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17 Energy Efficiency And Going Green Tips

17 Energy Efficiency And Going Green TipsImproving your restaurant’s energy efficiency and sustainability practices has two rewards: reduced costs and great PR opportunities.  Studies have shown that consumers are increasingly aware of “green” issues and that they care about them, even in a down economy.  That means you can connect with your customers and build brand loyalty while streamlining your operation at the same time.  These articles will help you take advantage of green opportunities and shed some light on what’s coming down the pike in the near future:

1.  Stop Giving Waste Fryer Oil Away! – More than likely someone is recycling your waste fryer oil for you.  Hopefully you’re not paying for that service.  Soon, though, you’ll want to keep that oil to yourself and generate your own electricity.  Learn why in this post.

2.  Chefs Make Their Own Honey – From vegetables to honey, chefs are making a lot of ingredients themselves these days, and saving a lot of food miles in the process.

3.  How Chipotle Went Platinum- A Chipotle franchise in Gurnee Mills, IL recently won Platinum energy efficiency from LEED.  Learn more about the program in this post.

4.  Have You Joined The NRA’s Conserve Initiative?- The National Restaurant Association’s Conserve Initiative is and effort to bring more of the food service industry into the energy efficiency fold.  Learn more in this post.

5.  Can We Bring Bluefin Tuna Back From The Brink? – The bluefin has been fished nearly to extinction, but an Australian fisherman has figured out how to bring them back from the brink.  Learn more in this post.

6.  Is Your Kitchen Ventilation Sucking Up Money? – That hood in your kitchen uses A LOT of energy.  Learn how to make sure it’s running as efficiently as possible in this post.

7.  The Conflict Between Local Food And Local Government – “Urban farming,” the increasingly popular practice of planting vegetables in vacant lots and rooftops in urban environments, sometimes comes into conflict with municipal ordinances.  Learn how that conflict is shaping up in one California town.

10 More Energy Efficiency Tips Here

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Efficient Restaurant Tips: Manage Equipment (continued)

Here are some more tips on how to make sure your restaurant equipment is performing at maximum efficiency.

Perform regular equipment maintenance. Simple parts on cooking and refrigeration equipment break down or degrade over time from constant use, reducing energy efficiency and equipment performance.

Usually these parts are so easy to replace you can do it yourself:

 

Efficient Restaurant Tips: Manage Equipment (continued)

Different refrigeration gasket styles

Door gaskets. The constant opening and closing of oven, steamer, and refrigerator or freezer doors leads to wear and tear on the gasket that helps seal in heat or cold.

Replace these gaskets as they become worn to reduce leaks.

Thermostats. The thermostat on your freezer, refrigerator, or fryer can lose its calibration or wear out, meaning the machine isn’t operating at optimal temperature.

Check thermostats regularly with a commercial thermometer and recalibrate or replace them as needed.

Check pilot lights and clean burners. Pilot lights are convenient but also represent a constant use of energy in your kitchen.  Make sure they aren’t using more energy than needed by checking them regularly.

If the flame is taller than a couple inches or yellow in color, adjust the flame until it’s small and blue.  Also clean oven and range burners regularly and replace burners that have worn out to maximize their efficiency.

Train kitchen staff. Implementing the tips above sounds good in theory, but unless you train your staff to think about energy efficiency, these strategies will remain just a theory.

Set idle time and shut down procedures for all your equipment to minimize their energy use.  Train head staff to check for bad door gaskets and thermostats.  Make sure full racks of dishes are going through the dishwasher instead of half full or mostly empty ones.

Most importantly, get your staff to understand why energy savings are important, and incentivize them to act efficiently.

Efficient Restaurant Tips: Manage Equipment (continued)Buy Energy Star rated restaurant equipment. Replace old equipment in your kitchen as quickly as possible.  When shopping for new equipment, look for Energy Star ratings.  Most restaurant equipment has annual energy usage statistics.  Use this information to compare units and purchase the most efficient one.

No matter what, new equipment is going to be more efficient and perform better than old equipment.  Often the annual energy savings from new equipment will recoup the cost of purchasing it within a few years.

Also check for rebates from your local, state, or federal government for purchasing energy efficient equipment.

Carefully calculate capacity. One of the most common mistakes restaurant or commercial kitchen managers make when purchasing new equipment is buying too big.

Ice machines, refrigerators or freezers, and dishwashers are big energy users and are the most common units where this mistake is made.  Of course, buying too small is just as bad, and that’s why it’s important to accurately calculate your production needs.

Start by analyzing peak demand.  Once you know how many people or how many meals you serve per hour at peak demand times, you can better analyze what size equipment you need.

