Energy Conservation

Restaurants are the most energy intensive commercial buildings in the United States according to the Energy Information Administration. Restaurants, per square foot, consume nearly three times the energy of the average commercial building. Long hours of operation, specialized equipment and sheer demand make up much of the substantial consumption, but overall the energy consumption by foodservice buildings is excessive and often wasteful.

Along the same lines, groceries are also major energy consumers among commercial buildings. Food sales buildings are the second most energy intensive buildings with around 50% of energy use going to refrigeration alone.

Restaurant Energy Use Graph

Not surprising, the largest portion of energy use is consumed by cooking and food preparation, followed closely by heating, ventilation and cooling as a whole (HVAC). The pie graph to the right shows the average breakdown of energy use at foodservice operations. The graphs below show energy per square foot and annual energy use in terms of cost in dollars per square foot.

Commercial Building Energy Consumption Graph

Commercial Building Energy Cost Graph

Utilities consume approximately 2.5 to 3.4 percent of total restaurant sales, depending on the type of operation (source: National Restaurant Association 2004 Restaurant Industry Operations Report). While this seems like a relatively low expenditure, energy efficiency is a very cost effective measure. A $1 reduction in energy costs equals $12.50 in sales at an 8% profit margin. There is no need to increase sales, table turnover or your profit margin with efficiency. Many energy conservation efforts require little to no cost, but major changes in habit. Most other efficiency measures demand new equipment or technology that promise returns on investment in as little time as overnight.

Practices and Policies

Possibly the single most important energy conservation effort is human habit. Energy efficient equipment does not save energy if it is not used correctly or properly maintained. Energy conservation must be integrated into the training and daily activities of all staff to ensure successful sustainability efforts.

Comprehensive Energy Management (CEM)

A CEM program measures every watt of energy used in a facility, then implements sustainability programs or updates equipment and facilities to reduce energy consumption. The first step of implementing CEM is to measure and record energy use so you can document progress and determine what measures have been most effective. The easiest, most affordable option is to track energy bills and enter usage into a spreadsheet to compare and graph data. There is an energy use tracking tool on the Tools page that can compare and track electric and gas usage for multiple facilities.

More comprehensive software programs like Portfolio Manager from the Energy Star program track and assess energy and water use then compare that data with other buildings in the same industry. Portfolio Manager helps compare resource costs, find effective facility improvements, compare multiple facilities and track energy management progress. The software is free and available on-line.

A more detailed and very useful option is an interval data collection system that connects to an electric or gas meter and track energy use at set, time-stamped intervals, usually every 30 minutes. These systems are very useful in that you can see energy use rise and fall throughout the day in various graphs and use that information to change practices, startup times or track down energy use problems. For example, your HVAC company recently serviced one large air conditioner, but did not properly reset the unit to your previous configuration. As a result, the unit cycles on all night, seven days a week and the next months bill is higher than average. Without a data tracking system, the only way to discover this is to be in the restaurant at some point in the middle of the night. With the data collection system, you can not only see the energy use increase the day after the HVAC company serviced the air conditioning unit, but also see each time the A/C unit cycled on overnight.

These systems provide on-line access to energy use and a range of tools for comparing and benchmarking the data. Interval data collection systems are available through many utilities and third-party companies for a monthly or one time fee. They are highly recommended for large facilities.

With or without a tracking system, a CEM program looks at everything from equipment types and placement to thermostat settings, employee habits and ways to avoid peak load costs. For example, if your operation can make it though working hours without making additional ice it may be an effective solution to set the icemaker to run overnight to decrease load charges.

One of the simplest methods for reducing energy use is creating an energy checklist that schedules start-up and shutdown times for lighting and equipment so they are turned on only when needed, turned down during slow periods and turned off when not needed. There are literally thousands of ways to reduce energy, but no one CEM solution for all organizations.

CEM, as with sustainability in general, is an evolving program that must develop with its successes and failures. A successful program is incorporated into the mission of the organization and training of its employees.

Preventative maintenance

Restaurants are notorious for abusing equipment and maintaining equipment only when something goes wrong. A regular, documented cleaning and maintenance schedule will help keep equipment running longer and more efficiently. A refrigerator with dirty coils uses up to 23% more energy, 11% more with a bad door seal and up to a 100% with a refrigerant leak. To fix problems like these create a schedule of weekly, monthly and annual dates to calibrate, clean and inspect all the equipment in the house. The Tools page contains a sample maintenance schedule and repair log.

Timely upgrades are also a piece of an energy efficiency program. Old equipment may be so inefficient that upgrading to energy efficient equipment may be a more cost effective solution rather than repairing, even in the short run. It is a good idea to investigate energy efficient alternatives for all the facility�s equipment so if a piece of equipment dies you are not left scrambling to find an efficient replacement or wind up with another standard efficiency unit.


There are a number of options for energy efficient commercial kitchen equipment and energy efficient HVAC equipment. The Equipment and HVAC pages on this site cover these topics in depth.


The Lighting page covers many energy efficient lighting options for foodservice facilities.

Additional Restaurant Energy Efficiency Resources

Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey
Database of energy consumption by building types including foodservice and grocery

EIA: A Look at Food Service Buildings - How Do They Use Energy and the Cost
Report on energy use in foodservice buildings

Energy Smart Library
Extensive list of energy uses and efficiency opportunities in business

Energy Star for Restaurants
Many resources for energy efficiency in foodservice operations. Also note the links for hospitality, healthcare and K-12.

Energy Star for Supermarkets and Grocery Stores
Guide to energy efficiency in food sales buildings

EPA Power Profiler
On-line tool that creates a greenhouse gas report based on the energy mix of your utility

Nebraska Public Power District
Energy audit checklist

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