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Tag Archives | Going Green

Tundra’s Waste Management System

Tundra’s Waste Management SystemLast April we put in place our own waste management
system, which evolved after studying our not so healthy
trash habits around the office. The result of this had us cutting down on our trash and ramping up our recycling and composting efforts. First, we installed composting bins to capture paper towels in the restrooms. Then we added recycling & composting bins next to the trashcan in our break room as well as smaller recycling cans at each cubical in the office. Finally, we educated our employees on where our trash is going and what can and cannot go into the different bins with the help of visual aids. Needless to say, the new green initiatives were well received by the staff at Tundra.

See our last blog post on our waste management efforts, or for more green tips, see our other blogs posts on going green.

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Saving the Environment: One Scrap at a Time

Saving the Environment: One Scrap at a TimeComposting is often overlooked in restaurants; in fact, when it comes to talking about food waste, the majority of restaurant owners and operators say that the first thing on their list of priorities is honoring the chef’s culinary skills and making sure the freshest ingredients are being served. Food waste came in last on the list.

We get it; it’s easier to throw food in the garbage. That way the back ally attracts more vermin and the landfills fill up with an overwhelming amount of food waste (which produces an alarming amount of dangerous methane gas). But what if we told you that many cities now offer offsite composting and all you have to do is make sure you separate trash from food waste! Whether it is the trash company, your local school district, or a local farm, there are more and more businesses willing to return your food waste to the ground.

Why take action? The soil that is produced from composting helps build nutrient rich gardens and flower beds. When we look at our local surroundings here in Boulder, CO and take into account the numerous flower beds and gardens from Pearl Street to the University, local elementary schools and surrounding family owned farms, we realize what a difference your “trash” could make on their bottom line and for the environment.

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Energy Management Systems, Restaurants, and ROI – Part 3

Energy Management Systems, Restaurants, and ROI – Part 3By Jay Fiske, VP of Business Development & Jason Roeder, Director of Energy Products & Services, Powerhouse Dynamics

Last week, we continued our discussion on the critical questions that need to be addressed in order for a business to extract the maximum value from their investment in an energy management system:

•    Who should be involved in the use of these systems?
•    Where are the opportunities for saving money?
•    When should the customer expect to reap savings?

In last week’s post, we focused on the second question.  In this third and final post, we will focus on the last question:

When should the customer expect to achieve savings?

A system to help manage energy costs is just like any other business tool or system in that it requires: some effort to set up, some effort to get people trained and using it, and a time period over which the system moves from “new and different” to “how we do things.”  In this way the benefits from the system build over time rather than arriving all at once.

To be successful, the improvement of business processes that an energy management system can drive should be laid out in advance and approached at a reasonable pace. None of this is to say that implementing a modern energy management system is difficult – it is not.  But expecting your next month’s utility bill to magically go down by 20% is a recipe for disappointment. Like any “project”, some project management is required to maximize the benefits available.  Here is a sample deployment schedule, or project plan, for a modern energy management system.

Energy Management Systems, Restaurants, and ROI – Part 3

Months 1-2: Training + Baseline data

During the first two months after an installation, an energy management system will gather baseline data on the magnitude of energy consumption and energy consumption patterns for each circuit in a restaurant.  This data characterizes “as-is” operations and equipment performance and will be the basis for identifying operational and equipment performance improvement opportunities.

In addition, all parties involved in the use of the energy management platform should be trained and become familiar with the use of the system during this period.

Months 2-6: Tune Daily Operations

By viewing energy consumption patterns, management can identify the “low-hanging fruit” opportunities for recapturing lost profits from relatively easy operational changes.  The low-hanging fruit opportunities include analyzing off-hours energy consumption and taking corrective action to ensure equipment is running only when it needs to be.

Initial opportunities for savings also include updating thermostat programming for more effective use of HVAC systems.