However, you should also take into account future growth.

Most restaurant equipment, if properly maintained, should last 5 – 10 years.  In that time your business should grow as well, meaning peak demand 5 years from now is going to be more than peak demand right now.

In general, overestimate equipment capacity by 10% – 20% to make sure it can meet your needs over the entire lifetime of the unit.

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Green Restaurant Tips: Use Efficiency Rebates!

Upgrading restaurant equipment to energy efficient models, maximizing water heater efficiency, and  installing Energy Star rated ceiling fans and ventilation, just to name a few green strategies, all mean spending some money before you save some.

For years the obstacle of spending money up front to save money down the road has been one of the major impediments preventing business owners from maximizing energy efficiency.

As energy costs continue to rise, the benefits of investing in energy efficiency has become a more and more appealing venture.

Green Restaurant Tips: Use Efficiency Rebates!

Show me the money! Get rebates for green restaurant practices.

Local and state governments have also recognized the environmental and social benefits of encouraging energy efficiency, and have responded with rebate rewards for businesses that adopt energy efficient practices.

So when you are considering implementing some energy efficient upgrades in your restaurant or commercial kitchen, keep in mind that significant cost can be offset by rebates.

To find rebates available in your area, check out Energy Star’s Rebate Finder.  This is a great tool, however, this rebate finder will only search for available rebates when purchasing new Energy Star rated restaurant equipment.

Federal tax credits are also available for commercial buildings for money spent to make heating and cooling more efficient.  State and local tax credits may also be available, depending on where you live.

Even utility companies have gotten into the act, and many reward energy efficient practices with a rebate on your energy bill.

More and more utility companies are offering rebates for purchasing Energy Star rated equipment and adopting energy efficient practices.  Check with your local utility company and get a full list of rebates available.

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Buy An Energy Efficient Steamer

Buy An Energy Efficient Steamer

Steamers are energy efficient and cook food quickly without nutrient loss

Commercial steamers use either circulated or pressurized hot steam to quickly cook food items.  Steamers are ideal for cooking rice, vegetables, fish, and shellfish.

Because food is cooked by circulating hot steam over it, most nutrients are retained, making steam cooked food appear more appetizing and taste better.

Food is also cooked much more quickly using a steamer.

There are different types of steamers using different methods to cook food.  Selecting the steamer that works for you depends on the specific situation in your commercial kitchen or restaurant.

Steamers also come in various sizes, and you need to take into account the volume you plan to handle with your steamer before purchasing one.

Types of Steamers

  • Pressureless – these steamers use a convection fan to circulate steam through the unit and cook food.  The circulating air cooks more evenly than a pressure steamer, though cooking times are longer.  A pressureless steamer door can also be opened during cooking to check or season food.
  • Pressure – pressure steamers cook food by letting steam pressure build in the unit as opposed to circulating it.  This cooks food faster but the door or lid of the unit cannot be opened while cooking because of the pressurized steam.

There are two types of pressure steamers: cabinet type and steam kettle models.

Cabinet type models look and operate mostly like a pressureless steamer except they use pressurized steam to cook food rather than a convection fan.

Countertop steam kettles operate like a residential pressure cooker.

Connection vs. Boilerless

Most countertop steamers are boilerless, meaning you add water to a built in reservoir in the bottom of the unit with its own heating element.

Connection steamers have a direct water line that comes in to the steamer from the building’s water source.  This steamer type can handle higher volumes but is harder to clean and maintain.

Both types should use only filtered water with a scale inhibitor to reduce cleaning and maintenance.  Using unfiltered water can also affect food taste.

Combi Ovens

Combi ovens can use steam, standard convection, or a combination of the two to cook food very quickly and efficiently.  Although combi ovens are very expensive, they can replace many other standard restaurant equipment pieces like fryers, holding and warming cabinets, and of course steamers and convection ovens.

Combi ovens also save space because they can replace other restaurant equipment.

Calculating Steamer Size

Steamers (excluding kettle steamers) come in 1, 2, 3, or 4 compartment sizes, with a one compartment unit capable of producing up to 200 meals per hour.  Combi ovens are most often used in high volume situations because they can cook food so quickly and offer multiple cooking options.

Maintenance and Operation Tips For Steamers

Some maintenance and operation tips for your commercial steamers:

  • Use filtered water with a scale inhibitor. A scale inhibitor removes minerals from tap water.  These minerals can build up in your steamer, requiring constant cleaning and performance problems.  Some models have an indicator light alerting you when they need to have buildup cleaned.  Unfiltered water can also affect the taste of food cooked in steamers.
  • Preheat steamers before cooking food. It usually takes at least 5 minutes for a steamer to heat up.
  • Season food after it has been cooked in a steamer for best taste results.
  • Use a perforated pan for vegetables and break up frozen vegetables so they cook evenly.

