“Sparking” Restaurant Efficiency

Restaurants use a lot of energy. But did you know that the typical independently-owned restaurant wastes about half of it?

Imagine you are running your own restaurant at about average efficiency. If your restaurant spends $50,000 per year on utilities (the combined total you spend on electricity, gas or oil, water and sewer), over the next five years not only will you consume twice as much energy and produce twice as much pollution as necessary, you will waste about $125,000.

How much is better efficiency worth to your restaurant (and your community)?

Here at Spark we’re developing an efficiency score to get restaurants on a more profitable and sustainable path. Like EPA’s miles per gallon for cars, Spark’s efficiency score for restaurants lets you know how efficient your restaurant is now, and how much more efficient you can realistically become based on published case studies. Then you can establish a reasonable budget for efficiency.

Your Spark efficiency score is the first step to finding better ways to invest your money rather than wasting it on bloated utility bills. Imagine what you could do with an extra $125,000 over five years: upgrade to newer equipment, improve performance and comfort, reduce risk, prevent pollution, and earn an immediate financial return on investment, using the same money the utilities will otherwise simply take from you.

What are you doing now that wastes so much energy and money, month after month?

You need to refrigerate and freeze many ingredients to prevent spoilage, but you also need to cook many of them to prepare meals. You need to condition air to keep your customers comfortable, but you also need to vent air to keep your kitchen safe. If you haven’t been thinking about efficiency every time you purchase and commission equipment, you’ll find yourself constantly struggling under a growing burden of inefficient processes that work against each other. It’s super easy to fall into the trap of upgrading one piece of equipment, only to turn around and need to upgrade another piece, driving up your utility bills: a bigger refrigeration unit requires a bigger AC unit, a bigger range requires a bigger hood and that requires more heating in the dining area, etc.

Here’s the breakdown on how a typical year-round restaurant in Maine’s climate zone uses energy:


As you can see, for a typical restaurant, operating year round in Maine, space heating and cooking account for more than half of your energy use. Refrigeration and water heating together account for over a third. Ventilation, cooling and other miscellaneous equipment uses just a bit more than lighting. Your office equipment and computers use a comparatively minuscule amount of energy. (By the way, the above data is based on our analysis of published studies, but we are keeping our own data set from restaurants in Maine to continually improve the accuracy of our estimates.)

To track down where the waste is in your restaurant, we’ve developed a Spark checklist for restaurant efficiency. This is based on dozens of published case studies by energy auditors, engineers, and efficiency professionals. Restaurants are among the most energy-intensive commercial buildings, so they have been exhaustively studied.

Our Spark checklist pulls all of this collected knowledge together in one place so we can establish your efficiency opportunities–and give you a ballpark return on investment figure. In our space heating section, for example, we determine what kind of heating system you have, count heating and cooling zones, note details about the building construction and insulation, and record whether programmable set-back thermostats are being used properly. We don’t conduct a full energy audit, but we do diligently identify and consider the practical feasibility of improving efficiency in every aspect of your restaurant’s operation.

The great thing about improving efficiency in restaurants today is the current crop of cost-effective opportunities. We are seeing incredible evolution in three core technologies. The first is LED lighting. Key breakthroughs in the basic science of solid-state light-emitting diodes have allowed lighting manufacturers to deliver much better value and quality since 2012. In short, the future of lighting is LED. Forget fluorescents; you want LEDs. You can triple the efficiency of your lighting, not only cutting your lighting bill by two thirds, but also reducing waste heat to improve the efficiency of your cooling and refrigeration. Best of all, no worries about toxic mercury, fragile tubes or frequent replacements. LEDs are safe, rugged, long lasting, and nice looking.

The second advance is heat pumps. You can now buy affordable and reliable heat pumps for space heating and for water heating. These devices use one unit of electricity to provide two, three or more units of heat. A heating system with a 200% or 300% efficiency rating, which seemed impossible just a few years ago, is now practical in Maine. That leaves a natural gas system that is “only” 97% efficient looking decidedly antiquated. An added benefit is that a heat pump hot water system can cool off an overheated kitchen, turning waste heat into valuable hot water and sparing an AC unit from having to run. That’s something no gas-fired water heater can do.

The third advance is controls. When you combine LED lighting, heat pumps, digital motors, and the new control technology, you can do amazing things. You can shave peak loads to reduce demand charges on your electricity bill. You can be instantly alerted when equipment malfunctions. You can make ice in the middle of the night when your building can use the heat, instead of in the middle of the day when your kitchen staff is sweating hard. You can control the speed of vent hoods. You can set heating and cooling temperatures, and allow staff to adjust them within limits, turn down energy demands when your restaurant is closed, and still be assured that you have comfortable temperatures when you are back open for business. You can have motion sensors that reliably work, so lights are never left on in unused spaces. The list of ways to use better controls grows every day.

In addition to the big three technological advances, there are a myriad of advances in other areas that are making it possible to wring more profit out of each dollar you spend on utilities. Thanks to stringent regulations in effect in California and Europe, thousands of restaurant owners around the world have tested and verified the impact of hundreds of efficiency measures that all add up to huge savings for a smart restaurateur in Maine.

So let’s imagine again you’re a smart restaurateur. You’ve invited us to meet with you to understand the efficiency opportunities at your restaurant. There’s no charge and no obligation. At our first site visit we’ll collect all the information we need to calculate your Spark efficiency score: how many meals per year you serve (you can tell us this from your records, or we can calculate this based on your number of seats and the industry average turns per day for your type of establishment) and a copy of your electricity, fuel, water and sewer bills for the past twelve months. We’ll also walk through your restaurant with our Spark checklist to determine your best efficiency opportunities. We’ll come back for a second visit to discuss our findings with you.

If you decide to work with us, we can make your monthly bills go down immediately and permanently. Rather than waiting years for a financial payback on efficiency, you increase your profits right away and can enjoy running a business with better equipment and better margins.

The next step is up to you. We’d love to make efficiency happen in your favorite restaurant!

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