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Going green is a huge buzzword these days, but the great thing about it is, going green can also save you money. Learn how here.

Is Your Restaurant’s Commercial Dish Machine Efficient?

Commercial dishwashers are energy hogs, pure and simple.  There’s no way to get around it, and the best you can do is try to mitigate the costs associated with dishwashing by employing a few effective strategies.Is Your Restaurant’s Commercial Dish Machine Efficient?

Wash full racks only. It’s so obvious it almost seems dumb to say, but train your kitchen staff to never, ever, run anything less than a full rack through the dish machine.  The temptation to run the dishwasher half full is much greater than you might realize, and it’s a colossal waste of energy.

Is Your Restaurant’s Commercial Dish Machine Efficient?Check water temperature. Use a dishwasher thermometer to check the temperature of the water during the rinse cycle on a regular basis.  This is especially important for high temp dishwashers, as you want to ensure you are hitting 180 degrees Fahrenheit on every cycle.  However, a temp check will also help kitchens with a low temp dishwasher because often the unit runs water that is too hot, and the water temp can be turned down to save energy.

Booster heaters, internal tank heaters, and commercial water heaters can all be adjusted to optimize water temperature and minimize waste.  It’s important to continue checking water temperature as well because over time, use and wear may change the water temp in the dishwasher, requiring further adjustments.

For more information on high temp and low temp dishwashers, check out The Back Burner’s Commercial Dishwashing Buying Guide.

Turn off booster and tank heaters. The booster heater and the internal tank heater on the dishwashing unit should be turned off at the end of the night.  Otherwise, they will continue to heat water needlessly while you are shut down, wasting a ton of energy in the process.

Check water pressure. Many larger dish machines have a pressure gauge that indicates the water pressure in the unit.  More than 25 Pounds per Square Inch (PSI) could mean you are using more water than necessary, as most dish machines require only 20 PSI.  Check with the unit’s manufacturer to see what the optimal PSI is for that machine and to learn how to adjust the PSI.Is Your Restaurant’s Commercial Dish Machine Efficient?

Optimize conveyor type dish machines. The tradeoff with large conveyor type dish machines is that you can process a lot of dishes quickly, but they are big energy hogs as well.  Only fire up the big conveyor during your rush periods when you know you’ll have a lot of dishes to wash.  During slow times, it’s much more efficient to use a smaller undercounter or door type dishwasher, as long as you can keep up.  The longer you leave the big conveyor shut down, the more energy you’ll save.

When you do need the conveyor dishwasher, make sure you do a couple things to optimize energy use.  First, run a conveyor in “auto mode,” which will make sure the electric motor inside the unit only runs when needed.  Secondly, install or replace worn door curtain strips.  These strips hold heat inside the unit and make it run more efficiently.

Finally, consider using a heat recovery system in your kitchen. A refrigeration heat recovery system takes the heat generated by your refrigeration units and uses it to pre-heat water that goes into your water heater, which means the water heater has less work to do and therefore uses less energy.  Another heat recovery system uses heat from used hot water going down the drain to pre-heat hot water heater water.  These systems require some up-front cost, but they pay for themselves relatively quickly.  If your operation consumes large amounts of hot water, you could save a significant amount of energy by using a heat recovery system.

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This Isn’t American Idol: How Chipotle Went Platinum

This Isnt American Idol: How Chipotle Went PlatinumA Chipotle restaurant in Gurnee Mills, IL recently gained Platinum level certification through the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, which is run by the United States Green Building Council.  The restaurant was built on the cutting edge of environmentally sustainable technology, boasting a six-kilowatt wind turbine, a 2,500 gallon cistern for storing and reusing rainwater for sprinklers, and a building built using various recycled materials.

LEED is a voluntary program, and participants are independently certified by the Green Building Certification Institute.  The program focuses on sustainability and green practices in several areas, including site selection, water conservation, energy efficiency, building materials, and design innovations.  Buildings are evaluated on a point system and then awarded different levels of certification.  The Gurnee Chipotle has achieved the platinum level, which is the highest available.

To get platinum certification, Chipotle had to score at least 80 points on a 100 point scale in the different areas of emphasis in the program.  More and more restaurant chains are looking to LEED certification and other green practices as consumers continue to indicate they prefer companies that do so.  Chipotle has long been a leader in sustainability, including sourcing food locally, using recyclable materials, and minimizing packaging waste.