For those companies managing a portfolio of restaurants, the baseline data will enable benchmarking of their facilities.  Which restaurants have the best practices in terms of energy use?  Where are the worst practices?  Which functional areas (e.g., HVAC, refrigeration, lighting, etc.) are driving the biggest problems?  Through benchmarking, management will be able to prioritize which restaurants represent the largest opportunities for savings and can focus their efforts accordingly.

In order to sustain the operational improvements established during the first phases of an energy management system implementation, restaurant management can implement energy cost controls.  These controls can include establishing or updating opening and closing procedures for each store, establishing or reinforcing temperature set point on thermostats, and training staff in any changes.

In addition, the energy management system can be configured for email or text alerts that can be sent out to reinforce proper hours of operation of critical equipment.

Months 4-6: Identify Underperforming Equipment

In parallel with implementing new or enhanced energy cost controls and operational improvements, management will be able to identify problematic equipment during this period.  An energy management system can tag equipment exhibiting problematic energy consumption patterns (e.g., a roof-top unit short cycling, or a refrigeration compressor running continuously) and alert the facilities/maintenance team accordingly.

With this information, the facilities/maintenance team can revise equipment maintenance schedules and establish equipment alerts to highlight under-performing assets.

Month 7: Project Review

During the seventh month of deployment, it is very useful to schedule a review of the energy management system implementation to ensure all appropriate management feedback loops are in place, celebrate successes, and to reinforce areas that need improvement.
 
Months 9-12: Assess Equipment Upgrades

Some energy management systems can measure the exact cost of running a piece of equipment.  Based on the data collected during the first six months of implementation, is there a case for upgrading equipment to more energy efficient models?  What is the real-world performance of the EnergySTAR refrigeration equipment, HVAC equipment, and lighting in which you’ve already invested?  Just how costly is that “old dog” equipment that you know needs to be replaced sooner or later?  Which equipment should we use in our soon-to-be constructed new restaurant?

By providing actual run-time costs, an energy management system can give management the data it needs to tackle these questions.  Rather than projecting the ROI for replacing a piece of equipment using estimates of its energy consumption, one can now use the facts for how much energy the equipment uses now, which reduces the risk of not achieving your ROI.

Months 7 – Onward: Ongoing Daily Operations & Equipment Performance Management

Studies have shown that in the absence of active energy management, buildings can lose up to 80% of energy efficiency gains achieved via audits or retro-commissioning within the first two years after efficiency measures have been implemented.  This so-called “energy drift” can be prevented by incorporating an energy management system into ongoing operational practices in restaurants.  In the same way restaurants have systems for tracking inventory and labor costs, it is now possible to track and improve energy cost performance.

In addition to making sure all the operational and equipment improvements implemented during the first 6 months are continuing to be effective, restaurant management teams should consider implementing longer lead-time changes in broader operating policies that can save energy.  Examples of this type of business optimization include water vs. chemical sanitation, the sequence of food preparation that determines how much food warming is required, or the re-balancing of HVAC systems.

Also, it is critical to verify savings from new maintenance and / or capital equipment upgrades.  Has new equipment performed according to spec?  Are the equipment upgrades delivering their anticipated savings?  Are the service providers delivering improved maintenance and therefore equipment performance?

Finally, an energy management system can deliver on-going analysis that can help prevent catastrophic failure of critical equipment through early detection of abnormal energy consumption patterns, which can often indicate problems with equipment.

Conclusion

Before implementing an energy management system, it’s important that you have a plan which clearly articulates who should be involved in the use of the system, how the tool will be used to save money, and when you should expect to reap benefits from the use of the system.

With a modest amount of planning, an energy management platform can be a powerful tool for boosting profits in restaurants by cutting energy consumption and improving the performance of critical equipment.  By bringing visibility to what has historically been an invisible cost for restaurants, it is finally possible to move energy from an “uncontrollable” cost to a “controllable” cost.

