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Green Is Always in Season

According to the National Restaurant Association (NRA), “Environmentally responsible practices are becoming the new normal across the industry, as restaurateurs recognize that recycling, waste reduction, and water and energy efficiency are good for their business and our world.”

Amen to that! There are nearly 990,000 restaurant locations in the U.S., and food service is an incredibly resource-intensive endeavor, so when an industry as large as ours decides to go green, the reverberations are huge.

In one particularly impressive case of efficiency savings, Ted’s Montana Grill spent $111,000 to switch to LED lighting, and ended up saving $140,000 in the first year and $250,000 in the second year on electricity bills.

That’s a large example, to be sure, but there are hundreds of small things food-service pros can do to tread a little lighter and reduce their operating costs in the process. Examples include:

  • Serving water by request only (tap not bottled)
  • Using recycled/compostable disposable containers
  • Installing energy efficient hand dryers in restrooms
  • Reducing portion sizes (scales help)
  • Serving sustainable, ocean-friendly seafood
  • Freezing edible food scraps for later use
  • Composting inedible food scraps
  • Developing more vegetarian dishes
  • Cleaning with eco-friendly detergents
  • Sourcing produce from nearby farms (within 100 mi.)
  • Recycling cooking/fryer oil
  • Using linen/cotton napkins instead of paper

Doing Well by Doing Good
Sustainability is more than a cost-saving strategy, however. It’s also a smart growth strategy, especially when you consider that consumers actively prefer dining at establishments that have a clear commitment to preserving the environment for future generations. The NRA’s 2013 Restaurant Industry Forecast found that nearly half of all restaurant-goers are likely to make a restaurant choice based on its energy and water conservation practices alone!

Green begets green, if you know what I mean. In a competitive marketplace, a restaurant’s commitment to sustainability can become a very lucrative differentiator. (See also: Chipotle Mexican Grill)

If your restaurant, bar, cafe or catering company wants to lessen its impact, the NRA has a wealth of resources to guide your efforts. The association’s Conserve program, launched in 2008, helps operators implement conservation practices that are good for the environment and their bottom line. The initiative even provides restaurateurs with a fully customized roadmap to reducing their energy and water consumption. Check it out!

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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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Local Produce: A Fresh Marketing Approach

Fresh. Organic. High-quality.

These are a few ideas associated with local produce. They are also three reasons why your restaurant should invest in the local food movement today. Not only will you improve your ingredients but you will also communicate that your restaurant supports the surrounding community and is aware of what diners want.

Thousands of restaurants nationwide are embracing this trend and investing in local produce. According to a study from the National Restaurant Association, 90% of fine-dining establishments offer some form of local produce on their menu.

But this trend is not limited to upscale restaurants. The NRA also reported that 63% of casual dining, 56% of family-owned restaurants, 45% fast-casual chains and 28% fast food restaurants have all invested in local produce. Two examples of restaurants that already use local produce are Chipotle and McDonald’s.

Here are some of the reasons a local produce campaign will market your company to customers.

Support of the Local Community

This is very simple; investing in local farming shows you are part of the community. This may be the most beneficial marketing point for investing in local produce. People like to support their local community and when they see a company doing the same they will return the favor and help support that company. Communities tend to take care of a company they can call their own and investing in local produce will make your restaurant one of those companies.

High-Quality Ingredients

Using local produce also means using high-quality ingredients. The quality of industrial farmed produce suffers because it is mass-produced. Locally grown food is sustainable and isn’t exposed to the pesticides, hormones and harmful farming practices factory farms frequently use.

Some factory farms do not rotate their crops, like sustainable farms do, but instead they will continue growing on the same land repeatedly without giving the land a break. This practice reduces the nutrients and minerals the crops contain. Another example of harmful industrial practices is rBGH, an artificial growth hormone that is used in milk production on some factory farms. If you are buying your produce locally from a farm practicing sustainable methods it will be higher quality and your customers will appreciate this.

