Own a restaurant? Tips to save time, energy, and money.

1. Make Your Menu More Efficient.

Are your menu items being prepped and cooked as efficiently as possible? Items that need to be thawed for daily food service can be defrosted in a refrigerator overnight instead of under running water reducing energy usage and conserving water. Review your menu to see if there are common ingredients or items that can all come from one source. Minimizing the number of individual deliveries you receive weekly will add to your conservation practices and reduce your delivery expenses as well as receiving time when you can be going in and out of cold storage using additional energy to bring it back to safe temperatures.

2. Switch to energy efficient light bulbs.

Subway recently switched all their light bulbs to energy efficient bulbs in all of their 2000 US franchise locations. Switching to an energy efficient light bulb can save up to $22 per bulb per year. This can add up to quite a savings over time. Also keep lights off when you don’t need them. If you don’t start serving lunch until 11 o’clock there is no reason to turn the dining room lights on until then.

Areas such as walk-in coolers or your dry store room don’t need to be illuminated all day long. Turning off lights as you leave typically unused areas is a great way to save money on your energy bill. Electrical timers can be used in these areas especially if they are commonly forgotten and left on overnight.

Higher efficiency bulbs can be used in areas that require constant lighting. Replace incandescent lights in your walk in cooler with fluorescent or LED lights which produce less heat and consume less energy. Replacing bulbs with higher efficient options will show a lower cost in your monthly bill.

3. Pre-cut and freeze many of the common vegetables you use in your restaurant or cafe.

slicing-veggiesOnions: Buy in bulk and on sale. Peel and slice or dice. Freeze one layer thick on a cookie sheet. When frozen transfer to plastic jars with screw on lids. Immediately put back in the freezer. Don’t forget to label the jars! When you need some onions in a cooked dish just shake out what you need. If they clump together shake really hard to loosen. Some of the ways we use frozen onions: sautéed or grilled on hamburgers, in omelets, in any dish that the customer asks for “extra onions” that will be cooked or at least heated.

4. Train your staff.

kitchen staff for restaurantTeach your staff to sort recyclables, turn off lights, and let you know if there is a leaky faucet in the wait station. Ask them to bring in their own take-home containers instead of using the restaurant take-outs.

Busy kitchen staff may often forget to do the simplest of energy efficient steps. Leaving oven doors open releases vast amounts of heat. Each time you open an oven door the temperature can drop by as much as 25o F.; watch the clock and use a timer instead. Don’t leave the convection oven or steamer door open too long or it will just continue to release heat, burning unnecessary energy to retain the proper cooking temperature.

The walk-in cooler is another door that needs to be shut at all times or cooling becomes a continuous energy pit. If doors such as the walk-in cooler are consistently left open, place spring hinges on the doors and it will automatically close, eliminating the opportunity for staff to forget to shut the door.

Get a Small Business Grant to Help Purchase Your Walk-in Cooler or Freezer

government-grantsBeing “green” and “energy efficient” are big advertising buzzwords today.
But besides the benefits to the environment, there are definitely good economical reasons for “going green“. There is a HUGE potential for savings on your next electric bill. However, investing in new efficient equipment like walk-in freezers, furnaces, or stoves often present too much of an up front cost (even if they would pay for themselves in energy savings in a few years) so the purchase is delayed as long as possible. Think you can’t afford that new refrigerator or ice machine? Maybe you can with the help of your state government.

In this political environment there are many grants available for small businesses, especially when it comes to making your business more energy efficient. The following is a list of websites where you can find and apply for grants in your state (most are linked to the state’s business website but some are linked to specific energy grants). There is also an online government grant and loan search available. Different grants have different requirements and payouts (for example, some will require you to reduce energy usage by at least 20% and the state will foot 25% of the equipment bill).

Economic Development Websites:

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming

Note: Website links accurate as of 8/22/2014. Let us know of any changes in state website links.

Walk-in Cooler & Freezer Shopping Tips

shopping walkin coolerBe aware when shopping for walk-ins online that you are comparing the same size box and refrigeration. Some companies are offering smaller sized refrigeration packages, which make it look cheaper upfront but may not provide you the results you are looking for.

Some systems, whether they are coolers or freezers, are designed only to hold the temperature of the product coming in and are not designed to pull-down the temperature of the product to the desired holding temperature. Pull-down happens when there is product entering the cooler or freezer that is warmer than the desired temperature and needs to cool in a short amount of time. For example, when a restaurant owner has a large pot of soup that needs to be cooled quickly to avoid bacteria growth, the refrigeration must be able to cool the soup to the desired temperature in a reasonable and safe time while maintaining the holding temperature in the cooler/freezer. Systems designed for holding only and not to pull down the temperature of the product coming in will only work properly if products entering the box are already at the desired temperature, either cold or already frozen.

The industry standard design temperature for freezers is at -10° F. Some online companies are selling their freezer refrigeration at a holding temperature of 0° F. If you try to run a walk-in designed for 0° F holding temperature and set the thermostat to -10° F, it will run constantly trying to meet the -10° F temperature it was not designed to hold. This will shorten the life of the compressor and may cause the coil to freeze and consequently warm up the box to melting temperature, damaging the food stored inside.

Before purchasing, you must understand the difference and what implications it could have on your business. Most perishable items that are stored in a freezer are not frozen to start with and will need to freeze and stay frozen for a period of time. If the box is designed for holding temperature only and is set at 0° F, the refrigeration will work harder and longer to pull the temperature inside the box back down to 0° F once warm food is stored in the freezer. Frozen products, such as ice cream, hold up better at -10° F rather than 0° F. When a freezer goes into defrost it can raise the box temperature by 10-15°. If your box is set at 0° F, a 10-15° temperature swing can cause some products to be damaged or melted. When dealing with food it is imperative to make sure the holding temperature in the freezer is low enough to keep products frozen, protecting from bacteria or other hazards that spread through food not refrigerated correctly. (Check with your local health codes for the required holding temperature of your walk-in cooler and freezer.) It is also important to note that when refrigeration is working longer and harder, your energy costs will increase as well as the chances of your refrigeration breaking down or having inefficiencies.

Every state has requirements for storing cold food; here is an example of Illinois’s Administrative Code.

Energy (and money) Saving Tips for Your Walk-in

steel walk-in coolerHere are some ways to help you save energy costs on your walk-in refrigerator or walk-in freezer.

  • Properly seal all penetrations in walk-in.
  • Replace worn or damaged door seals.
  • Periodically, check gaskets between panels to make sure they are not cracked or weathered. If so, check with your local health codes for the correct procedure to follow as far as repair and replacement.
  • Do not prop door open for an extended period of time.
  • Add strip curtains or air curtains to your walk-in for extra protection from air infiltration when door is open.
  • Make sure the lights are off when exiting the walk-in. Lights produce heat, which will cause your unit to run more to hold its optimal temperature.
  • Make sure there is nothing stacked around the coil to restrict airflow.
  • Make sure fan motors are balanced and running at optimum speed. Clean fan blades to reduce drag.
  • Use an evaporator with an EC Motor.
  • Install refrigeration away from doors.
  • Keep condenser coils clean.
  • Utilize Smart Defrost Kits.
  • Set defrost frequency at minimum requirements.