For small independent restaurants, things like LEED certification probably seem like a pipe dream reserved only for the rich big chains that can afford a PR stunt.  But in reality consumer expectations are changing fast, and sooner or later smaller restaurants will be expected to belly up to the green movement trough by their customers.  Starting that transition now makes it easier to finish later, and besides it’s great publicity.  Just ask Chipotle.   The Back Burner has all kinds of green restaurant and sustainability tips.  You might as well start digging in now, because green is here to stay.

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Green Restaurant Tips: Looking Past Your Kitchen

Green Restaurant Tips: Looking Past Your KitchenWhile your kitchen may be by far the biggest energy user, it is by no means the only thing that racks up your monthly bills. Paying a little attention to some of the other energy drains in your business can help bring your overall energy use down considerably.

Some tips to help you manage those costs:

  • Use fans instead of the central unit. For every degree you adjust your thermostat, you can save 4% – 5% on heating or cooling bills.  Energy Star rated ceiling fans are a great way to circulate air and allow you to turn your thermostat up or down depending on the time of year. Use fans to bring in cooler outside air when you need to cool things down, or use them to circulate hot air from the kitchen when you need to heat things up.
  • Conduct regular maintenance on central air units. Clean the heat transfer coils on air conditioning every month.  Clean or replace air filters regularly.  A dirty air filter not only makes the unit work harder, but it can affect the air quality in your building as well.
  • Repair and seal ducting. Leaky ducts means the air you spent all that money heating or cooling is escaping before it gets to your customer.  Regularly check ducts for leaks and seal them as needed.
  • Set up a service contract with a local company to check and service ducts and the central air unit if you don’t have the time or energy for do-it-yourself.
  • Install an Energy Star thermostat. Programmable thermostats automatically reduce heating or cooling for non-business hours, saving you money and time over a manual thermostat.
  • Use windows to your advantage. Ideally, you should use Energy Star rated windows with the proper solar energy heat gain coefficient (SHGC). Low SHGC windows are used in places with long, hot summers to minimize solar heat and reduce cooling costs. High SHGC windows are used where there is a long, cold winter to maximize solar heat and reduce heating costs.  If you are remodeling or starting a new business, use Energy Star to help you select energy efficient windows.

Since budgets and buildings usually aren’t in sync, use the following tips to help you make do with what you have:

  • Use a UV-resistant window film, blinds, and curtains to insulate and reduce heat gain.  These techniques vary in cost and effectiveness, with the best solution probably being a combination according to your specific needs. No matter what, use something that allows you to block sunlight when it’s hot and add an extra layer or insulation when it’s cold.
  • Have new windows professionally installed. Framing and insulating new windows can make a huge difference in maintaining green heating or cooling.
  • Also caulk and seal existing windows annually to maintain an airtight barrier between your customers and outside weather.
  • Buy Energy Star skylights and doors. Just like with your windows, regularly check and seal doors and skylights to minimize air leaks and reduce your heating and cooling costs.
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Can We Bring Bluefin Tuna Back From The Brink?

Can We Bring Bluefin Tuna Back From The Brink?Bluefin tuna are one of the most prized catches in the world’s oceans, with some markets, especially in Asia, selling them for as much as $20,000 a fish.  For sushi lovers, the bluefin is the equivalent of a purebred Angus filet mignon, and it’s a mainstay of thousands of restaurants, including the internationally recognized chain Nobu.  The Japanese have long treasured bluefin, and they consume 80% of the world’s catch to this day.

As the popularity of sushi has risen in the past decade, so has the insatiable demand for bluefin tuna.  And because this large predatory fish travels as much as 17,000 miles to hunt food and spawn, many countries have active bluefin fishing fleets.  This, of course, makes it almost impossible to regulate the catch as each country elbows for higher quotas.

The consequence is that the bluefin is facing extinction as early as 2012.  However, this story is not all bad.  The member countries of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) plan to meet about the bluefin next March about saving bluefin tuna.  If two thirds of the 175 countries that are part of CITES vote in favor, all bluefin harvesting will come to a screeching halt.  Already several countries have voiced their support for adding the bluefin to the list of globally endangered species.

More exciting, however, is the work of a long-time fisherman in Australia.  Hagen Stehr became a millionaire harvesting bluefins in the vast Pacific to Australia’s east.  Now he is trying to save the species by breeding them in captivity, and he’s put up $48 million to make it happen.  Earlier this year his company, Clean Seas, successfully fertilized bluefin tuna eggs.  Now the fish have grown into fingerlings and are feeding in a huge indoor tank in southern Australia.

