How to Make a Restaurant More Energy Efficient


Did you know that restaurants use 5-7x more energy per square foot than other commercial buildings? The number is even greater for fast food chains, which can use up to 10x more thanks to their higher volume and reliance on equipment like fryers to cook food. 

Without an intentional plan to reduce a restaurant’s energy consumption, operational costs – as well as the overall carbon footprint of the business – can skyrocket. This blog post will outline some of the top energy-consuming areas in restaurants, and offer strategies to reduce overall energy use. 

Source: ENERGY STAR® Guide for Cafés, Restaurants, and Institutional Kitchens

Table of Contents

  1. Kitchen Equipment
  2. HVAC Systems
  3. Refrigeration Units
  4. Lighting
  5. Windows and Doors
  6. Water Heating
  7. Energy Management Systems

1. Kitchen Equipment

It likely comes as no surprise that, according to ENERGY STAR® research, kitchen equipment like ovens and fryers account for the majority of energy used in a restaurant.

Common restaurant kitchen equipment inefficiencies:

  • Old appliances: Outdated ovens, stoves, and dishwashers consume more energy than newer, energy-efficient models.
  • Standby power: Equipment left on standby mode still consumes energy. Unplugging or turning off equipment when not in use can save power.
  • Inadequate maintenance: Regular maintenance ensures that equipment operates efficiently.

How to improve restaurant kitchen equipment efficiency:

  • Upgrade to Energy-Efficient Equipment: Choose ENERGY STAR® certified kitchen appliances, which are designed to consume less energy and water while maintaining performance. ENERGY STAR® fryers are up to 35% more energy efficient than standard models. Induction cooktops are more energy-efficient than traditional gas or electric ranges because they heat pots and pans directly, reducing heat loss. They also heat up faster, which can improve cooking times and efficiency. While these appliances may cost more upfront, the reduction in ongoing maintenance and utility costs long-term will more than make up for it.
  • Implement a Preventive Maintenance Program: Keep all kitchen equipment, such as ovens, fryers, and exhaust systems, clean to ensure they operate efficiently. Focus on filters, burners, and refrigeration coils to prevent energy-draining buildup. Perform regular maintenance checks to identify and fix issues before they become major problems.
  • Optimize Equipment Usage: Turn off equipment when not in use, rather than leaving it on standby or idle. Match the size of the equipment to the task to avoid using oversized appliances, which consume more energy. Operate dishwashers, washing machines, and similar equipment only with full loads to maximize energy efficiency per use. Plan cooking schedules to batch tasks and minimize the amount of time equipment is running.
  • Improve Ventilation and Insulation: Install high-efficiency exhaust hoods and fans to remove heat and smoke efficiently from the kitchen. Use variable speed controls to adjust ventilation based on kitchen activity, reducing energy consumption during less busy times. Ensure that ovens, fryers, and other heat-generating equipment are properly insulated to retain heat and reduce energy loss, and use energy-efficient windows and doors in the kitchen area to maintain a stable indoor temperature.

2. HVAC Systems

HVAC systems account for around 30% of all energy consumed in a restaurant. Between heating, cooling, and ventilation, there are many opportunities for energy savings – but also inefficiencies. 

Common restaurant HVAC inefficiencies:

  • Inefficient HVAC units: Older units or those in need of maintenance consume more energy.
  • Leaky ductwork: Duct leaks can cause up to 30% of energy loss in an HVAC system.
  • Improper insulation: Poor insulation leads to heat gain in summer and heat loss in winter, making the HVAC system work harder.

How to improve restaurant HVAC efficiency: 

  • Preventative maintenance: Implement a preventative maintenance program to ensure equipment is running properly.
  • Inspect ductwork: Look for signs of leaks, including visible gaps, disconnected sections, holes, and dust accumulation around seams and joints.
  • Perform a duct blower test: This will pressurize the ducts and identify leaks by measuring the pressure drop.

3. Refrigeration Units

Refrigeration is a critical component of any restaurant, and it’s also one of the biggest consumers of electricity. 

Common restaurant refrigeration inefficiencies:

  • Poor door seals: Damaged or worn seals allow cold air to escape, forcing the unit to work harder.
  • Frequent door opening: Each time a door is opened, cold air escapes, leading to increased energy use.
  • Inadequate maintenance: Dust and dirt buildup on coils reduce efficiency.