Steamers are a great addition to any commercial kitchen, and because they are much more energy efficient than other conventional cooking equipment like ranges, you can make up for the cost of purchasing a steamer through energy savings.

Factor in optimized food taste and quick cooking, and the reasons for buying a commercial steamer become very clear.

Check out more restaurant equipment.

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Ten Cheap Ways To Increase Restaurant Efficiency (AND Profits!)

1. Start-up, Shutdown Schedules
Not everything needs to be turned on right away when the first cook arrives. Equipment start-up schedules similar to just-in-time ordering saves energy with no investment.

2. Low flow aerators
These are potentially one of the lowest priced efficiency measures a restaurant can buy. Aerators range from .50 to a several dollars and return the investment almost instantly.

3. Pre-rinse Assemblies
At about $60, these devices pay for themselves in about a week depending on your usage and prior sprayer. Some of the newest units on the market use as little as .65 gallons per minute compared to the old units that use around 3.5 gpm. New regulations require all pre-rinse sprayers to use no more than 1.6 gpm so go as low as you can find.

4. Turbo Pots
Research from the Food Service Technology Center shows that Turbo Pots use about half as much energy to boil a pot of water compared to a standard pot. If you have a pot of water boiling all day in your kitchen these pots are a must have.

5. Thawing Meats
A little bit of organization and scheduling could save many restaurants thousands of gallons of water and hundreds of dollars a year. If you must thaw meats with running water make sure the faucet has a low-flow aerator, and turn the flow down to just enough to keep water flowing across the product – not full blast.

6. CFLs
They are simple and almost old school at this point, but CFLs save a lot of money. Today’s CFLs are cheap and high quality, but don’t buy the cheapest ones you can find. You get what you pay for. Use them in hoods, storage areas, offices, back halls and walk-in coolers.

7. Training
All the green gadgets and gizmos in the world don’t save money unless the users are using them correctly. Moreover, training staff to be conscious about the resources they are using will go much further than any piece of energy efficient equipment.

8. Recycling
Even restaurants that currently recycle should audit their garbage once in a while. More than likely, recyclables are being thrown away and potentially costing the business extra hauling fees. Recycling is a simple task, and can cut a garbage bill in half if the restaurant is not currently taking part in the practice.

9. Composting
Food waste makes up something around 50% of the volume and 75% of the weight of most full service restaurants. Implementing a composting program can be a little more involved, but like recycling it soon becomes second nature to the staff.

10. Food Waste Tracking
Before starting a composting program, start tracking the restaurant’s food waste, and make changes to reduce that waste. Whether through simple paper logs or more complex digital systems like Leanpath, food waste tracking helps chefs and management actualize their waste and make adjustments to par lists, menus or schedules.

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The EndoTherm Thermometer: Does It Really Help You Save Energy and Improve Food Safety?

The EndoTherm Thermometer: Does It Really Help You Save Energy and Improve Food Safety?To be honest, there has been a lot of skepticism among the people I have talked to in the restaurant supply business when they first encounter the EndoTherm Thermometer.  Maybe it’s the appearance: the oversized outer plastic shell, which houses a normal alcohol thermometer immersed in a special silicone gel, gives the impression of a child-safe toy, meant to be too big for choking.  Maybe it’s the purpose: the EndoTherm accurately reads food temperature rather than air temperature, which sounds a little hokey to the old hands in the industry.

So what is the EndoTherm all about, anyway?  Well, the official party line is that the gel around that regular alcohol thermometer mimics food product: when food freezes, the gel freezes, and the thermometer can therefore get an accurate reading of what’s going on inside your refrigerated product, as opposed to what the air around that product is doing.

Why is that good?  There are two official reasons:

1) Air temperature varies in refrigeration units, especially ones that are opened and closed on a regular basis, like display cases or prep tables.  A thermometer that only measure air temp is affected by how air is moving around the unit, and, especially if it’s at the back, away from the door, it could be reading colder than the food product sitting by the constantly opening door.  This could affect food safety, since it’s possible to have food sitting in the danger zone even though the air temp thermometer is saying everything is fine.

If you were to place a couple EndoTherm thermometers around your refrigeration unit, one right by the door and some others in the middle and at the back, you would know just how well food in different spots were holding temperature.

2) You might also have the opposite problem: you are running the unit too cold.  Again, airflow varies in any refrigeration unit and that can affect the air temp thermometer.  Warmer air coming in from the opened and closed door might be bumping your thermometer up a degree or two, causing you to turn the thermostat down to keep everything below 40 degrees.  And it’s possible that your food product is sitting at a very comfortable 35 degrees or so, unaffected by those little blasts of warm air.

