Best Practices for Increasing Energy Efficiency in Quick Serve Restaurants

Quick Serve Restaurant (QSR) food pricing is relatively inelastic. Therefore, controlling costs is key to boosting profit margins. Restaurant owners can manage and cut down on spending in a variety of ways – one of which includes monitoring energy consumption. Investing in energy efficiency not only benefits the environment but also boosts QSR cost savings.

Restaurants are incredibly energy intensive. For example, restaurants use about 5 to 7 times more energy than other commercial buildings, and QSRs in particular may use up to 10 times more energy per square foot than other commercial buildings (Energy Star).  An average QSR consumes 85% of energy through refrigeration, cooking, ventilation, cooling, and lighting. In this blog we will explore energy efficiency solutions for each of these energy intensive areas.  

How to Make a QSR Refrigerators More Energy-Efficient

Refrigeration is the single largest source of energy consumption in QSRs (38% of energy consumption). The condition of refrigeration equipment plays a significant role in its efficiency. Start by inspecting door seals. These degrade over time, and poorly maintained refrigerators may begin to leak cool air. A refrigerator may also struggle to maintain temperature when condenser coils, evaporator coils, or air filters are dirty. In these instances, the refrigerator requires more energy to comply with temperature settings. 

Secondly, strip curtains can be an effective solution for helping walk-in refrigerators and freezers maintain compliant temperatures, despite regular use throughout the day. These sheets provide an additional barrier between outside air and temperature-sensitive spaces. Strip curtains can reduce outside air penetration by as much as 75%

When exploring long-term solutions for energy efficiency in refrigeration, ensure that all new equipment has earned an Energy Star rating, meaning it meets federal standards of energy efficiency. Qualifying appliances are at least 15% more efficient than standard models. Additionally, consider investing in a remote temperature monitoring system. This technology continually monitors internal fridge and freezer temperatures. Remote temperature monitoring systems indicate when appliances use significant amounts of energy. These alerts are based on how frequently the appliance temperature fluctuates from its set point. In low-efficiency appliances, temperatures regularly gravitate towards the bounds of the accepted temperature range, and struggle to maintain a consistent temperature.

Cooking Equipment: Energy-Saving Tips

Quick serve restaurants involve waves of fast-paced hours followed by lags with less customers throughout the day.  This model often results in long stretches of time where kitchen equipment is powered “on” but is not necessarily in use. For example, fryers are approximated to sit unused for 75% of the time that they are turned on. Consciousness of unnecessary energy expenditure is key. Managers and staff can conserve energy by turning off kitchen appliances when not in use. “Powering off” equipment also expands the lifespan of the appliance.

In addition to turning off equipment when not in use, diligently maintaining cooking appliances will extend their life and enhance efficiency. Things that seem inconsequential may produce energy costs. For example, debris in an oven can prevent the door from sealing properly, requiring more energy for the oven to maintain temperature. Or misaligned coils may cause griddles to heat unevenly. With regular maintenance checks, your appliances are less likely to malfunction.

When updating kitchen cooking appliances, limit your search to Energy Star qualifying appliances. The Energy Star Commercial Food Service Equipment page is a great resource for exploring energy efficient alternatives.

HVAC Efficiency Settings for your Restaurant

Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems require large amounts of energy to stabilize QSR temperatures. Certain areas, such as the kitchen, emit large amounts of heat. However, other areas, such as the customer seating area, must be kept cool. One solution for conserving energy in HVAC systems is a programmable thermostat. These devices adjust heating and cooling equipment based on a pre-set schedule. National Grid US recommends setting HVAC controls to minimum levels during operating hours. National Grid also recommends lowering temperature settings on equipment during closing procedures. Automating this task ensures consistency and maximizes energy savings. Additionally, adjusting temperature settings throughout the day for unoccupied rooms saves an estimated  ~10% in HVAC energy consumption. For QSR operators already using programmable thermostats, consider adjusting your temperature preferences seasonally. This will help you achieve additional energy savings.

When considering an equipment upgrade, invest in variable speed equipment. In recent years, heating and cooling devices have improved efficiency by preventing fans, motors, and other HVAC equipment components from always running at their maximum speed. Variable speed equipment can be configured to the specific heating and cooling demands of your restaurant operation.

Save on Restaurant Lighting Costs

The most clear-cut solution for reducing lighting energy consumption is simple – turn lights off as often as possible! However, this is easier said than done. In a fast paced QSR environment, it is easy to overlook such small tasks. That’s why occupancy sensors are a great solution.These sensors detect movement within a space and automatically disable lights if they deem the space to be empty. Occupancy sensors are especially useful in spaces with low occupancy, such as storage areas, back rooms, bathrooms.

Daylighting is another strategy for increasing lighting efficiency. Daylighting is the process of adjusting restaurant lighting according to the amount of sunlight in your restaurant.You can automate this task with light sensors that record natural lighting or brightness. As a result, your light bulbs will dim to accommodate natural input. Daylighting can reduce up to 33% of lighting energy costs. Additionally, studies have shown that workers are 15% more productive when exposed to natural light throughout their shift.

When researching new lighting equipment, consider investing in LED lighting. LED bulbs use up to 90% less energy than traditional incandescent light bulbs.

Expand the Lifespan and Sustainability of Restaurant Equipment

Optimal energy efficiency in QSRs can be achieved with regular equipment maintenance, monitoring, and task-tracking. Ensure that all energy-consuming equipment is on a disciplined maintenance schedule. Take steps to guarantee that equipment performance data is recorded accurately. Employee engagement is essential in achieving energy efficiency goals. Encourage employee habits in maintaining equipment and appliances by developing energy management procedures and incorporating action items into existing opening and closing checklists. This maintenance addresses tasks such as changing air filters, cleaning coils, and detecting faulty appliances. Catch any issues before they begin to impact your bottom line through increased energy expenditure.

Not sure where your QSR is expending unnecessary energy? Energy Star offers great resources to help restaurant owners discover energy inefficiencies. Explore this “Treasure Map for Restaurants and Commercial Kitchens” to uncover restaurant-specific cost-saving opportunities.