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Developing long-term sustainable restaurant operations

August 26, 2014 - Restaurant sustainability is a hot topic now, but finding increased revenues can be elusive. One way to pay for restaurant sustainability is to first find ways to cut costs.

August 27, 2014  By EnTouch Controls

Sustainability is a big concern for restaurants of all sizes these days. Large chains are developing corporate social responsibility programs and enlisting their multi-store operators to participate. Smaller restaurants are also getting involved, using their flexibility to source food locally and reduce their carbon footprint.

But sustainability can be an expensive and all-encompassing effort. One study shows that restaurant sustainability doesn’t necessarily attract new customers, but instead reinforces the loyalty of existing customers. So, where does the money come from to help pay for the added costs of a restaurant sustainability program?

Restaurant Sustainability 2.0
It used to be that restaurant sustainability meant tackling two key issues: trash sent to landfills and energy waste. Thus, we saw the debut of brown napkins, paper, glass and metal waste recycling and the increased use of LED bulbs to reduce energy waste.

But now, the pioneers of restaurant sustainability are pushing the envelope even further, as described by QSR Magazine: “Call it Sustainability 2.0. [Restaurants] today are investing in the future of sustainability by improving society, the food system, and the earth all at once.”

It’s a tall order that ranges from rethinking the supply chain to better employee relations, without giving up on reducing energy and physical waste.  McDonald’s, for example, is offering coffee that is certified by the Rainforest Alliance. Smaller chains, or individual restaurants, have turned to local sourcing of food to cut down on the impact of transporting food.

One website for chefs lists 30 ways to be more sustainable, ranging from the exotic (visiting a local farmer to hear the story behind the food) to the mundane (check the seals on your walk-in refrigerator and freezer).

The benefits of these programs on the earth can be significant, but the benefits on the bottom line can be more evasive. After all, rainforest-certified coffee does come at a premium. One study by the Hartman Group shows that while consumers want to see a company operate sustainability, these actions are not enough for them to shift their business.

Playing up the health benefits of free-range meat and other sustainable products, does help, but as one restaurateur says: “Our consumers do care… Are they going to drive 30 minutes to buy sustainable products? Probably not.”

Paying for Restaurant Sustainability
Without new revenues, paying for restaurant sustainability has to come from cost savings and means starting the program by tackling energy costs, because they consistently rank as one of the largest cost centres in a restaurant.

Energy management systems (EMS) for restaurants have advanced dramatically in recent years with the use of wireless networking technology to make installation easy and less costly; and the development of cloud-computing which eliminates the need for on-site servers and also ensures the system is separate from other management systems for added data security. When combining these systems with 24/7 monitoring services, restaurants get an always available expertise to monitor energy usage, identify potential problems and analyze data.

With EMS, restaurants get an immediate sustainability benefit through a reduced carbon footprint. We’ve estimated in the past that businesses can cut their energy bills around 20% using an EMS to manage HVAC, cooking, refrigeration and lighting systems.  And that also means a 20% smaller carbon footprint.

An EMS also offers extensive and real-time usage data that can help with other carbon-saving decisions, such as changing to LED lighting. Maybe your restaurant hasn’t committed to this type of lighting because of it’s a huge cost and measuring the return on investment can be difficult. With only a monthly energy bill that lumps together energy used by all of your systems, it can be really hard to measure the ROI of this change. An EMS gives restaurants real-time, detailed data that can even show the energy savings of even an LED bulb trial, allowing an owner or multi-unit franchisee to see the cost benefits before committing to the full expense.

Pizza Hut Plans to Cut its Carbon Footprint
Pizza Hut is a company that is committed to its corporate social responsibility, with a clear goal of reducing its energy usage by 15% by 2015.

Restaurant sustainability is complex and potentially costly, but starting with an energy management system is a great way to front-end load savings to help pay for a complete restaurant sustainability program.

By EnTouch Controls. For more information and examples on the sustainability benefits associated with an EMS, EnTouch Controls has put together a whitepaper entitled “Why Your Restaurant Can No Longer Ignore Energy Management.” CLICK HERE for a free copy.

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