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You may not realize it, but there are opportunities to conserve resources and save money everywhere in your restaurant.

When you operate a restaurant every day, you might start to overlook little things here and there that can impact your business.  You may become so familiar with your surroundings that you stop noticing some things, like that broken cabinet door, that dripping faucet, that worn-out gasket, or that torch-size pilot light. Things sometimes start to become “the way they are.”

I recently took a trip across the country to speak at Peter Truitt’s Northwest Sustainability Discovery Tour in Salem, Ore., an event focused on sustainable agriculture and food processing.  Along the way, I made a few stops at some of my favorite eateries and noticed something they all had in common - they could all use a fresh set of eyes when it comes to sustainability.

I recognized that while many of the restaurants I visited were doing some wonderful things – recycling, sourcing locally, using compostable packaging – most were missing out on the little things that can add up to big savings, especially if you are a franchise or corporate chain concept.  If you could save $1 a day in your restaurant, wouldn’t you? If you happen to operate several restaurants, let’s say 35 units, that dollar-a-day turns into nearly $13,000 in savings in one year.

My travel observations inspired me to share some of the most commonly overlooked things you can do to run a more sustainable restaurant – and save money too! There are a thousand things a business can do to become greener, so these tips are just some of the opportunities that may be “hiding” in your restaurant.

  1. Turn off parking lot lighting during the day.  You can use a timer or a sensor to automate this procedure, or train your shift managers to manage it. If the lighting is controlled by the property manager, ask him/her to adjust the light cycle.  Parking lot lights are significantly stronger than indoor lights, hence using much more energy – up to 10 times more. At around $0.10 per kilowatt hour, the savings for turning those lights off during daylight hours can really add up.
  2. Offer water to guests.  Quite a few establishments fill glasses with ice and water, garnish them with lemon slices and add straws before serving them to a guest who may not even want them.  By simply asking each guest “Would you like a glass of water?” instead of automatically serving it, you can save not only on water, but also energy, lemons, straws and detergent while improving server productivity.  According to the EPA, if 1 in 4 restaurant guests declined a glass of water, the foodservice industry could help conserve more than 25 million gallons of water annually.
  3. Shut the door, please. Unintended openings allow heat and cold to pass from inside to outside and vice versa, making your HVAC unit work harder to maintain the desired indoor temperature. Auto-close door hinges can help keep the entry door properly shut; just make sure to keep the swing-path and door frame free of obstacles.  A door mat or debris can keep your door ajar when it shouldn’t be. A one-degree difference in temperature can mean a $1,000 or more per year in HVAC costs. 
  4. Use low-flow aerators in hand-washing sinks.  One of the busiest areas of a restaurant is the bathroom, making it a prime location for potential savings.  Installing faucet aerators is easy to implement and yields a noticeable ROI.  For a few dollars and minutes of your time, you can reduce water usage in hand-washing sinks by more than 60 percent. There are a number of flow-rate options, but a 0.5 gpm aerator is your best bet for a hand-washing sink.

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Chris Moyer, Conserve: Solutions manager

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Chris Moyer
Chris Moyer, a 14-year foodservice veteran, manages the National Restaurant Association’s Conserve: Solutions for Sustainability initiative, helping its members find solutions that are good for both business and the environment.
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