Question: I want to increase my restaurant’s energy efficiency—but I can’t replace everything, and I’m not sure where to start. What’s going to give me the biggest bang for my buck?

Answer: According to the National Restaurant Association, restaurants use five times more energy per square foot than other commercial buildings and five times more energy in the kitchen than in the rest of the building—so it’s a good idea to invest in energy efficiency. In fact, Canada’s Office of Energy Efficiency (OEE) estimates that investing in efficiency measures can save you 20% on your energy costs.

That being said, what to invest in seems like a simple question, but, in reality, it isn’t. Every facility is different, and depending on a variety of factors—including the age of your building, the type of food you serve, the types of appliances you have, and a host of others—what will make a dent in your energy costs might not be suitable for someone else.

Fortunately, there are ways to figure out how best to invest your energy efficiency budget.

The first step is to figure out where your energy is going. In an average full-service restaurant, food prep accounts for 35% of the facility’s energy consumption, with heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) coming in at a close second at 28%. An energy audit will help you determine where you’re spending the most money.

The second step is to compare your site with similar facilities. Are they doing better than you? Worse? Where can you improve? The OEE provides a guide for restaurants looking to increase their efficiency, which provides some guidelines for benchmarking your performance.

From there, figure out the payback period of any potential investment. This is how long it will take for an upgrade to pay for itself through savings. For a preliminary introduction, take a look at our post on simple payback.

Once you’ve figured all that out, you’re ready to select which energy efficiency measures you’re going to take. These might include purchasing new, high efficiency ENERGY STAR appliances, implementing an energy management system, or simply replacing your lightbulbs—you’ll be able to determine what will work best for your space. Make sure you take a look at rebates and financial incentives that may be available from the government and from your local utilities (and just to make it easy, we’ve got a list of where to find information on energy efficiency rebates, along with some energy efficiency rebates of our own).

One thing to remember—it’s usually not enough simply to install energy efficient products and expect to watch the savings roll in. Work with your staff to make a switch to operating procedures that emphasize conservation, and you’ll be supporting your investment in technology with a change in human behaviour.

Check out our post on simple, DIY ways to cut your energy costs.

For further resources on energy efficiency in restaurants, take a look at ENERGY STAR’s guide for restaurants.

Has your restaurant invested in energy-efficient technologies? What’s your experience been like? Share your story in the comments.

Image credit: Dennis Wong