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Energy Management Systems, Restaurants, and ROI – Part 2

Energy Management Systems, Restaurants, and ROI – Part 2By Jay Fiske, VP of Business Development & Jason Roeder, Director of Energy Products & Services, Powerhouse Dynamics

In last week’s post, we introduced some of the benefits for deploying an energy management system across a restaurant’s operations.  We also described three critical questions that need to be addressed in order for a business to extract the maximum value from an energy management system:

•    Who should be involved in the use of these systems?
•    Where are the opportunities for saving money?
•    When should the customer expect to reap savings?

In last week’s post, we focused on the first question.  In this week’s post, we will focus on the second question:

Where are the opportunities for saving money?

An energy management system can be a very effective tool for identifying and eliminating areas of excessive energy spending, and there are a number of different categories of wasteful consumption where the platform can make a significant impact.

Off-hours consumption

In a typical restaurant operation, the “off-hours” period can be an opportunity for cutting back on excessive energy spending.  It is not uncommon for expensive loads, such as make-up air and exhaust fans, to frequently be left running all night when the restaurant is closed.  Some of the staff may be new or have not yet had proper training on all aspects of restaurant operations.  Managers have multiple competing demands for their attention.  People forget.  Ineffective off-hours management of even a modest number of devices in a restaurant can result in thousands of dollars in lost profits every year per store.

A modern energy management system can provide insight into energy consumption patterns, can calculate the costs of running equipment in the off-hours to highlight the magnitude of the waste, and can send alerts to management when equipment has been left running too late or is turned on too early.  By bringing this level of visibility into off-hours consumption, a modern energy management system can greatly facilitate implementation of robust operational practices that ensure equipment is only running when it needs to be.

Management of equipment use versus business volumes

As with off-hours energy consumption, there are many pieces of energy-intensive equipment in the restaurant’s kitchen, such as heat lamps, toasters, and Panini presses that can be turned down or turned off during quiet periods.  An energy management system can help evaluate consumption patterns and target the most cost-effective pieces of equipment to manage during lulls over the course of the day.

Inefficient HVAC and Refrigeration Equipment

A recent survey of commercial HVAC equipment revealed that more often than not, HVAC equipment is not operating as efficiently as it could be, due to faults in a variety of components, including:Energy Management Systems, Restaurants, and ROI – Part 2

•    Refrigerant circuit
•    Economizer
•    Air flow
•    Thermostat
•    Sensors

An energy management system can reveal problems with HVAC and refrigeration systems by identifying problematic operating patterns, such as compressor short-cycling, continuous operation of compressors, compressor failure, and by finding aberrations in expected supply and return duct air temperatures.

Inefficient Programming of Thermostats

Installing programmable thermostats and keeping on top of the different heating and cooling set points across each day and between seasons is the single most cost-effective way to automate energy savings.  Heating and cooling costs are typically a restaurant’s largest energy cost, and programmable thermostats are substantially less expensive than any other kind of energy automation.

Unfortunately, many restaurants use their programmable thermostats the same way many people use them at home: they don’t program them.  Programming the thermostat can be cumbersome, so it can be difficult to implement schedule changes or seasonal changes.  Set points are constantly over-ridden, with a tug-of-war between the staff’s desired temperature settings and the customers’ desired settings.    The result is HVAC equipment typically running harder and longer than necessary, wasting precious profits.

Having a staff trained on the use of the programmable thermostats and having a thermostat that is convenient (e.g., internet connected for remote control) and intuitive to can go a long way to optimizing the use of heating and cooling systems, balancing comfort and energy savings.

Early warnings of equipment problems

Equipment can reveal much about its performance through its energy consumption patterns.  If there are problems – e.g., a broken belt on a fan or a clogged vent in an exhaust system – equipment may use substantially more or substantially less energy than it was designed to consume.  An energy management system can be configured to automatically recognize aberrations in consumption patterns and proactively send out text and email alerts to management.  Because of this, an energy management system’s on-going analysis can help prevent “black swan” events — catastrophic failure of critical equipment.