How to improve restaurant refrigeration efficiency: 

  • Regular maintenance: Regular commercial refrigeration maintenance should include cleaning condenser coils every 3-6 months, checking door seals for cracks or wear, and performing regular defrosts, either automatically or manually.  
  • Optimize temperature settings: Keep the temperature between 35°F and 38°F (1.7°C and 3.3°C). For freezers, the temperature should stay around 0°F (-18°C). Setting the temperature lower than necessary can waste energy without improving food safety.
  • Upgrade to ENERGY STAR® certified units: Look for units with features like adaptive defrost, variable-speed compressors, and better insulation. These energy-efficient products offer energy savings of 10-70% over standard models.
  • Organize storage: Avoid overcrowding to ensure there’s enough space for air to circulate around stored items and that no vents are blocked

4. Lighting

Efficiently managing a restaurant’s lighting can have a significant impact on overall energy consumption – in fact, lighting accounts for about 13% of the total energy breakdown of a restaurant. 

Common restaurant lighting inefficiencies:

  • Inefficient bulbs: Incandescent bulbs and outdated fixtures use much more energy compared to LEDs or even CFLs.
  • Leaving lights on: Lights left on in unoccupied areas or after hours contribute to unnecessary energy consumption.

How to improve restaurant lighting efficiency: 

  • Upgrade to Energy-Efficient Bulbs: Replacing incandescent and halogen bulbs with LED bulbs can reduce energy use by up to 75%. As a bonus, they also last 25 times longer. You can also explore CFLs as a more efficient option, however they will not produce the same energy savings as LEDs, and only last 10 times longer than incandescents.
  • Use Smart Lighting Controls: Dimmer switches, occupancy sensors, and daylight sensors are easy ways to reduce lighting energy consumption while also improving the customer experience in your restaurant. Many systems also allow you to program lights to turn on and off at specific times to align with operating hours and cleaning schedules.
  • Optimize Lighting Design: There is a difference between “task lighting” and “ambient lighting”. Task lighting is generally much brighter, and should be focused on areas where specific tasks are performed, such as the kitchen, bar, or host station. Ambient lighting is ideal for the dining room – opt for fixtures with wide distribution patterns to reduce the total number of lights needed, or fixtures that reflect light off the ceiling or walls to create a soft, even illumination with less energy used. 
  • Maximize Natural Light: Windows and skylights not only look great, but they can be an excellent way to maximize the use of natural light and minimize reliance on electricity-powered lighting. Light coloured walls and mirrors strategically placed around the space can distribute the natural light even further. 

5. Windows and Doors

While not a huge draw on electricity, windows and doors are one of the primary ways energy will “leak” from your building. Addressing any inefficiencies will make every other energy-saving initiative you undertake that much more efficient.  

Common restaurant water heating inefficiencies:

  • Drafts and air leaks: Poorly sealed windows and doors allow conditioned air to escape and outside air to enter, increasing heating and cooling costs.
  • Single-pane windows: These are less efficient than double or triple-pane windows, leading to greater energy loss.
  • Improperly functioning automatic doors: Doors that do not close properly or remain open too long allow conditioned air to escape.

How to make restaurant windows and doors more energy efficient: 

  • Upgrade Windows and Doors: Install double or triple-pane windows with low-emissivity (low-E) coatings to reduce heat transfer and improve insulation. Use windows filled with inert gasses like argon or krypton for better insulation than air-filled windows. Replace existing doors with insulated, energy-efficient models designed to minimize heat transfer. Choose doors with thermal breaks that reduce the flow of heat through the door frame.
  • Improve Sealing and Insulation: Install high-quality weatherstripping around windows and doors to seal gaps and prevent drafts, and replace worn-out weatherstripping regularly. Use caulk to seal cracks and gaps around window and door frames. Focus on areas where air leakage is common, such as where the frame meets the wall.
  • Install Door Sweeps: Add door sweeps to the bottom of exterior doors to block drafts and prevent air leakage.
  • Use Window Treatments: Install insulating blinds or shades to reduce heat loss in the winter and heat gain in the summer. Use reflective shades or blinds to reflect sunlight and reduce cooling costs during hot weather. Use thermal or insulated curtains to improve insulation and reduce energy loss through windows. Close curtains and blinds during the hottest part of the day in summer to block heat, and open them during sunny days in winter to allow passive solar heating.
  • Apply Window Films: Install low-emissivity (low-E) window films to reduce heat transfer and block harmful UV rays. Use tinted or reflective window films to reduce glare and solar heat gain, improving comfort and reducing cooling costs.
  • Optimize Door Usage: Automatic doors minimize the amount of time doors are open, reducing air exchange with the outside. Use air curtains to create an air barrier that helps keep conditioned air inside when doors are open.
  • Create Vestibules: Install a vestibule or entryway with two sets of doors to act as a buffer zone, reducing the amount of outside air entering the restaurant.