Many thought it wasn’t possible to breed the bluefin in captivity, especially since their predatory nature means they tend to eat their own young.  But Clean Seas has found a way, and they hope to be putting 250,000 bluefin fingerlings in the ocean by 2015.

The prospect of a sustainable bluefin tuna catch is good news for environmentalists and businesses alike.  If Clean Seas has its way, restaurants can serve delicious bluefin across the world, guilt-free.

Bluefin fingerlings feeding in a tank at Clean Seas, Port Lincoln, Australia.

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Green Restaurant Tips: Restaurant Energy Management Systems

Green Restaurant Tips: Restaurant Energy Management SystemsSome chain restaurants have started using comprehensive, fully automated energy management systems (EMS) to help reduce energy usage in their restaurants.  Restaurant energy management systems have been around for a couple decades, but recent technological advances have really improved what an EMS can do.

An EMS system can control air conditioning, hood exhaust fans, and equipment power-ups automatically.  Why is that good?  Imagine an employee deciding it’s too hot and dropping the thermostat to 50 and leaving it on overnight.  Or idle cooking equipment getting well ventilated by a hood fan on full blast.  How about the morning shift manager arriving a little late and cranking up the lights and equipment all at the same time?

Little things can turn into big energy expenses, especially when you can’t be there to manage how energy is used all the time.  The energy savings alone from having an automatic thermostat that drops the heat in winter and the cool in summer during off-business hours is significant. But an EMS goes much further.  An alarm will sound if the door to the walk-in has been left open for more than 10 minutes.  Employees walk into work in the morning with the lights already on and the equipment powered up and ready to go.  These increased efficiencies not only reduce the headache factor, they can translate into some real savings.

Granted, most smaller restaurateurs probably cannot afford a comprehensive EMS yet.  But as the technology gets cheaper and energy expenses continue their inevitable rise, the day may not be far off when it makes sense for even a Mom-and-Pop place to have a comprehensive, automated system managing their energy consumption.

In the meantime, why not set up your own restaurant energy management system?  It may not have all the same cool computer-powered features of a modern EMS, but it can be just as effective.
Consider setting up some guidelines for your staff on how to power up equipment and turn on lights in sequence when opening your restaurant.

  • Train kitchen staff to dial back ovens, ranges, and broilers during downtimes and cut back the hood exhaust.
  • Post guidelines and expectations for energy usage like closing refrigerators, and hand out rewards for energy efficient practices.
  • And most importantly, buy an Energy Star rated automatic thermostat!  It’s much less expensive than a fancy EMS, and accomplishes the same goal: automatically adjusting the thermostat during non-business hours.

The point is energy management is an important way to cut costs and reduce the carbon footprint of your business at the same time.  Cutting costs means more profits, and running a green restaurant will earn you customer respect.  It’s a win-win situation.

Green Restaurant Tips: Restaurant Energy Management Systems

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Why Chipotle’s Food With Integrity Is Good Business

Everybody in the food service industry is talking about locally sourced food these days.  The National Restaurant Association has called local,organic and sustainable ingredients one of the biggest trends of 2010, and consumers have defied logic by proving they are willing to pay more for better quality.

The Mexican-themed chain Chipotle has carved a niche out of the higher end of the fast-casual market by holding themselves to a higher standard the company calls “Food With Integrity.”  Fresh local produce has always been a focus for Chipotle, even before the concept had the widespread appeal it enjoys today. With 900 locations and 2.5 million customers a week, Chipotle’s commitment to quality, sustainable ingredients makes it a driving force in the organic food market.  But perhaps the most important contribution they’ve made to the organic movement in general is the education of consumers. The fruits of that education process can be seen in the loyalty of Chipotle’s customers to the brand, despite the menu’s noticeably higher price point.  The difference in taste and quality has shown consumers the value of high quality ingredients.

Now local fresh organic ingredients has turned into a major movement within the food service industry.  More and more restaurants have started responding to consumer demand, and that only reinforces Chipotle’s leadership role as one of the pioneers in organic ingredient sourcing. Many independent restaurants have marketed locally sourced, sustainable  ingredients on their menus with great success.  If you’re considering adding such ingredients to your restaurant’s menu, keep a couple things in mind:

Tell people about it! Chipotle has done a masterful job of associating their brand name with organic ingredients and local sourcing.  Their customers know before they ever walk through the door exactly how Chipotle sources their ingredients, and those customers don’t even flinch at the cash register. It’s vital that you get the word out about your menu’s organic and locally sourced ingredients.  More than likely those ingredients are going to force you into a higher price point, and when your customers see this they had better know exactly why.  Once they understand the quality of your ingredients (and taste the difference), they’ll accept your higher price point.

