Energy and Water Efficiency for Restaurants

October 30, 2014 By Mark Masterson

Mark Masterson

Americans, unfortunately, are a wasteful culture. According to the USDA, food waste from stores, restaurants, and homes topped an estimated 133 billion pounds of food, about 30-40% of the entire food supply. That’s not just an environmental problem, it’s a social problem. For restaurateurs, it’s also an economic one.

That’s why some restaurants are turning to efficiency experts to streamline their businesses, reducing waste and improving the bottom line. Taking a cue from manufacturing, restaurants are taking great steps to stop losing money. Some recommendations to reduce food waste include::

  • Adjusting or eliminating expensive ingredients from recipes.
  • Ditching multiple cup sizes for drinks.
  • Only offering condiments when asked.
  • Adjust proportions on menu items to accurately reflect costs. Expert recommend that the cost to make each item should be 22-30% of the price.

These tips are relatively easy to implement, though some restaurants balk at the idea of changing their recipes. These changes also put restaurants at the risk of angering customers who are used to a certain level of service and food. For restaurants who don’t want to tinker with their food, there is another way to cut costs.

Energy costs take huge bites out of restaurant budgets. According to a report by Pacific Gas and Electric, 80% of the $10 billion annual energy bill for commercial food service is wasted energy from inefficient cooking, holding, and storage equipment. According to the EPA, that cost could be cut by 10-30% with strategic changes in energy usage.

The EPA founded the Energy Star Certification program with one thing in mind: to improve the energy and water efficiency of all home and commercial appliances.  Items with the Energy Star logo set the standard for efficiency and conservation. However, the Energy Star program just doesn’t rate appliances for environmental friendliness. It also provides tips for restaurant owners to immediately start cutting costs.

For example, one quick change is to replace all incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs. There are lots of hidden bulbs in the back of the house that could be robbing energy, like in walk-in refrigerators and ventilation hoods. CFLs are far cheaper to use.

Speaking of walk-in refrigerators, older units could have a lot of maintenance issues that could be robbing efficiency from your restaurant. Things to check include door gaskets for weakness or gaps, the level of refrigerant, and the cleanliness of the evaporator and condenser coils. These should be checked and cleaned at least twice a year.

Another major recommendation by the EPA is for restaurants to install high-efficiency pre-rinse spray valves. They’re quite easy to install, but have a major impact on water usage. Most of a restaurant’s water usage happens with dish cleaning. By using a high-efficiency valve, less water is used by the pre-rinse sprayer leading to a direct impact on the water bill.

Of course, the core of the Energy Star program is to help businesses find appliances that are efficient in water and energy usage. No restaurant has time or money to test multiple brands and models to find the most efficient ones. That’s why buying Energy Star-rated restaurant equipment can be a major benefit.

Not only are Energy Star appliances cheaper to operate, they can also be cheaper to buy. The EPA has made incentives with equipment manufacturers to offer discounts on certain types of equipment. Check the Energy Star website at for more information on this program.

The EPA has also developed a guide for restaurants to check over their entire operation for energy efficiency.

Taking a sample from the guide, let’s take a look at ice machine efficiency. According to Energy Star, qualified ice machines are 15% more energy efficient and 10% more water efficient than standard models. For ice machines, the water savings can be a huge deal. Most ice machines use extra water to flush the system or to cool it in the case of water-cooled machines. This can waste an incredible amount of water.

That’s why Energy Star makes these recommendations:

  • Avoiding water-cooled machines entirely. No water-cooled ice machines currently have the Energy Star rating, though the EPA is investigating closed-loop water-cooled ice machines for certification. If you must have a water-cooled ice machine, check the Energy Star website for the latest information.
  • Bigger machines are more efficient than smaller ones, yet the price differences can be small. With research, you could get twice the amount of ice at half the energy cost per pound of ice.
  • Installing a timer to turn off the ice machine during the day and on at night can reduce demand on your building’s power supply.
  • Maintain your energy efficient ice machine by regularly cleaning the coils and adjusting the purge water timer so it doesn’t overuse water.

No single change will result in a dramatic improvement in restaurant efficiency. It’s a combination of changes across the board that will bring down costs. As a restaurant manager or owner, it’s your responsibility to find these efficiency gaps and close them. Read through the Energy Star guide and see how many holes you have, then consider your food waste as well. By attacking efficiency from both sides like this you can push your restaurant’s profits higher.

Mark Masterson is from with over 10 years of experience in the restaurant and bar industry. With an extensive background in restaurant industry, Mark is focused on providing quality information and advice to contractors and purchasing managers about the best practices on choosing the right type of ice machine for your client.

2 comments on “Energy and Water Efficiency for Restaurants

  1. Here is just another example of how businesses can reduce their operating costs and make their businesses more eco-friendly.

    I just knew why more state Departments of Environmental Protection didn’t coordinate efforts with their counterparts in commerce to get the word out about how businesses in their states can save money and help the environment at the same time.

  2. Mark, it is an excellent article. All of the recommendations above will help reduce consumption and thereby costs. Such energy consumption reduction programs are known as ‘demand-side programs’. There is another area to reduce energy costs and is known as ‘supply-side programs’. These programs aim at buying energy through a competitive process, rate changes, sales tax exemptions, etc. Chemp Energy Management provides full or part-time Energy Managers who will reduce energy costs for restaurants.

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