cycle calculators can help you choose between the griddle and the broiler, or the combi oven vs. the rotisserie oven.
Life cycle calculators, available online at the Food Service Technology Center website (www.fishnick.com), ask you to input such data as the make and model, energy costs, operating hours, location and other parameters in order to generate an estimate of the cost to operate the unit over its lifespan.
“Take steamers, for example,” Young says. “Even a small three-pan steamer will send 40 gallons/hour down the drain and cost about $3,000 per year in energy, water and sewer fees. By contrast, a closed-loop steamer recirculates steam instead of sending it down the drain, and costs $500 per year to operate.”
Whichever energy efficiency solutions provide the best operational and economic fit for your particular foodservice operation, it is smart to keep in mind that any savings you are able to introduce will go straight to your bottom line.