Behavioural changes, upgrades boost restaurants' energy efficiency

Image of cooks working in a restaurant kitchen
Business energy advisor Adrian Pettyfer is encouraged by the energy consumption awareness at many B.C. restaurants, including managers' interest in MyHydro energy tracking tools.

New lighting and procedures help restaurants trim their energy costs

In most restaurants, it's typical for energy to be the third largest fixed expense behind wages and rents. That's what makes Adrian Pettyfer's advice so valuable.

Through the LiveSmart BC Small Business Program, Pettyfer has spent the last three years as a business energy advisor for the BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association. And after spending a lot of time in commercial kitchens across B.C., he says he's noticed an encouraging trend.

"It happens slowly, but a lot of restaurants are doing things right," he says. "Even restaurants that don't seem to have the budget or the interest at first are getting involved. I've been happily surprised on a number of follow-up visits to see new lighting, new procedures and owners who are proud of what they have done to reduce their energy costs."

Restaurants learn to start with efficient procedures

Pettyfer says restaurant staff are generally more aware of energy consumption and conservation than they used to be. That's important, because making smart choices about how equipment is used is one of the best ways to cut energy costs.

"For example, setting up standard operating procedures so they don't turn on the fryer until they need to, don't turn on the hood vent just because there's a pilot light on, things like that," he says. "That's getting much better."

Pettyfer says many of the small restaurant managers he has spoken with are also intrigued by what they can learn from the new MyHydro energy tracking tools, and their ability to provide information about electricity use down to the hour.

"Let's say you open at eight. You look at 8 a.m., and you can see when the lights come on displayed on your MyHydro graph. Generally everything before that is your refrigeration cost, because nothing else was on during the night. If you know what time you switch on your hood vent, you can see that, too. So we start to get a handle on where the money is going."

Replacing equipment near end of life helps improve bottom line

Beyond behaviour changes, Pettyfer helps restaurants figure out where they can save with technology upgrades. He says it doesn't usually make sense to replace equipment that's still functioning well, but if it's near the end of its life, upgrading to energy efficient commercial kitchen equipment makes a long-term improvement in the restaurant's bottom line.

There are incentives for a variety of natural gas cooking appliances through the FortisBC Foodservice Incentive Program, from $200 for an efficient steam cooker to as much as $3,500 for a rack oven. BC Hydro also offers incentives on efficient refrigeration equipment, some electric kitchen equipment, exhaust hood fans, and of course, lighting.

LEDs and efficient lighting: easier for some than others

While Pettyfer acknowledges that lighting upgrades hold huge savings potential, he says it's easier to implement LED or CFL upgrades in more brightly lit rooms than in fine dining restaurants. The trick in lower-light situations is to find an energy efficient bulb that creates the mood they're seeking.

"The bulbs are getting better and better," he says. "It just sometimes takes a bit of time to find the right bulb."

Pettyfer says there's every reason to upgrade, and to also add controls to ensure that less-used spaces aren't lit when they don't need to be.

Restaurants that are open longer hours have a faster payback. "Whereas, if you open at 11 in the morning and close at 8 p.m., and operate only six days a week, your business case isn't as strong," he notes.

Pettyfer says in general, small independent restaurants could do a better job at letting their customers know about their efforts to save energy.

"It seems like large establishments are tuned into this, but the small restaurants don't really promote it enough," he says. "I think the small business person is pretty tuned into energy efficiency, but underestimate how important it is to the public's perception of their business.

"Small businesses are cautious; they really want to see the benefits before they spend the money. That's where I can help them figure out the best path forward."

Learn more about the LiveSmart BC Small Business Program or contact Business Energy Advisor, Adrian Pettyfer.

Check out incentives from FortisBC and BC Hydro.