Restaurants reap rebates, lower utility costs for purchasing energy-efficient kitchen equipment
Rick Van Beveren, owner-operator of Reedville Cafe in Hillsboro, Ore., had “mixed motives” for installing new energy-efficient gas fryers in his family-owned casual restaurant.
“I don’t know if we’re the greenest restaurant around, but we’re above average,” said Van Beveren, who said he pocketed a $1,800 rebate check from Energy Trust of Oregon after purchasing three new Frymaster commercial gas fryers a year ago at a cost of approximately $15,000. He reported that his monthly utility bills, which ran between $1,500 and $2,000 prior to the purchase, have been nearly $200 lower per month ever since. “For the hard-nosed business person, the cash-on-cash return [of an equipment rebate and lower utility bills] can be significant,” he said.
A similar move to energy-efficient gas fryers helped Del Taco, the 485-unit Mexican quick-service chain based in Lake Forest, Calif., roll out its most successful new product as well as save energy and collect a $22,000 utility-company rebate.
Reedville Cafe and Del Taco are among a growing number of independent and chain restaurantstaking advantage of financial incentives to purchase new, energy-efficient kitchen equipment. And operators say such cost-saving action is needed. More than eight in 10 quick-service operators and roughly seven in 10 full-service operators reported that rising utility costs are having a negative impact on their businesses, according to an October 2006 National Restaurant Association survey.
Del Taco added energy-efficient Pitco fryers to 60 stores in 2005 to handle demand for its Crispy Fish Taco. Although utility costs actually rose because of the additional fryer units, “it wasn’t as high as it would have been had we not installed efficient equipment,” said Stan Albright, Del Taco’s senior director of facilities and construction.
The chain’s conservation efforts won it an honorable mention in the Flex Your Power awards given by a utility-led coalition working to save energy.
The purchase of equipment certified by Energy Star, a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy that recognizes equipment that uses less energy or water, may qualify an operator for rebates from utility companies and energy-efficiency programs. In addition to fryers, Energy Star qualifies steam cookers, refrigerators, freezers and hot-food holding cabinets.
According to Energy Star, replacing a conventional gas fryer with a high-efficiency model could save up to $400 per year in energy costs. Likewise, switching to a high-efficiency refrigerator could save up to $100 per year.
While California, a state hit particularly hard by energy costs, leads in offering such rebates, the movement is spreading.
“There are a growing number of rebate opportunities in different parts of the country,” said Christine Andrews, director of health and safety regulatory affairs for the National Restaurant Association, based in Washington, D.C.
The rebate locator tool, located at www.energystar.gov, listed 17 rebate programs in 15 states as of December 2006. They ranged from a $750 rebate on a gas steam cooker from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to a $2,000 rebate for a double gas rack oven from Pacific Gas and Electric Company in California.
Kate Lewis, marketing manager for Energy Star in Washington, D.C., “conservatively” estimated the number of restaurant operators who have received rebates at 1,000 nationwide. Burger King and Ted’s Montana Grill also are among the chains using Energy Star-qualified kitchen equipment, according to Energy Star.