Again, the placement of a few EndoTherms around the refrigeration unit might reveal that you can turn the thermostat up and still maintain food safety.  And every degree you turn up translates into an 8% savings on the energy usage for that unit.  Any restaurateur who has seen the electricity bill knows just how much money that means.

So maybe the EndoTherm isn’t so hokey after all.  This thermometer was dreamed up by two fairly famous inventors in England and apparently it has been all the rage over there, and is just now catching on in North America.  The reputation of the creators lends some credibility to the claim “accurately mimics food temperature.”

I think the jury is still out.  Skepticism dies hard.  I would love to hear from some people who have used the EndoTherm and have found it to be everything they ever dreamed of, and people who thought it really would be better as a kid’s toy.  If you have some real world experience with this thermometer, leave a comment below and tell us about it!

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Efficient Water Heating in Restaurants

Efficient Water Heating in RestaurantsRestaurants and commercial kitchens use A LOT of hot water.  In fact, it’s probably one of your larger energy expenses in a given month.

Tips to Cut Costs

  • Set water temperature to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Your dishwashing unit should have a built in booster heater that heats water to the required 180 degrees for dish sanitization. If it doesn’t, it’s more efficient to purchase a booster heater for the dishwasher than heat all your water to 180 degrees.  There’s no benefit to spending the extra energy to heat your water past 140 degrees, and reducing the heat can save you some significant money.
  • Insulate hot water pipes. Pipe insulation is cheap to buy and easy to install, and the energy you can save from such a simple technique is considerable.
  • Fix leaks right away. Whether it’s faucets or dishwashers or pre-rinse assemblies, fix whatever is leaking hot water right away.  A leak is just money going down the drain, something you can ill afford.
  • Use aerators and low-flow pre-rinses. Faucet aerators and low-flow pre-rinses reduce the amount of water you use and the amount of wastewater you produce, both of which will save you money.
  • Use the automatic flue damper. Most commercial water heaters have a flue damper that seals in heat when your water heater is idle.  Make sure this damper is working.
  • Set the timer on the recirculation pump. If your hot water heater has a recirculation pump, set or install a timer so that it turns off during non-business hours.  This prevents heat loss through the hot water pipes and could result in hundreds of dollars worth of savings.
  • Buy Energy Star rated water heaters. If you are replacing or installing a new heater, only buy Energy Star rated units and shop around to find the most efficient one available.
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Green Restaurant Tips: Manage Equipment

Going Green” is a hot buzzword these days, and everyone, including the food service industry, is jumping on board the environmentally friendly bandwagon.

The great thing about going green in your restaurant is that you can cut costs and save yourself considerable money while improving customer loyalty and visibility at the same time.  In a time when cutting costs might mean sinking or swimming, going green might be the thing that helps you stay afloat.

This series is intended to help you cut costs and improve your business’ bottom line while making legitimate green restaurant claims to your customers.  And you just might save the planet in the process.

Tip #1:  Manage Equipment

The equipment in your restaurant or commercial kitchen uses thousands of dollars worth of energy every year.  Running this equipment is essential to your business, but it can also be a drain on profits if not managed properly.  Some tips to help you manage equipment:

Reduce idle times. Cooking equipment like broilers, steamers, ovens, holding cabinets, and fryers all take time to heat up for optimal use.

Because your kitchen staff is usually more concerned with food preparation times than energy efficiency, they tend to leave equipment running during downtimes to avoid being slowed down by heat up time.

Obviously, you also want to minimize food prep time, but striking a balance between time and energy use is easier than you might think.

Things like broilers and connectionless steamers don’t take very long to heat up, so shutting them down during even short lulls can save you money.  Ovens and fryers can be reduced to an idle temperature that uses less energy than constantly maintaining peak cooking temperature.  Newer fryer models even offer an automatic idle temperature feature.  And warming cabinets are often left on overnight, wasting energy.

Utilize efficient cooking strategies. Using energy hogs like salamanders or broilers is necessary to cook and serve a quality product.

But that doesn’t mean you have to use the least efficient weapons in your cooking arsenal all the time.  Evaluate how each menu item is prepared and devise strategies to employ the most efficient equipment in your kitchen as much as possible.

Steamers, convection ovens, griddles, and microwaves are more efficient than ranges, broilers, standard ovens, and salamanders, so if you can substitute one for the other without compromising the quality of your product, do so.

For more information on managing eqiupment, check out Green Restaurant Tips: Manage Equipment…Continued

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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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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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