Energy is the second highest controllable cost for restaurants after labour, amounting to more than £1.3bn a year. The cost to the planet is enormous too - the UK restaurant sector is responsible for higher carbon emissions than Costa Rica. So, why isn’t every restaurant energy smart?
Representing almost a quarter of a restaurant’s overheads, energy costs can really eat into profits. By implementing only moderate improvements in efficiency, involving minimal costs, operators can achieve 20% savings – equivalent to a 5% increase in sales. But a recent survey by E.ON revealed that three quarters of restaurateurs don’t have the tools and knowledge to make those positive changes.
Here’s a simple five-step guide to taking the heat out of the kitchen, slicing chunks off utility bills and reducing the environmental footprint of your business. It’s a mix of no cost, low cost and higher cost measures. Implement them all and your restaurant should be well on the way to a bright future.
1. Start from scratch and think long term
Building in energy efficiency in from the start is always best. Retro-fitting is difficult and expensive. Two of the most energy efficient businesses in the sector all took the long view and have been cooking on gas, not literally, ever since. Arbor restaurant at the 32-room Green House Hotel in Bournemouth, winner of the SRA’s Environment Award for the past three years, invested in four induction hobs when it re-fitted the kitchen as part of a £5m sustainable modernisation programme 10 years ago. The hobs convert about 85% of their energy into heat for cooking, compared with 40% with gas, and because the burner doesn’t create heat there is no need for air conditioning or fans. “The initial layout and equipment was expensive, but it is much more efficient and saves us money long term,” says manager Louise Chapman. Mexican chain Wahaca, which last year became the first UK restaurant group to be certified CarbonNeutral, builds being energy efficient into all its new sites. None of its new restaurants has a boiler, for example, with all the hot water created from the heat captured by the extractors or the fridges and freezers. A restaurant that uses 6,000 litres of hot water a day and wants to follow Wahaca’s lead could save £12,000 a year and reduce C02 by 49 tonnes a year.
2. Make it matter
Because they don’t pay the bills, it can be tough turning your staff into a team of highly motivated energy-saving warriors. But with the potential to help you put a 30%+ dent in your bills, it’s really worth putting the time and effort into engaging your workforce. To do that, try these five tips:
• Make clear why staff should care and provide them with goals
• Build simple training into your induction programme
• Appoint energy champions at every site
• Measure and monitor progress
• Reward success
3. Stay switched on
Keeping a lid on your energy consumption across the whole business can seem an endless, exhausting game of whack-a-mole. It pays to install efficient monitoring systems that provide up-to-the-minute targeted data and constantly review your systems and appliances. The consumption breakdown goes something like this: 23% cooking; 19% water heating; 19% space heating; 11% lighting; 8% cooling; 8% other; 6% refrigeration; 5% ventilation; 1% office equipment, according to Carbon Statement. Keeping a close eye on Wahaca’s meters has made a huge impact, says co-founder Mark Selby. “That means our financial team sitting down with an energy expert, poring over the half hourly readings looking for spikes. We then work with the GMs and teams in each individual restaurant to improve. In our older restaurants this has meant we are now using about 15% less energy than we were before — but in restaurants that have opened in the past four years that number rises to about 36%.”
4. Zone in on targets
An oft asked question by restaurants looking to reduce their energy use is ‘where do we start?’. There’s no right answer, except to say that once you’ve started measuring you can establish realistic targets to suit your business. Setting the bar low-ish to start with should result in some pleasant surprises. Richard Slade, owner of Battlesteads, AA Eco Hotel of the Year, zoned in on the hotel’s carbon footprint and has managed to achieve his target of going below 2kg of C02 per room – down from 22.48kg just four years ago. That’s compared with an industry average of more than 31kg.
5. Use the power of common sense
Tim Bouget, owner of ODE-truefood, and three-time winner of the Sustainable Restaurant of the Year award, didn’t get where he is today without a really large dose of old-fashioned common sense. He ‘trains’ all his staff to switch on to the simple, but smart actions like, when the restaurant isn’t too busy, opening the kitchen window instead of putting the extractors on and only using dishwashers when they’re full and turning off equipment when they are not needed.