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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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10 Energy Efficiency Tips for Your Restaurant

10 Energy Efficiency Tips for Your RestaurantIt’s such a buzzword these days it has almost become cliche, but nevertheless green restaurants are an important and lasting trend.  Customers are the main force driving this, and consistently they say they value restaurants with green practices.  Giving customers what they want while reducing your operating costs through more efficient (“green”) practices seems like a win-win for almost any restaurant.

These posts focus on how to improve your restaurant’s energy efficiency:

1. Manage Equipment Effectively - The cooking equipment in your kitchen are some of the biggest energy consumers  for your business.  If you can cut energy use here, you will see a considerable improvement to your bottom line.

2. Energy Efficiency: Look Past The Kitchen – Now that you’ve used post #1 above to improve the energy efficiency of your kitchen, you can start working on the rest of your building.  Again, some very simple steps can result in significant savings.

3. Manage Hot Water Efficiently – Another energy hog is your hot water heater.  Your restaurant goes through a lot of hot water, and anything you can do to improve the efficiency of heating water will also help you save money.

4. Use Efficiency Rebates! - Sooner or later you’ll need to update restaurant equipment, and the sooner you do so, the faster you’ll improve your kitchen’s energy efficiency.  Depending on where you live, you can take advantage of some significant rebates from local goverment and utilities to help offset the cost of new equipment.

5. Understanding Product Packaging Terms: Compostable, Biodegradable, Recyclable - Just because packaging sounds green doesn’t mean it is.  The companies that market and package products your restaurant uses are trying to sound green just like everyone else, and it’s improtant to understand the nuances of the language they use on the products you buy.

6. Green Technology: Energy Management Sytems – Chain restaurants are starting to use energy management systems to control energy use in multiple locations.  It’s only a matter of time before this technology can be applied in indepenedent restaurants as well.

7. Why Recycle? Because It Feels Good – Recycling is one of the few tips on this list that won’t result in you saving money.  But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.  Customers who see a robust recycling program in a restaurant feel good about your establishment, and that can mean a lot more than the cost of recycling.

8. Green Consumers Going Strong - Despite recession and financial pressure, studies show that consumers till want green products and services, even if they have to pay more for them.10 Energy Efficiency Tips for Your Restaurant

9. Buy An Energy Efficient Steamer – Investing in a commercial steamer is a great way to improve the efficiency of your kitchen and the taste and quality of your product.  Learn more in this post.

10. Tech Talk: Replacing Refrigeration Door Gaskets - Get some practical, do-it-yourself advice on one of the easiest ways to increase energy efficiency in your restaurant: by replacing worn door gaskets.

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Understanding Green Restaurant Terms: Compostable, Biodegradable, and Recyclable

Any restaurateur interested in making their restaurant more green has encountered these terms before.  The problem is, just because a product claims it is compostable, biodegradable, or recyclable doesn’t make it so.

Making the right decisions to green your restaurant in a way that makes sense for your business means you need to know the difference between these terms and the impact they can have on your buying decisions.

The most common product used in restaurants that uses all three of these terms is plastics.  More than likely your restaurant uses small wares like cups and utensils, and many products your kitchen uses are packaged using plastics like condiments and other food products.

Here are some tips to understanding your options when it comes to plastic products:

Understanding Green Restaurant Terms: Compostable, Biodegradable, and RecyclableCompostable

Compostable plastic products have the highest green threshold to reach.  This means any product claiming to be compostable should be viewed with a certain skepticism because it really is hard to make a plastic that conforms to the definition of compostable.

Compostable products break down naturally into carbon dioxide, water, and biomass at the same rate as cellulose or paper (usually about 180 days) in an industrial or municipal composting facility.  Compostable materials do not leave a toxic residue and cannot be distinguished from the rest of the compost after full degradation.

The most important issues in this definition are where the plastic is put to compost and whether any toxic residue is left after degradation.

A municipal or industrial composting facility breaks down composting materials differently than a farm or in-house composting unit.  Plastics are given a compostable designation based on how they degrade in a larger industrial facility, which means they may not be compostable using other methods.

Since the availability of large scale composting facilities is limited, it’s important to know that a compostable plastic may degrade more slowly before deciding if it can be used in a smaller scale compost facility.

PLA and Master-Bi corn starch based plastics like corn cups are the two most common types of compostable plastics.  However, these resins are also sometimes mixed with inorganic substances to make them more heat resistant or for other purposes, meaning they do not always qualify as compostable.

Plant-based plastics have the added benefit of being “carbon neutral,” meaning that the carbon dioxide emitted to produce them is offset by the carbon dioxide absorbed by the plants used to make the plastic.

Any plastic that leaves a toxic residue after degrading is not compostable but can be designated biodegradable.

BiodegradableUnderstanding Green Restaurant Terms: Compostable, Biodegradable, and Recyclable

Biodegradable products break down over time into smaller and smaller chunks as a result of the action of agent enzymes produced by bacteria or fungi.  This process can leave behind toxic chemicals and still be designated as biodegradable.

The problem is, no standard exists for the amount of time a product takes to biodegrade.  And no requirement exists for the addition of agents like bacteria to aid the degradation process.

This means that most products are labeled “biodegradable” as a way to promote their supposed environmentally friendly capabilities when in fact most of these products do nothing to help reduce waste or emissions.  Biodegradable sounds good to the consumer but really doesn’t help green your restaurant at all.

If you are looking to improve the green practices of your restaurant, go for compostable products over biodegradable ones whenever you can.

Understanding Green Restaurant Terms: Compostable, Biodegradable, and RecyclableRecyclable

The truth is, just about anything can be recycled, and surely you have seen the little triangle with a number inside it on most plastic products claiming it’s recyclable.

The problem?  The company or local government agency that does your recycling limits what they recycle.

Check with your recycler to verify which types of plastics they accept.  Training staff and getting customers to recycle the right products can be very difficult, but many restaurants have had success with comprehensive recycling programs.

The main ingredient to success is creating a clear set of guidelines and communicating those guidelines to your staff and customers.

What Should Your Restaurant Do?

Compostable products are more expensive to buy.  But in many cases the extra expense can be at least partially recouped through reduced waste disposal.

Leftover food makes up 50% of the waste produced by a typical restaurant.  If this plus compostable plastics like cups were removed from the waste you produce and composted instead, significant savings can be realized.

Perhaps more importantly, a majority of consumers respond favorably to restaurants that engage in green practices.

Get feedback from customers before investing in more expensive compostable products.  If it looks like you can improve customer loyalty and branding by doing so, and the additional expense makes sense after accounting for marketing benefits and waste disposal savings, then there’s no reason why your business shouldn’t invest.

Chances are the products you use now are biodegradable, so there’s no real benefit in pursuing products that market this designation.  And as long as you’re reducing waste costs, implement a recycling program that saves the types of plastics local recyclers accept and gives you some real credibility when you say “green restaurant.”

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