Management of energy demand spikes

Most commercial properties, including restaurants, incur so-called “demand charges” from their electric utilities.  Demand charges are established when electricity consumption spikes, usually for 15 to 30 minutes.  The utility will charge based on the magnitude of the customers’ demand spikes, as measured in kilowatts, not kilowatt-hours.  The greater the spike, the greater the demand charge. (See here for a more detailed explanation.)

An energy management system can detect spikes in electricity consumption and either send out warnings with enough time for restaurant managers to do something to reduce the magnitude of the spike or, more likely, reveal overtime what changes could be made on a daily basis to systematically reduce the likelihood of higher demand charges.  For example, managers may set the thermostat back by 2 degrees or turn off their ice machine from 3pm to 4pm during the summer to reduce the total demand from the restaurant for the duration of the spike.

Modeling the savings

How do these different opportunities break-down in terms of savings potential?  Below is a model of a typical restaurant with a range of typical expected savings for each category of savings opportunity:

Energy Management Systems, Restaurants, and ROI – Part 2

These savings can range by +/- 50%, meaning the savings range is 8-18% in direct energy savings. These savings do not reflect potential savings in gas consumption due to more effective use of thermostats and more efficient operation of HVAC equipment.

There are other savings opportunities as well.  Savings from maintenance calls that are avoided due to the remote diagnostics and equipment performance monitoring could add another $1,000 a year in direct savings (benchmarks for service calls are about $350 per call). While the HVAC/R faults require an HVAC technician to resolve,  we find that those issues can be addressed with minimal incremental cost to the existing R&M contract that is already “bought and paid for”  in year 1 of the program. Other cost reduction modifications to that contract are possible in future years as well.

In summary, when deploying an energy management system, it is important to focus on the areas where the system can deliver substantial cost savings:

•    Off-hours energy consumption
•    Management of equipment use versus business volumes
•    Inefficient HVAC and refrigeration equipment
•    Inefficient programming of thermostats
•    Early warnings of equipment problems
•    Management of energy demand spikes

With the proper focus, an energy management system can deliver real, measurable, and impactful energy savings.

In next week’s blog posting, we will focus on the final critical question: When should the customer expect to achieve savings?

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Have You Joined The NRA’s Conserve Initiative?

Have You Joined The NRAs Conserve Initiative?The National Restaurant Association’s (NRA) Conserve Initiative is designed to give restaurateurs the tools they need to start implementing sustainable, environmentally conscious practices in the food service industry.  As quoted from the Conserve Initiative’s website:

“The National Restaurant Association’s Conserve initiative is designed to initiate and inspire actions that improve a company’s bottom line, but also are good for people and the planet.”

The Conserve Initiative website contains news stories about leaders in restaurant sustainability, tools for improving the efficiency and minimizing the environmental impact of your restaurant, and links to important partner sites like government-run Energy Star, which is focused on energy efficiency.

A skeptic might ask: “Why all the hubbub about environmentalism all of a sudden?”  As the NRA points out, some basic realities are confronting the average restaurant owner every day: utility and energy bills eat up 2.5% – 3.4% of gross revenue.  Poll after poll consistently shows that American consumers place value on products and services that are marketed as “green” or “environmentally friendly.”  Food in your restaurant is no exception to this.  And finally, the food service industry is one of the largest in the United States.  The industry as a whole should take the lead on an increasingly important cultural issue.

Here on The Back Burner, I have written extensively about ways to improve energy efficiency and environmental sustainability in your restaurant.  The NRA’s Conserve Initiative is just another resource in the greening efforts your restaurant can actually profit from engaging in.  And that remains the salient point here: focusing on so-called “green” initiatives and strategies in your restaurant can actually save you money!

So what are you waiting for?  Go green and be happy.

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Is Your Restaurant Exhaust System Sucking Up Money?