6. Water Heating

There are many ways you can implement energy-conserving practices throughout your water heating system that are actually relatively low effort. 

Common restaurant water heating inefficiencies:

  • Inefficient water heaters: Older models are less efficient and consume more energy.
  • High-temperature settings: Water heaters set too high (between 110-120 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on the local code) use more energy than necessary, not to mention increase risk of employee or customer injuries.
  • Leaky faucets: Dripping faucets are a nuisance that can end up wasting a lot of hot water if left unaddressed. 

How to make restaurant water heating more energy efficient: 

  • Upgrade to Energy-Efficient Water Heaters: Consider installing tankless (on-demand) water heaters that heat water only when needed, eliminating standby energy loss. You can also choose condensing water heaters that capture and reuse heat from exhaust gasses, increasing efficiency. Heat pump water heaters use electricity to move heat from the air or ground to heat water, which can be two to three times more efficient than traditional electric water heaters.
  • Insulate Water Heating Systems: Insulating all accessible hot water pipes and water heater tanks will reduce heat loss and maintain water temperature as it travels through the system.
  • Implement Water-Saving Fixtures and Practices: Use low-flow aerators on faucets and pre-rinse spray valves to reduce water usage without compromising performance. Choose ENERGY STAR® certified dishwashers that use less water and energy while maintaining cleaning performance. Training staff on how to use water efficiently, such as scraping food off dishes instead of rinsing before washing and only running full dishwasher loads, can make a difference. 
  • Maintain and Service Equipment Regularly: Regularly descale water heaters to remove mineral buildup, which can reduce efficiency and lifespan. Inspect and replace anode rods in tank water heaters as needed to prevent corrosion and extend the heater’s life. Regularly check for and repair any leaks in the water heating system, including pipes, tanks, and fixtures, to prevent water and energy waste.
  • Solar Water Heating Systems: Install solar water heating systems that use solar collectors to preheat water, reducing the load on traditional water heaters. You could also combine solar water heating with conventional systems to ensure a consistent hot water supply even on cloudy days.

7. Energy Management Systems

Many restaurants lack a central Energy Management System, which could be leaving thousands of dollars in savings on the table. 

Without an EMS, energy use is managed manually, often leading to significant inefficiencies across systems and locations. Plus, without detailed data on energy consumption across multiple sites, it’s difficult to identify where energy leaks are occurring. 

While many EMSs exist, there is a wide scope of capabilities and complexity. When shopping for an EMS, it’s important to evaluate what you need for your business.

The most important factors to consider when shopping for an EMS:

  • Ease of Installation: How much effort will it take to implement this EMS? Will it require extensive retrofitting? Will you need to enlist the help of mechanical contractors? Keep in mind that the more involved the installation process is, the longer it will take to roll out the system across all of your sites, delaying energy savings by months or even years. 
  • Breadth of Control: Some EMSs offer comprehensive control capabilities, while others offer more focused control. There are pros and cons to both – for example, a more comprehensive option will be more expensive and will likely take longer to get up and running. What matters most is that you’ve identified your energy savings priorities, and the EMS you choose is well equipped to help you address them. 
  • Compatibility: When deciding on an EMS, you want to ensure it will integrate with or support your existing energy-consuming systems, or any third-party devices or systems you currently use. 
  • Scalability: It’s common for multi-site restaurants to roll out an EMS a few sites at a time. When evaluating an EMS, consider how easy it will be to add on additional sites. As well, what are the company’s plans to expand their offering? When new features or capabilities are added, will you be able to easily take advantage of them?
  • Support: When implementing an EMS for the first time, you’re bound to run into roadblocks, either during installation or regular use. When deciding on an EMS, ensure the company is prepared to offer easily accessible knowledge and support when you need it. This includes training during onboarding, and ongoing customer support. After all, an EMS that isn’t working isn’t saving you money!
  • Cost and Return on Investment (ROI): The upfront cost of an EMS is just one factor to consider when determining if it’s within your budget. You’ll also want to evaluate support costs, ongoing subscription fees, additional hardware costs, and more. Then, it’s important to calculate if the potential energy savings and the time it will take to recoup the initiative investment is worth it to your business.

Are you looking for an energy management system that is simple to use, easy to install, and infinitely scalable? Reach out to our Mysa HQ team for more information!

by LastSale
by LastSale