Take full advantage of better quality.
Better ingredients means a higher price, but it should also mean a much better taste.  Now is your opportunity to get really creative with your dishes and make sure your organic ingredients really shine. A great way to do this is to create dishes and recipes around a centerpiece organic ingredient.  For instance, if you’re sourcing organic chicken from a local farm, say so on the menu first, then create a dish that perfectly compliments that chicken breast and makes it the centerpiece of the entrée.

Give customers the option. Especially when you’re first venturing into the world of organic ingredients, give customers the option between more traditional fare and your exciting new entrees.  You don’t want to alienate your regulars with more expensive (albeit much better) dishes.  Instead, entice them into tasting the difference with some well placed specials and then watch them convert to your new approach.

The success of Chipotle has proven that customers will buy into the concept of better food for a higher price.  Independent operators can really take advantage of the education pioneers like Chipotle have provided consumers in general to enhance their menu with ingredients that are better tasting, better for the environment, and still great for the bottom line.

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7 Sustainability Tips For Your Restaurant

7 Sustainability Tips For Your RestaurantMore and more restaurants are exploring ways to make their operations “sustainable.”  Yes, it’s a buzzword, and yes, it’s a trend most commonly associated with San Francisco restaurants and other yuppie hideouts.  That doesn’t mean most of the restaurants out there can’t utilize sustainability in their operations.

Trends show that consumers are increasingly educated about the benefits of sustainability and advertising your green practices will help reinforce positive images of your brand.  And, of course, you can feel good about the food you serve, which can be a reward in itself.

Some tips on making your restaurant sustainable:

Who Wants Some Iridescent Shark? – As world fish populations face serious decline, the demand for seafood has only risen.  The striped pangasius, a type of catfish native to southeast Asia, has become a great farmed alternative to white fish species like orange roughy.7 Sustainability Tips For Your Restaurant

Serve Sustainable Seafood – The Monterey Bay Aquarium has developed a list of sustainable fish species so that consumers and restaurateurs can make informed choices when it comes to serving and eating seafood.

Restaurants and Farmers Work Together To Reduce Food Waste And Improve Crop Yields – A collective of San Francisco farmers and restaurants have developed a system that works to everyone’s benefit: taking food waste and using it as a very effective fertilizer on local farms.

Greener And Cheaper: Restaurants Grow Their Own Food – More and more chefs are investing time into their own personal gardens to help supplement the fresh produce available in their kitchen.

Darden Group Driving Sustainable Seafood Practices – The Darden restaurant group, owner of the Red Lobster chain, has taken a serious interest in using seafood sustainably.  They view it as a vital long-term business decision.  Learn more in this post.

Sardines: Sustainable AND Delectable? – Most people associate the sardine with oily tin cans full of a mushy fish.  But fresh sardines are actually very good, and a sustainable fish population as well.

The Kitchen Cafe’s Sustainable Restaurant Ethos – The Kitchen Cafe in Boulder, CO, takes it’s role in the community very seriously, and they view part of that role as promoting and using sustainable practices.  Learn how in this post.

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Green Consumer Trend Still Going Strong

Green Consumer Trend Still Going StrongEvery restaurant has had to deal with revenue and expense challenges over the last year.  And many have probably wondered whether green practices and products in their restaurants are worth their while, both in terms of cost to purchase and the time it takes to implement new products and procedures.

If a new Harris Interactive poll is any indication, the answer is a resounding “YES!”

Consider the following facts from the poll:

73% said they buy green products
8% have reduced their spending on green products
26% have increased spending on green products
67% are spending the same amount

Even more intriguing, when customers were given a choice between Restaurant A, which featured green practices and products, and Restaurant B, which did not, they responded this way:

17% would choose A over B even if it meant a longer line
21% on top of that would choose A if the wait time was the same

So it looks like you can definitely attract new customers by greening your restaurant.  But what if this forces your costs up?  This is a common concern about green products, although as the market for environmentally friendly items grows, their prices come down.  Even if you do have to raise prices, consider this:

30% expected to pay more for green products
13% would pay 5% more
11% would pay 10% more

These numbers reveal a lot of wiggle room for your restaurant to adopt and advertise green practices.  And when you have such a clear majority of green consumers, your restaurant clearly needs to get on the bandwagon if it hasn’t already.  Check out The Back Burner’s Green Restaurant Tips for more information on greening your restaurant.

