Online training takes aims at energy, water use in food service

According to the Food Service Technology Center You are leaving (FSTC), an energy-efficiency and appliance testing facility funded by Pacific Gas and Electric, the industry has a $40 billion utility bill and is five to 10 times more energy intensive than other commercial customers. Since food service employs one in 10 U.S. workers, the chances are good that you have at least one restaurant in your service territory. That gives you the opportunity to help an important customer segment succeed, support your local economy and conserve critical resources.

Teaching food service employees to manage energy and water costs the same way they manage their food cost has the potential to reduce billions of dollars of waste annually. But behavior change takes education, and delivering training to a diverse, busy and mobile workforce is a big challenge, to put it mildly. FSTC has tackled this challenge by introducing online sustainability training to turn food service professionals into energy-efficiency experts: FE3 You are leaving certification.

Industry-wide application
Based on 28 years of lab and field work, energy surveys and design consultations by industry experts, FE3 has built a practical curriculum focused on results. Like most industries, food service encompasses not only those involved in day-to-day operations, but also a wide network of supporting trades and employees. FE3 training can help all of these professionals understand their role in improving sustainability.

Restaurant owners, managers and staff will learn how to operate and maintain an efficient kitchen and how to choose more efficient equipment. Utilities and suppliers will learn about the industry’s energy challenges so they can develop programs and services to help restaurants become more profitable. Facility designers, equipment manufacturers and service agents can gain skills that will make them resources for restaurants seeking to increase sustainability.

Culinary and hospitality schools can add the sustainability curriculum to their programs. FE3 derived the online course material from classes taught live to university, college, community college and culinary students for over a decade.

Convenient, comprehensive learning
Recognizing that hectic schedules can be a big barrier to training in the food service industry, FE3 makes the six modules available online 24/7.

Each module covers a different area of food service energy and water use with interactive exercises. Topics include:

  • Intro to energy efficiency – How energy use relates to sustainability and why energy efficiency is a necessary component of a commercial food service sustainability program
  • Efficient and effective lighting – The basics of electric lighting and how to choose lighting products that use less energy, look good and meet the special needs of commercial food service
  • Efficient refrigeration – The basic principles of refrigeration and how to select and maintain energy-efficient refrigeration systems
  • Water conservation – The basic principles of water use and conservation in a food service operation and how to select and compare energy- and water-efficient dish machines
  • Energy-efficient cooking equipment – The basics of food-prep and cook-line energy use and how to reduce cooking appliance operating costs
  • Commercial kitchen ventilation – The basics and best practices to optimize kitchen ventilation systems

The material is narrated, loaded with easy-to-understand graphics and employs gamification and avatars to make learning more fun. Modules conclude with a short exam that reinforces learning.

After successfully completing the FE3 training, students will understand basic energy terms and have practical skills that will positively impact their restaurant’s bottom line. They will be prepared to choose the right lighting for specific tasks, calculate the cost of water leaks, properly maintain refrigeration, select energy-efficient cooking appliances with online tools and troubleshoot and optimize commercial kitchen ventilation systems.

Help for key accounts
Although FE3 training was developed by the California-based FSTC, the curriculum is relevant to food service employees across the country, as are many other resources the center offers.

Utility key account supervisors should explore FSTC, bookmark it and share it with their food service customers. Let restaurant owners and operators in your territory know about the recommendations for energy-efficient kitchen equipment, design guides for water and ventilation systems, equipment test results and a variety of calculators. Tell them about the presentations from FSTC seminars and webinars archived online. Share the industry links and publications with your local coffee shop or five-star dining establishment. In an industry with notoriously thin margins and high turnover, utilities can make a difference.

Reducing restaurant energy use good for customer, utility, community

Whether it is a local diner that serves as the community’s unofficial meeting hall, a five-star destination for “foodies” across the state or a significant industry in a resort town, almost every utility can count at least one restaurant among its commercial customers.

These businesses use five to seven times more energy per square foot than other commercial buildings. In its Guide for Restaurants Redirecting to a non-government site, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that when a restaurant cuts its energy costs by 20 percent, its profits could increase by 30 percent or more. That’s why Western customers like Salt River Project Redirecting to a non-government site and Sacramento Municipal Utility District Redirecting to a non-government site work with restaurants to increase their energy efficiency.

Not the usual suspects

(Artwork by Sustainable Food Service)
(Artwork by Sustainable Food Service)

Restaurants use the bulk of their energy during food preparation, so the lighting programs that help to reduce utility bills for offices and retail stores won’t have the same impact for these customers. Take the average deep fryer, for example—it uses more than 18,000 kilowatt-hours and costs around $1,800 per year to operate. Refrigeration and water heating are two more functions that consume large quantities of energy. Utilities with a lot of food service businesses in their territory might consider establishing an incentive program to encourage them to upgrade their equipment. Such programs would also benefit hotels, hospitals, grocery stores and residential institutions.

If you do not have enough restaurants and similar operations in your territory to warrant a targeted incentive program, you can still provide business owners with good advice and technical assistance. Start by sharing these five guidelines from the EPA for maximizing the efficiency of food prep equipment:

  1. Reduce idle time. Keeping equipment on when it isn’t in use costs money and wastes energy. Implementing a startup and shutdown schedule for energy intensive equipment like broilers, fryers and ranges is a good first step toward managing energy use.
  2. Maintain your equipment. Improper seals, leaks, dirty coils and faulty equipment all waste energy and money. Incorporating a regular cleaning and maintenance schedule for all equipment will significantly improve efficiency.
  3. Calibrate your equipment. Perform a regular thermostat check to be sure that your freezers, refrigerators, appliances, dishwashers and hot water heaters are operating at their optimal temperatures.
  4. Install variable speed controls on your exhaust hood to dramatically reduce the run time for fans.
  5. Buy Energy Star-certified equipment Redirecting to a non-government site when replacement becomes necessary. Fryers, steamers, convection ovens, griddles, broilers, combination ovens, ranges, reach-in refrigerators and freezers, walk-in refrigerators and freezers and ice machines are all available with an Energy Star certification.

Sending these tips as a bill stuffer to your restaurant and hospitality customers might even inspire them to think about making bigger investments in energy efficiency.

Low-hanging fruit on menu
Food preparation and storage may be the biggest source of energy savings for restaurants, but lighting and heating and cooling (HVAC) systems are still worth upgrading.

Common lighting measures include replacing T12 lamps and electronic ballasts with T8 lamps and magnetic ballasts. Replacing exit and incandescent or neon signage with LED signage, and installing occupancy sensors for low traffic areas can also make a difference on electricity bills.

Just like kitchen appliances, HVAC equipment performs better with regular cleaning and maintenance. Programmable thermostats are another inexpensive way to improve HVAC efficiency. When it is time to replace the HVAC system, encourage the building owner to invest in an Energy Star HVAC system for significant savings over the life of the equipment. No matter who is paying the utility bills, keeping operating costs down is good for business.

Restaurants are big water users, too, which is why several California utilities, including the City of Palo Alto Utilities Redirecting to a non-government site, offer incentives for reduced water use fixtures. Sustainable Food Service Redirecting to a non-government site recommends installing aerators and especially pre-rinse spray valves as a low-cost way to reduce water use for dishwashing.

Help for the little guy
One more reason for utilities to take an interest in restaurant energy use is that many are small, locally owned establishments. By helping these businesses to keep their operating costs down, power providers are supporting their communities. Check out these resources from the U.S. Small Business Administration for more ideas on serving up energy savings for restaurants. Your customers—and community—will thank you.