Restaurants, like any other business, focus on the bottom line, implementing practical – sometimes creative – solutions to maximize profits, quality, and growth. Efficiency is the magic word that drives decision making, whether that entails enhancing workflow in the kitchen, optimizing staffing, or cross-utilizing ingredients on the menu. One of the biggest cost savings can be realized through careful consumption of energy and water. Commercial kitchens use over 2.5 times more of these resources than any other commercial space, so preventing waste is critical in the equation for success. Here are five ways to conserve those resources and save money in a commercial kitchen.
1. Invest in an upgrade. The complex processes of storing, prepping, and serving food in a commercial setting depend on powerful appliances to ensure quality. Essential equipment like water heaters, refrigerators, dishwashers, ovens, and ventilation systems account for approximately 80% of the total electricity and natural gas expenses at a restaurant, so investing in new, more efficient tools will have a significant financial impact. Owners can review life cycle/energy cost calculators to determine whether upgrading is the correct decision, based on the age and condition of the existing equipment. However, between rebate incentives and the improved efficiency of newer Energy-star-rated appliances, the initial expense of replacing equipment will be offset by a very short time. Extremely specialized, high-tech equipment is also available to take these energy-conservation efforts to the next level. Innovative heat recovery systems allow kitchens to reclaim the hot air and water produced by other equipment - refrigeration units, dishwashers, and air conditioners – and recycle it to heat other water or air resources. Energy monitoring systems are another valuable tool that involves using a complex system to constantly monitor the use and performance of kitchen equipment and automatically control the settings to ensure the kitchen is running at peak efficiency.
2. Be proactive. Maintaining existing equipment and restaurant facilities can be time-consuming, inconvenient, and expensive, and these “cons” make it tempting to move maintenance down the list of business priorities. Unfortunately, this temptation often leads to the premature replacement of appliances and unnecessarily high utility bills. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Preventative care of the space and tools that keep a commercial kitchen running helps ensure maximum life expectancy on expensive equipment and preserves overall efficiency. Regular maintenance of the HVAC system, for example, including cleaning condenser coils and changing filters, helps the thermostat operate effectively at an optimum temperature setting. Inspecting refrigerator and freezer doors guards against seal damage that may allow cold air to escape and occasional defrosting keeps freezers working effectively. Even something as simple as cleaning light fixtures can prevent excess heat production.
3. Soak, don’t scrub. Keeping the commercial kitchen and all its complementary equipment clean is a critical part of preserving a safe and efficient workspace. Pots, pans, and vent hood filters quickly succumb to excess residue from fats used during the cooking process, and high-temperature cooking can produce carbon build-up on baking sheets and other utensils. Kitchen staff invests hours of labor in keeping this equipment sanitary and functional, and those labor costs add up quickly. In addition to the staff expense, traditional scrubbing in a sink means wasted water, taxed hot water heaters, and excess money spent on scrubbing tools. The harsh chemicals used to thoroughly clean the surfaces are also hard on the equipment itself, which leads to additional replacement costs. Kitchen soak tanks offer a valuable and efficient solution to this problem that results in significant resource savings. Tanks come in a variety of sizes to accommodate any commercial size kitchen and are reasonably priced; some manufacturers allow restaurants to rent the equipment, making it a flexible option for occasional use. Soak tanks are available in both warm and cold water varieties and use special cleansers that are non-toxic and non-corrosive. This gives soak tanks the added benefit of being a more eco-friendly option, eliminating the need for the use and disposal of dangerous chemical degreasers. Unlike traditional dishwashers, most soak tanks only need to be emptied and refilled every few weeks, so the water savings alone makes them an indispensable part of an energy-efficient kitchen.
4. Flip the switch. In a busy restaurant setting, staff is often more focused on customer satisfaction than energy-conserving habits. Having built-in infrastructure that substitutes for good habits pays off, and one of the easiest solutions is optimizing dining room and kitchen lighting. While occupancy sensors are often found in restaurant bathrooms, this technology can be used in offices, function rooms, walk-in coolers, and other storage areas as well. Daylight sensors are another alternative, working as dimming controls (which can be adjusted manually, if necessary) to automatically adjust the lighting based on the available natural light, all without depending on staff intervention. Replacing traditional bulbs with compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) can reduce lighting expenses by 30% - 50%, saving hundreds of dollars each year. CFLs also last approximately 25 times longer and produce significantly less heat than regular light bulbs which magnifies the cost-savings. Although CFLs do cost more than traditional incandescent bulbs, most will result in a return of that investment in less than nine months. LEDs can also be a good replacement solution, particularly for illuminating signage.
5. Engage employees. There are several steps restaurant owners can take on their own to produce cost-savings in a commercial kitchen. Taking the time to train employees and establish best practices that make them feel like part of the solution, though, will maximize those savings. Owners may choose to disclose the amount of the restaurant’s monthly energy expenses to encourage employee buy-in, as well as reward employees who find creative ways to cut expenses. Value-added contributions may be as simple as reporting equipment issues like leaking faucets or unexplained thermostat changes. As an organization, the restaurant can implement simple energy management procedures that include, for example, processes to minimize the opening of oven doors and refrigerators/freezers, or solutions to reduce food waste and maximize recycling.
Equipment schedules can be designed to keep certain equipment on only when in use – turning off certain sections of griddles or broilers during slow periods. Another common problem is running half-full dishwashers. Because these appliances utilize several different resources, setting rules only to run a cycle when the washer is full is a simple employee-driven change to eliminate waste.