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4 Steps For Building An Effective Sustainability Plan For Your Restaurant

4 Steps For Building An Effective Sustainability Plan For Your RestaurantMaking the decision to make your restaurant a more sustainable operation has gotten considerably easier in the last few years.  That’s because as consumer awareness grows there are more and more benefits associated with “green” restaurants.  If you’re in doubt, simply look at the National Restaurant Association’s sustainability efforts, or see how Chipotle has succeeded in a down economy without significantly lowering their prices.

If you’ve set a sustainability goal for yourself, then the next thing you need is a plan.  How are you going to make your operation more sustainable?  What are the areas that can provide the maximum benefit with the least amount of investment?  How do you plan to market your efforts to your customers?  All are good questions, and you’d better have answers before you start spending time and money.

Here’s four steps to get you started towards a greener, more profitable future:

Improve energy efficiency. In most restaurants, this is the easiest place to cut costs with minimal investment.  The added bonus is that you get to tell your customers how committed to sustainability you are after you’ve cut energy bills.  Simple improvements like training your staff to manage equipment efficiently, cutting heating and cooling bills, and investing in energy efficient water heating can make a huge difference.

Of course, every restaurant is different, and the strategies that work in your restaurant aren’t going to work somewhere else.  When you’re making your sustainability plan, identify where you can improve efficiency then estimate how much you’ll save on future bills versus how much it will cost you to implement your plan.

Come up with a program. Another key to a successful sustainability plan for your restaurant is figuring out ways to reduce waste.  Recycling and composting programs are the two most common ways to address this.  Unfortunately, unlike energy efficiency improvements these waste reduction programs are either cost neutral or increase your operating expenses.

That doesn’t mean they don’t provide benefits.  The public relations mileage you can get out of a good recycling or composting program can prove invaluable.  Remind customers you recycle or compost waste.  The local newspaper in your neighborhood is also another great way to get the word out about your program.  Newspapers run stories like this all the time, and it can be great free advertising.

Change your buying habits. You’re a consumer just like everybody else.  The purchasing decisions you make for your restaurant say a lot about how you run your business.  Making sustainable decisions will also make your operation a lot greener.

Some places to start:

Don’t be bashful – talk about yourself! Implementing a successful sustainability plan doesn’t do you a bit of good if no one knows about the hard work and money you’ve invested.  As you put this plan into action, don’t be afraid to tell everyone you can think of about what you’re doing.

This isn’t just a one-time announcement.  Your sustainability plan will likely take some time to implement, and you should turn that effort into an ongoing conversation with anyone who will listen, especially customers.  Use multiple channels ranging from banners in the front of the house to social media to announce your new, sustainable self to the world.

You’ll be amazed how interested people will be in what you’re doing.

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Use Edible Scraps To Create Restaurant Family Meals

Use Edible Scraps To Create Restaurant Family MealsThe “restaurant family meal” is a central event in many well-run restaurants.  Just before the dinner rush front of house and back of house staff gather to enjoy a well-cooked meal prepared by the chef.  The family meal is a great way to foster positive interaction and a feeling of camaraderie among your employees.  It also gives you a chance to get on the soapbox and talk about issues and work on training.

During the year that I worked as a server in Indianapolis, I was never lucky enough to work in a restaurant that supported a family meal.  In terms of improving employee morale and retention, the family meal has some real benefits for your business.

While this may seem obvious, there’s another, less apparent benefit to the family meal: you can reduce your food waste by investing in them.  Smart restaurateurs take the perfectly edible leftovers that are inevitably created while preparing meals and save them for the family meal.  This means your investment is minimal and the benefits can be immediately realized.

Saving for the family meal also gives you a chance to get your line thinking about everything that can be saved while they cook.  In the process of getting creative for the next meal, kitchen staff will inevitably become better at reducing food waste in general.

Your restaurant’s family meal doesn’t have to be anything fancy: many restaurants, even fine dining establishments, keep the meal for staff firmly in the realm of comfort food: sloppy joe’s, casseroles, meatloaf, etc.

Nothing appeals to the basic human sense of community like sharing food.  And nothing you do for your employees will create as much goodwill for as cheap of a price as using your leftovers to create a hearty meal before the shift starts.

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