Editor’s note: The author is editor in chief of The Schechter Report, and a veteran journalist who has covered the foodservice industry, especially equipment news and information, for more than 20 years. The content here does not necessarily reflect the views of Nation’s Restaurant News.
Here’s the good news: Consumer spending is up. Here’s the bad news: Consumers are spending more because the cost of things they must have, like food and fuel, continue to rise in price. So, restaurants and foodservices are likely to be serving more customers (if the menu prices and choices are right), but everything operators need to conduct their programs is near certain to become still more expensive.
There are solutions, and a surprising number of them can be found in the back of the house. Because professional kitchens are extremely energy-intensive, typically the single greatest energy-consuming area in any commercial building, the selection of equipment, HVAC and air-handling systems and even utility providers can make a huge difference in the cost of operations. Let’s start with food storage, prep, production, display and service equipment. As prices for gas, oil and even LP continue their ascent, the longer operators hold on to older, less energy-efficient cookers, refrigeration units and serving pieces, the more they will find their margins eroded, especially in the face of diners’ resistance to higher menu prices.
In addition to reducing resource consumption, installing new energy-efficient foodservice equipment now qualifies operators for a range of rebates and tax breaks from metropolitan, county and state agencies, as well as utility providers themselves. Additional assistance can be provided by energy consultants who can help restaurateurs and foodservice operators obtain state and federal energy conservation funding, grants, tax credits, interest loans and materials and labor for facility upgrades that increase energy efficiency.
Any argument for a foodservice business to stand pat is based on the assumption that improvements will fail to pay for themselves in a useful period of time. That position tends to become untenable, however, when the cost of doing business rises faster than profits can be increased. The answer for foodservices and restaurants is, spend to save. And equip yourselves for the future.