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According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, restaurants and other food service buildings consume more energy per square foot than any other type of commercial building.

For restaurant owners and managers, this stat is likely no surprise – after all, the average monthly cost to run just one refrigeration unit can range from $70 to $150 or more. That’s before counting the operating costs of  ovens, lighting, HVAC systems, commercial dishwashers, and everything a restaurant needs to function. That’s why energy efficiency is crucial for keeping monthly expenses lower and more manageable.

We spoke with Michael Oshman, CEO of The Green Restaurant Association, and the restaurant efficiency experts at Powerhouse Dynamics to learn about top energy-saving tips for commercial eateries.

How to Reduce Energy Consumption in Your Restaurant

For many restaurants, the task of becoming more energy efficient can be a daunting one. Where should you begin? What upgrades are most worth your while?

Michael Oshman founded the international nonprofit The Green Restaurant Association (GRA) back in 1990 with the goal of helping restaurant owners make sense of these kinds of questions much more easily. Their coveted GRA certification is made up of more than 500 environmental standards across seven distinct environmental categories, including energy and water efficiency. It’s designed to provide restaurateurs with a quantifiable Green Score for their establishments and a framework to help build their efficiencies over time.

But for starters, Oshman suggests basic lighting and valve upgrades as a great first step to conserving energy and water.

With energy efficiency, we try to help with the lowest hanging fruit first: spray valves, aerators and lighting. Those are examples of fairly quick turnaround items that we like to start with, and for most restaurants, there’s no reason not to make those upgrades.

Michael Oshman | CEO, Green Restaurant Association\

Use energy-efficient lighting

If you’ve decided to begin with lighting, it helps to know exactly what kind of lighting you should invest in, as choosing the right light bulbs can make a huge difference in your restaurant’s energy efficiency. LED bulbs, which use much less energy and last several times longer than traditional incandescent or fluorescent bulbs, are the best option in most cases.

According to ENERGY STAR, lighting accounts for around 13 percent of a restaurant’s energy usage. ENERGY STAR-certified lightbulbs can help your restaurant use at least 75 percent less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs.

What does the ENERGY STAR certification mean?

ENERGY STAR-certified products meet the energy efficiency requirements set forth by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These efficiency requirements aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants by cutting energy usage.

Owners can purchase a variety of ENERGY STAR-certified products to improve their restaurant’s energy efficiency, including lightbulbs, cooking equipment, refrigeration systems and more.

Learn more about how a product earns an ENERGY STAR label.

Update spray valves & install aerators

Obviously, water usage is a huge concern in commercial kitchens. According to some estimates, a typical sit-down restaurant can use anywhere between 3,000 to 7,000 gallons of water per day, with 5,800 gallons being the average. That’s enough to fill 18 hot tubs!

Upgrading to high-efficiency, pre-rinse spray valves and installing aerators on your restaurant’s other sinks and taps can reduce your restaurant’s water usage in a major way and help you save hundreds of dollars on annual utility bills.

Install occupancy sensors

Why waste money lighting and heating an empty area? Occupancy sensors are a brilliant way to reduce energy consumption in a restaurant, especially in restrooms or break rooms.

In fact, a study conducted by the EPA found that occupancy sensors can reduce commercial energy waste by nearly 70 percent and increase energy savings by as much as 60 percent.

Upgrade to Energy-Efficient Equipment

Commercial kitchens are notorious energy hogs in restaurants. In fact, 41 percent of all energy use in restaurants comes from refrigeration and food preparation alone. If you’re looking to save energy in your commercial kitchen, switching to ENERGY STAR food service equipment can help in a major way.

But according to Jay Fiske of Powerhouse Dynamics, kitchen equipment isn’t the only culprit when it comes to major energy losses in commercial eateries.

“Broadly speaking, anything that’s making heat or making cold with electricity or moving air is going to be one of the biggest users of energy in a restaurant. Rooftop units conditioning the kitchen, ventilation and electrically-heated cooking equipment can be huge energy draws. You’ll definitely see huge draws from fryers, electric ovens and even large-volume coffee brewers.”

Jay Fiske | VP of Business Development, Powerhouse Dynamics

Founded in 2009, Powerhouse Dynamics is the developer of Open Kitchen, the broadest IoT-based platform designed to help restaurant chains obtain enterprise-wide control over the most energy-intensive equipment in their establishments. Their solution allows restaurant owners and managers to control and digitally monitor energy usage for thousands of pieces of equipment across their enterprises.