Giving the Public What they Want

Bon Appétit Management Company, a large food service provider that makes $350 million worth of food purchases per year, recently demanded a food and farm bill that would change harmful farming practices and improve food quality. The company supply’s kitchens in 31 states and made it clear that they would no longer buy from farms that did not meet their food standards.

Bon Appétit  is not alone in their demand for higher quality food.  American diners are becoming more interested in the quality of their food and knowing where it is coming from. In a national poll last year 78% of people said they believe making healthy food more affordable and accessible should be one of the main objectives in the new farm bill.

These are just a few of the advantages to supplying fresh local produce in your restaurant. Diners will appreciate and respond to your investment in sustainable produce. So make a bold statement today to improve your brand image along with your ingredients and buy locally.

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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: Recycling Feels Good

Green Restaurant Tips: Recycling Feels GoodUnlike the tips previously offered in this series, recycling probably won’t save your restaurant or commercial kitchen money.  And recycling will probably add work to your schedule and headaches to your day.

So why recycle?  Well, there are a few very compelling reasons, and not all of them altruistic, for introducing a recycling program:

Customers love it.  You’ve been reading other Going Green Tips and have started implementing strategies that boost energy efficiency in your restaurant and allow you to advertise to customers that you’re a green restaurant.  Customer loyalty and word-of-mouth advertising are up.  Things are going great.

That will change fast if you don’t recycle.  To your customers, this is the most fundamental green practice, and if they don’t see a blue bin next to the trash bin, you’re going to lose a lot more credibility than you think.  On the other hand, if you not only offer recycling in the front of the house (where not much can be recycled anyway) but also advertise your back of house recycling program, that gives you a legitimacy that helps with your overall green restaurant marketing strategy.

A recycling program puts you ahead of the curve.  More and more state and local laws are requiring restaurants and commercial kitchens to implement a recycling program.  So why not stay ahead of the curve?  You’ll probably end up having a recycling program anyway, so why not get in the swing of things now and turn it into part of your marketing strategy?

Recycling also helps you get a Green Restaurant Certification from the Green Restaurant Association.  You may want to consider pursuing a full certification from the GRA as part of your commitment to building a sustainable green business.

Recycling does, in fact, feel good.  There’s not much money in it, but hopefully money isn’t the only thing you care about.  Recycling makes your customers feel good, and it should make you feel good too.  Reducing waste through recycling is a key element to achieving sustainability in our economy, and your participation makes a difference, no matter if you run a small mom-and-pop restaurant or a huge commercial kitchen.

More recycling tips:

Buy post-consumer products whenever possible.  Post-consumer means the item was made entirely or partly from recycled materials.  Buying these products creates more demand in the recycled materials market, which encourages more people and businesses to recycle.  You’ll also be conserving natural resources like timber by purchasing post-consumer products.

Employ reusable items whenever possible.  This applies mostly to the front of the house.  You can significantly reduce waste by introducing reusable napkins, dinner and small wares, glasses, and tablecloths.  The slightly raised cost of washing these items is usually offset by reduced waste removal costs, and as waste removal costs rise, as they are sure to do, your costs stay the same.

Recycle kitchen oil as well.  Recycling used frying and vegetable oil is now easier than ever since the advent of biodiesel and other oil recycling technologies.  Locate a local company that processes used oil and they will provide disposal bins and may even pay you to give them your used oil.

You can also make oil last longer by using an fryer oil filter, which pumps the oil out of your fryer, passes it through a filter to clean it of debris, and then deposits it back in the fryer.  This machine will pay for itself with the savings you realize on buying fryer oil.

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Commercial Cooking Equipment

Whether you’re steaming, frying, charring, griddling or baking, eTundra.com is your number one source for quality commercial cooking equipment. While searching for new cooking equipment, it’s crucial to be energy efficient and financially conscientious, a surefire way to improve your restaurant and your finances.