Is Your Restaurant Exhaust System Sucking Up Money?The exhaust system in your kitchen is one of those essential pieces of equipment that you must have in order to operate.  And if your hood is like the ones in most restaurants, it has two settings: “on” and “off.”  When your line is operating at full tilt during the dinner rush, the “on” setting is probably perfect, quickly sending heat and fumes straight from your cooking equipment outside.  But what about afternoons or during light lunches?  You probably still have the ventilation on but your equipment is not creating nearly as much exhaust.

I don’t have to tell you how much energy that hood exhaust in your kitchen is using.  Here’s a few tips on making sure your restaurant exhaust system is running as efficiently as possible:

Get the system rebalanced. Your exhaust system needs some regular maintenance to run at optimal levels.  If too much smoke is building up in your kitchen, or if the system seems like it’s on overdrive all the time, a rebalancing by a trained technician is in order.  A rebalance ensures the system is keeping the kitchen safe but not sucking up too much energy by working too hard.

Maximize suction. If you’re paying to run your kitchen ventilation system, it might as well be pulling as much of the stuff you don’t want in your kitchen as possible.  To maximize smoke and heat capture, make sure your cooking equipment is pushed all the way up against the wall underneath the hood.  This prevents clean air from getting sucked up from behind the equipment and puts the maximum amount of hood over your line.  And if your hood doesn’t have side panels, you can install them easily and cheaply.  Side panels help trap smoke and fumes, making the exhaust system more efficient.

Install a demand ventilation control. If you really want to save some money on kitchen ventilation then a demand control is for you.  It senses the cooking volume in your kitchen and adjusts fan speed accordingly.  A ventilation control can reduce kitchen exhaust energy usage by 30% – 50% and can be either ordered with a new exhaust system or installed on an older unit.Is Your Restaurant Exhaust System Sucking Up Money?

Clean and maintain hood filters. The hood filters are the metal squares in the exhaust opening of your restaurant’s exhaust system that catch the grease in air as it gets sucked out.  The hood filter plays an important role, since grease buildup can become a dangerous fire risk.  As time goes on hood filters become saturated with grease and should be cleaned.  The dirtier the filter, the harder your exhaust has to work to suck air through them.  Also make sure they are installed correctly (with the baffles, or ridges, in the vertical position) and that there are no gaps between them.  Replace damaged filters immediately.  Click here for a complete guide to hood filters.

If you happen to be designing a new kitchen, you should account for a few factors in order to maximize ventilation efficiency:

Group heavy cooking equipment together. Whatever you’re going to be cooking with the most should all be right next to each other underneath the hood.  If you have a single heavy cooking appliance, like a charbroiler, and other lighter cooking equipment, it’s a good idea to separate the heavy piece from the lighter pieces and give it a dedicated high volume exhaust.  This allows you to run the lighter equipment under a hood that doesn’t have to be on full blast all the time.

Create a big overhang. While 4 feet is the industry standard, 5 or 6 feet of hood will capture more smoke and allow you to run your restaurant exhaust system more efficiently.

Making the kitchen ventilation system energy efficient not only saves you money, it ensures that the exhaust is capturing the maximum amount of smoke and fumes and getting them out of your kitchen.

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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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Replacing Refrigeration Door Gaskets

The rubber door gasket on the inside edge of the doors of all your refrigeration equipment is very important. It prevents cold air from escaping, which means the unit will stay colder longer and use less energy.  Old refrigeration door gaskets wear out and lose their seal. Even worse, older gaskets can pose a food safety risk because they begin to collect grime and food bits and become a breeding ground for bacteria.

Luckily, it’s easy to replace door gaskets!  There are several different styles of gaskets. To ensure you get the proper gasket, gather the following information:

1. Dimension of gasket – Measure from outside corner to outside corner for both height and width.

2. Manufacturer – Get the manufacturer’s name and the model and serial number of the piece of equipment (the serial number may not be needed).  Search for refrigeration door gaskets by manufacturer here.