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You can also search for commercial ENERGY STAR rebates in your area to help offset the costs of installing new equipment.

Opt for a glass-door refrigerator

Glass-door fridges and freezers allow your employees – or customers, if you have an open-access café fridge – to easily check your inventory without having to open the doors and let all the cool air out.

ENERGY STAR-certified glass-door refrigerators can save restaurants 20 percent more on energy bills annually than their solid-door counterparts, while glass-door freezers can save up to 81 percent more on energy bills than solid-door freezers.

Perform regular maintenance

The key to saving energy in a commercial kitchen and dining space is to make sure your equipment is in good condition. Dirty and malfunctioning equipment like stoves, fridges, and dishwashers use more energy for worse performance, so maintaining them properly is the best way to save energy in restaurants.

Here are a few maintenance tasks that can help you save more on your restaurant’s energy bills:

  • Tune up HVAC equipment annually.
  • Fix seals on fridge and freezer doors.
  • Inspect stove and oven knobs to ensure there is no gas leakage.
  • Seal, fix or replace old windows/doors that may be letting conditioned air out.
  • Add vestibules to stop heat from entering or leaving when the front door opens.
  • Have lighting and electrical issues inspected and fixed as needed.
  • Replace worn-out cords to reduce electricity loss.

Install a programmable thermostat

Setting a thermostat schedule to coincide with on and off hours is a great way to lower unnecessary heating and cooling costs. Some commercial thermostats can even save your restaurant up to 50 percent in energy costs.

Programmable smart thermostats also make it easy to adjust the settings remotely, and they prevent employees from having to remember to adjust the temperature before or after service hours. For the best chance at savings, the experts at Powerhouse Dynamics recommend automating your smart thermostat via a cloud-based system, and if you need help, contact an expert.

“If you don’t have a smart thermostat connected to a cloud-based system and managed in an automated fashion, many times those temperatures are going to drift. It’s very rare that we walk into an establishment and see a thermostat that’s programmed correctly, and that’s a fairly easy problem for us to get our arms around to help [restaurants] achieve substantial savings.”

Jay Fiske | VP of Business Development, Powerhouse Dynamics

Replace air filters regularly

Replacing your air filter is incredibly important for air sanitation purposes, but can also help with your restaurant’s overall energy efficiency. Dirty air filters force your HVAC system to work much harder than it has to, costing you more on your restaurant’s energy bills.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, replacing a clogged air filter can lower an air conditioner’s energy consumption by up to 15 percent, which can make a huge difference during the hot summer months.

Address high turnover

It’s no secret that employee turnover poses a problem for most restaurants. In addition to creating service issues, it can also cause inefficiencies in the way your establishment is run that result in overinflated energy bills. Fiske explains:

“Restaurants are complicated operations. You have a lot of equipment to manage, and it’s not uncommon to have very high staff turnover, which is a particularly challenging problem today. So you may have relatively new people often, who may have just received training and may not be entirely familiar with your systems, and that leads to energy waste in the way the equipment gets used.”

Jay Fiske | VP of Business Development, Powerhouse Dynamics

Invest in your management

Being strategic is crucial to improving your restaurant’s energy efficiencies, and it can pay to have a trusted manager or team of managers available to stay on top of the day-to-day tasks while you tackle big-picture items like your establishment’s sustainability.

“Many restaurants are just overwhelmed with the day to day,” says GRA’s Oshman, “and even thinking about investing a small amount of money with a quick turnaround can be too much for them because they’re putting out too many fires.”

“If a restaurant is being managed in such a way that the decision maker can only look at the day-to-day and can’t look to the next month, quarter or year, that’s a difficult scenario to make any medium- or long-term strategies for, including sustainability.”

Michael Oshman | CEO, The Green Restaurant Association


Here are a couple of resources to help you cultivate the right team and get your restaurant on the right, sustainable track:

Choose a New Energy Supplier and Save More on Restaurant Energy Bills

If you operate in a deregulated energy state, you can save even more on electricity and natural gas bills by working with an energy broker to choose a new energy supplier.

At Integrity Energy, we make it easier for restaurants and businesses of all sizes to save more on energy bills by connecting them with the best rates available on the market. We work with over 30 major suppliers to provide you with the most competitive options out there.

To find all available energy rates and options in your area, call (888)-988-8188 or request a free quote today. One of our energy experts will reach out to you ASAP.