Commercial Cooking EquipmentThe true centerpiece of any kitchen is a good restaurant range. Ranges come with a customizable amount of burners, the option of an attached oven and various additional accessories. When shopping for ranges, you should keep a couple things in mind. If you value speed over energy efficiency, you should look for a gas range with a higher BTU (British Thermal Units) because while it requires more energy, it heats up faster. A gas range with a lower BTU, on the other hand, will take longer to warm but will eat up less energy. Depending upon your restaurant’s criteria, you should consider which BTU level you want for your range. You can further customize your range by adding a griddle or charbroiler to make food prep even easier, or you can order them as separate units. And remember, altitude matters in a kitchen, so be sure to inform your manufacturer if your restaurant is located above 2,000 ft so that gas valves get properly tweaked.

If you’re looking to cook veggies, rice and fish in a Commercial Cooking Equipmenthealth conscious and nutrient rich way, you pretty much have to invest in a commercial steamer. Steamers don’t only make your food healthier, they cook it faster and even make your dishes more tasty. There are two main types of steamers; pressure steamers and pressureless steamers; and they have different functions within the kitchen. A pressure steamer is more time-efficient, allowing pressurized steam to build up to quickly cook what’s inside. One thing to keep in mind with a pressure steamer is that once you begin the steaming  process you cannot open the unit to check on or season what’s steaming inside. With a pressureless cooker, checking on food or seasoning is not an issue, as the steam is circulated using fans to cook food so there is no loss of prep time if you open the unit. Choosing the right steamer also means choosing the suitable number of steaming compartments (with each steaming compartment capable of making approximately 200 meals/hour). Depending upon restaurant capacity and output, you may want only 1 compartment or you may opt for 4.

A multi-purposed combination oven is ideal for those who want variety in their efficiency. Combinations use both steam, convection or a combination of both to produce meals quickly and in large quantity. If you’re shopping for a convection oven or a steamer, you may want to consider getting a combination oven to kill two birds with one stone. While combination ovens are an expensive addition to any kitchen, they eliminate the need for other equipment, saving you space and potentially money.

So whether you’re searching for a range, steamer or combination oven, Tundra has you covered with the lowest prices and highest value.

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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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Serve Sustainable Seafood

Serve Sustainable SeafoodSeafood is a wonderful delicacy that helps form the backbone of thousands of restaurants. Seafood is healthy and great tasting, and customers love treating themselves to seafood when they go out to eat.

Unfortunately, overfishing has increased exponentially in the last 25 years, resulting in the collapse of a full third of the world’s fisheries. Many more are in serious decline, and if fishing continues at the present rate, all of the world’s fisheries will be tapped out by 2050. In response, several organizations have started promoting sustainable seafood choices that harvest fishery populations in a responsible and sustainable way. Restaurateurs have also taken notice, and more and more restaurants are offering sustainable seafood on their menus.

To become a sustainable seafood restaurant, check out the resource guide published by the Monterey Bay Aquarium for both restaurants and consumers. This resource identifies fisheries that are being harvested sustainably so that you can make buying decisions accordingly.

Also talk with your restaurant’s seafood distributor and work with them to bring sustainable seafood options to your market. Many distributors already offer sustainable options and if they don’t, they should, so let them know that as a customer you would like a sustainable seafood option for your business.

Another option is to buy farm raised fish and shellfish products.  One such species that has recently become available is the striped pangasius, a type of catfish native to southeast Asia that makes a great center-of-plate white fish for any restaurant.

The debate between environmental groups and commercial seafood farms over the impact of farm raised seafood still rages, and The Back Burner will be exploring those issues in future posts.

Choosing to be a  sustainable seafood restaurant doesn’t have to mean compromising on the menu choices you offer your customers. It is possible to continue to bring great seafood menu items in a sustainable way.

And don’t forget to tell your customers you serve sustainable seafood. This is a great marketing tool that lets customers know you care about environmental trends and makes them feel better about ordering seafood items from your menu.

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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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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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