3. Style –  Check to see if the gasket is magnetic or non-magnetic(compression). Almost all newer refrigeration equipment will have a magnetic gasket. A magnetic gasket will be hard and square at the point where it contacts the inside frame of the unit. Magnetic gaskets will also snap shut when you hold the door less than an inch from the frame because the magnet attracts to the metal.

Replacing Refrigeration Door Gaskets

Magnetic door gaskets are the most common

Compression gaskets usually need a door latch to hold them tight in place to get a good seal. These gaskets are soft and compress easily at the point where they contact the inside frame of the unit.

Replacing Refrigeration Door Gaskets

A compression style door gasket

Door gaskets are also categorized by how they attach to the door.  There are 3 ways a door gasket mounts on a door: snap in (or dart), push in, and screw in.

How To Replace Refrigeration Door Gaskets By Style

Snap in (or dart) door gaskets

Replacing Refrigeration Door Gaskets

Note the arrow shaped “dart” in the middle. This snaps into a slot on the door.

Removal – Remove the old gasket by grabbing a corner and pulling.  The dart section of the gasket, which fits snugly into a slot in the door frame, will pull out.

Installation – To install the new refrigeration door gasket, soak it in hot water for a few minutes. This will make it more flexible.  Begin by snapping in a top corner first. Then, using a mallet or a block of wood and hammer, tap into place the top of the gasket. Continue by installing the sides from top to bottom, and finally the bottom.

Note: Make sure the hinge side of the gasket does not roll under when you close the door.  If it does, push it into position and you may have to tape the door closed to get the gasket to seat itself. You might also try a hair dryer to heat the gasket as this will help it seat. (Make sure you don’t melt the gasket!)

Replacing Refrigeration Door Gaskets

A push in style door gasket

Push in refrigeration door gaskets

Removal – Remove the old gasket by grabbing a corner and pulling!

Installation – Push in gaskets may require vinyl cement. To install the new gasket brush some vinyl cement into the channel and press the gasket into the channel.

Note: Make sure the hinge side of the gasket does not roll under when you close the door.  If it does, push it into position and you may have to tape the door closed to get the gasket to seat itself.  You may also use a hair dryer to heat the gasket as this will help the gasket seat.  (Make sure you don’t melt the gasket!)

Screw in door gaskets

Removal – Simply remove screws.

Installation – Screw in the new gasket using retainer strips.

A screw in style door gasket. Note the strip for screwing in the gasket.
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Go Green, Save Money, Serve Better Produce

Go Green, Save Money, Serve Better ProduceAs the past few years have shown, produce can be a food safety liability for anyone in the food service industry. Easy spoilage also makes produce a very difficult item to manage on your inventory. On top of all that, produce takes a lot of time and labor to prep.

Yet fruits and vegetables are also a vital ingredient on any restaurant’s menu, and most of you out there have mastered the fine art of serving clean, healthy, fresh produce to your customers on a daily basis. Mastery of that art comes at a price, however. Chemical sanitization, cleaning, and spoilage all cost money and cut into your food margin.

Locally and organically produced produce don’t help your cause any either. Typically local and organic produce spoils faster even though it arrives fresher. And nobody wants their organic produce sanitized with chemicals after arriving through your back door.

There must be some kind of product that addresses all the issues you have dealing with fresh produce in your restaurant.

Well, I’m glad you asked.

The Saf-T-Wash by San Jamar addresses all three of your main food service sanitation concerns when it comes to produce: sanitation, freshness, and spoilage. How does it work? The Saf-T-Wash adds ozone to water and attaches directly to the faucet in your kitchen, allowing you to wash fresh produce and sanitize it at the same time while extending shelf life.

Ozone is a natural element that’s been used for years in the bottled water industry to kill pathogens during the bottling process. Ozone kills at least 99.99% of the major pathogens found in produce within two minutes of exposure, which is significantly more effective than a chlorine treatment. And ozone removes enzymes from fruits and vegetables that cause spoilage, improving shelf life after prep has been completed.

