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Sector focus: How restaurants can save money on energy bills

If cracking down on energy spend can improve your profitability, why aren't more restaurants looking to do so?
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For food outlets, gas and electricity costs represent a serious chunk of the overheads. Here are some tips on reducing energy bills and becoming more profitable.

Previously in this sector focus, we explored how gas and electricity are one of the largest operating costs for any food outlet. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, commercial kitchens require two and a half times more energy per square foot than any other kind of business premises.

We also explored how having a greener brand can be good for business – with 62 per cent of diners saying they would rather eat at an environmentally friendly restaurant.

Given that making energy saving changes can be good for business and good for the customers, it seems like a no-brainer – so why aren’t more food outlets getting on top of energy spend? Ultimately, it comes down to two things: cost and awareness.

Here, we explore some cost-effective ways to make greener changes to your restaurant that can generate both immediate and long-term savings.

Educate staff

When you decide to cut consumption of energy at any premises, the first step is to get a clear understanding of where your energy goes.

Once you understand this, you can make simple changes – things like making sure you are keeping refrigerators open for as short a time as possible, making sure you don’t have widows open and heater on at the same time, turning equipment off when it is not in use, etc.

Try printing out some simple posters and instructions reminding them of these simple things.

The key to catering

There are some specific changes you can make in your kitchen to reduce energy waste. The Carbon Trust recommends:

• Choosing the right saucepan for the size of the job, and using lids where you can
• Use a frying pan over griddles for smaller jobs
• Don’t put the dishwasher on until you have a full load
• Shorten the drying times in dishwasher cycles

You should also be sure to maintain your equipment – for example, don’t let refrigerators ice up – and, where possible, invest in eco-friendly cooking equipment. For example, according to the Sustainable Restaurants Association, traditional hobs can be as much as 50 per cent less efficient than electric induction hobs.

You may also benefit from re-examining your menu; you could offer a wider range of dishes that require less cooking, or review reducing the number of dishes so that more portions can be cooked together.

Timing and automation

Another thing to look out for is peak energy consumption times. If you have set working hours, it may be worth exploring a timer for your heating/air conditioning – there’s no point wasting energy on keeping your restaurant at optimal temperature at all times when there’s nobody in it.

Keep in mind, you are not just looking at when your customers arrive, but when staff arrive and leave. More comfortable working conditions will improve morale and productivity.

Try to think of your approach to making energy savings as a process of continual improvement – there will always be ways to improve, and you don’t have to over-haul your kitchen and make all the changes up front.

You can begin by training staff to be more conscious of energy consumption, and slowly implement more changes as you go. Perhaps as and when the business can afford it, you can look to replace equipment with more energy-friendly options.

Over time, the savings on energy bills can really add up.

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About Author

Letitia Booty

Letitia Booty is a special projects journalist for Real Business. She has a BA in english literature from the University of East Anglia, and since graduating she has written for a variety of trade titles. Most recently, she was a reporter at SME magazine.

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