Tackling energy-efficiency in the foodservice industry is no small task. Whether you’re trying to build green or replace old equipment with energy-efficient models, efficient changes often demand an upfront investment that leaves many restaurant owners doubting whether or not they’re worth the trouble.

Thankfully, various rebates and incentives are available through government funded programs in both the United States and Canada, and are a great way to help small restaurants with energy-efficient installations, retrofits, building makeovers and new projects. Doubtful as to whether or not participation in these programs can lead to real energy savings? Read the case study of Donatelli’s, an independently owned restaurant in Minnesota that managed to save a ton of money, thanks to a little help when it counted most.

White Bear Lake and Donatelli’s restaurant

According to Clean Technica, Trish Appelby, proud owner of Donatelli’s Homemade Italian in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, benefited greatly by being the first to enroll in a program designed to help small business undergo energy-efficient overhauls. Motivated by high energy costs, Appelby knew that something had to be done: “It was easy to see that energy costs keep going up, so we needed to get a handle on how to control our usage and be more efficient.”

In 2009, the City of White Bear Lake received an Energy-Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant for $49,120 allowing them to pilot a program that would offer technical assistance for smaller, independently owned restaurants. As described on the White Bear Lake website, eligible restaurants receive energy use assessments, low cost materials to achieve water and energy savings, workshops, project management services, and on‐going personalized support to participating businesses. Audits were conducted at 24 businesses, including Donatelli’s.

Small changes lead to big savings

According to Clean Energy Resource Teams, over the two year life of the program, energy use was tracked and reported back to participating businesses every 6 months. Restaurants then received assistance with larger retrofit projects, most of which had 10-15% potential energy-savings identified at the outset.

Guided by the recommendations provided, Appelby started making small changes to improve efficiency, like turning off the exhaust hood more frequently, installing water saving aerators and pre-rinse spray valves, and adding motion sensors to bathroom fans. She then made larger investments like replacing an open-case refrigerator with an efficient unit complete with doors, and installing a packaged rooftop heating and cooling unit.

So, was it worth it? According to Appelby, whose business saved over $15,000 during 2010 and 2011 it absolutely was: “The cost savings have been the biggest benefit for our benefit for our business. I’ve been surprised with how much of an impact the small changes we’ve may have had. If every business did this, it’d make a big difference in terms of the environment and our quality of life.”

image credit: Zoomart