You also don’t have to use as much ozone treated water to clean produce during prep, saving you money on water. In general, treating your fruits and vegetables with ozone treated water is a more effective and efficient way to prep produce for serving. According to San Jamar, the money saved in water and labor savings plus reduced spoilage means the Saf-T-Wash pays for itself in 3 months.

Using the Saf-T-Wash also gives you a unique opportunity to market your restaurant as a green operation to your customers. Despite the economic downturn, studies still return consistent results when it comes to customer attitudes regarding green practices in food safety: consumers want more of it and they like restaurants that participate in green programs. If you’re serving organically grown produce washed with ozone treated water, you’re creating a great opportunity to add value to your restaurant brand in the eyes of your customer. And in an age of price wars and increasingly brutal competition, anything that sets you apart and adds value is something that might give you an extra edge over your competition.

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Green Initiatives: A Rise In Cost Or A Part Of Your Marketing Budget?

QSR magazine published an article recently about new take out packaging for restaurants made from recycled plastic water bottles.  Dubbed The Bottle Box, the restaurants that have used it say it performs just as well or better than normal plastic take out packaging, and that it can be customized with your establishment’s name and logo very easily.  The biggest pitfall of The Bottle Box is the 2% – 5% increase in cost over regular packaging.

Recycled packaging and compostable disposables like corn cups are one of those things that always sounds good in theory, but can translate into some real costs in practice that affect your bottom line.  The Bottle Box is a good example of this.  The standard reaction by any businessman would be: why spend more for something that does the same job as the thing I’m using now?

Well, that’s one way to look at it.

Another approach is to take the relatively nominal increase in cost and view it as an expense in your marketing budget.  How does that work?  Well, instead of just labeling The Bottle Box with your restaurant’s logo, why not advertise the fact that you’re using recycled packaging?

Studies have consistently shown that consumers place a high value on food service operations that take green initiatives, and are even willing to pay a little more for those restaurant’s products.  Just look at the success of Chipotle in the last five years if you need a good example of this.

However, you don’t need to pass all costs on to your customer, and really you shouldn’t unless you have to.  There are measurable benefits to adding something like recycled packaging to your operation.  The key is making sure your customer knows about the initiatives you are taking.

Some tips on how to make sure you’re communicating properly:

Train servers to work green initiative plugs into their spiels.
There’s no better way to communicate with your customer than through your servers.  Have them remind guests about the green things you’re doing in a gentle, non-pushy way that nonetheless firmly implants your initiative in their head.

Post reminders throughout your restaurant. Do you have a recycling program?  Put up a sign that says “We Recycle” above a blue garbage can, if no one ever uses it.  The same goes for composting programs.  Do you use Energy Star rated equipment?  Put up an Energy Star logo where customers can see it.  Do you use The Bottle Box instead of straight plastic packaging?  Tell your customers right on the bag!

Work your green initiatives into your marketing materials. Whether it’s an ad in the paper, a flyer, or a website, don’t be afraid to announce that you’re taking action to make your restaurant greener.  If you’re particularly proud of your greening accomplishments, you may even want to launch an advertising campaign that specifically touts your efforts.

Don’t be afraid to take baby steps!
You don’t have to implement a comprehensive green program for your restaurant all at once to gain some real appreciation from your customers.  Start with simple stuff like a recycling program and green take out packaging.  Tell your customers about it.  Then take on something more involved like composting or sourcing vegetables locally.  No matter how small or incremental your efforts, your customers will appreciate it, and they can’t appreciate it if you don’t tell them.

Taking steps to improve your restaurant’s green image don’t have to be all about raising your costs either.  Many changes can have the dual benefit of making your restaurant more green and more efficient, which really is a win-win.  No matter how you green your restaurant, just make sure to announce it loud and clear to customers.  They’ll appreciate it.  And they’ll eat in your restaurant more often.

Check out a trove of going green tips here.

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