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The Efficient Use of Equipment in the Kitchen Can Save Energy and Money

Catering businesses tend to have thin profit margins, sometimes razor thin. In most cases, their profit margin is within the range of the 4-6 percent of the budget typically spent on energy costs. Thus, saving energy can substantially improve the bottom line.

Best Practices Are Your Best Bet

Efficient Use of Equipment in the KitchenBecause catering is a labour intensive business, the single most important way to try to reduce the energy bill is by establishing better practices among the staff. This involves determining what needs to change, then training employees to follow the new procedures faithfully. Intermittent refresher courses will be necessary to keep standards high over the long term.

For most catering businesses, the single biggest opportunity for an easy improvement is in teaching employees to not turn on all appliances at the start of the day or the start of their shift. It is very common for employees to come in and just turn everything on so that it will be readily available for use throughout the day. The result is a huge waste of electricity and generation of waste heat to no real purpose.

In other words, appliances that are not actually in use are burning energy and generating heat. The heat generated will have knock off effects because it will cause the air conditioning system to cut on more as well, further wasting energy.

Although changing habits can be a challenge, employees should be educated about how much time is required to pre-heat different catering appliances prior to actual use and should be discouraged from simply turning on all available appliances at the start of the business day or the start of their shift. Employees should be trained to turn on only those appliances they expect to actually use, as they expect to need them.

The pre-heat times should also be posted on or near each appliance to make it easier for busy employees to stay on top of best practices without overtaxing them mentally. This can help them keep their mind on food prep while not dropping the ball on saving energy. Cognitive load is also a precious and limited resource. Making it as easy to implement as possible is always a good idea.

Another area where procedure is the only real answer is turning off lights that are not needed. Training employees to turn off unnecessary lights can help save energy on the lighting as well as reduce ambient heat, thus lowering the air conditioning bill.

Of course, these are just general examples. In order to improve your own catering business, you should first perform an audit and find out exactly where energy is being wasted. Once you know where the problems are, you can create a custom solution to optimize performance.

Just be aware that changing the practices of the staff is an approach that can be applied to any business, even one where there is currently no budget for capital improvements. Making these relatively small, easy changes can free up money so that more substantial improvements can be made later.

Life Cost Accounting

It is well understood that poverty is very expensive. A poverty mentality causes people to think in terms of short term costs such that they never do manage to get the solutions they really need.

A poverty mentality can plague a business just as easily as it can plague an individual. Do not make the mistake of buying the cheapest appliances you can find. You will live to regret it.

You need an appliance that does the job properly. You also need to think in terms of lifetime cost rather than upfront cost. You need to consider the ongoing expenses, not just the purchase price. You need to do this before you buy, not after.

For most appliances, the upfront expenditure involved in purchasing the item is a third or less of the total lifetime cost. In other words, the costs of running and maintaining the appliance will usually be at least twice the sticker price for the unit in question.

For appliances that are not energy efficient, this ratio gets even worse. Thus, spending more upfront may reduce the overall cost by reducing the energy costs and maintenance costs.

Before buying any appliance, you should sit down with a calculator and try to estimate the lifetime cost. Your purchasing decision should take into account how much it will cost you in total, not just today. ( See Energy Management Calculator )

Although this reality is most relevant when you are planning to purchase equipment anyway, either to establish the business or to replace an item, you should occasionally consider the possibility that old, outdated equipment could cost less to replace than to keep. If you do an energy audit and find that a particular appliance is really running up the energy bill egregiously, it might be time to cost compare with newer models that are better insulated or otherwise more energy efficient. If buying a new appliance would save you more over time than it costs, it may be time to look for a loan to support an upgrade.

Another thing to keep in mind: Sometimes, it is better to have two small appliances than to have one larger one. It is more efficient to run a small dishwasher that is full than to run a large dishwasher that is only half full.

Size of appliances needs to be suitable to demand levels. When demand levels are highly variable, it makes more sense to have the flexibility to custom fit capacity to demand. Having two or more smaller appliances of the same type is often the easiest way to scale capacity up or down as demand rises and falls.


A good kitchen needs a variety of catering lights, from ambient light to task lighting to lights to display food properly. But lights also give off heat. Using lights inefficiently drives up the temperature in the kitchen, causing the air conditioner to run excessively.

There are a number of different things that can be done to make sure that the staff has the light they need to perform their jobs well without running up the electric bill or overheating the space. An audit will help you determine which ones are more pertinent to your business.

Here are a few of the different strategies for reducing energy costs of lighting:

You can change to energy efficient light bulbs.
Label the switches so anyone can easily tell what lights they go with.
White paint or better reflectors can improve visibility for less expenditure or energy.

Do not underestimate the importance of a solid lighting maintenance program. Failing bulbs or unclean lighting fixtures can reduce lighting by as much as 30 percent. Good use of natural light can also save money. Keeping windows and skylights clean should be viewed as part of the lighting programme.

Furthermore, lighting is another area where upgrading to modern fixtures may save more money than it costs. The ongoing annual energy costs for lighting can easily be twice the cost of making some minor upgrades in terms of more energy efficient bulbs or other details.

Consider Calling A Specialist

There are many more areas where energy can be saved. From proper ventilation to heat recapture and more, some things are best discussed with a specialist. Although plenty can be done using common sense, some pieces of this puzzle are not going to be readily understood by someone who is not a specialist.

People who run or work for a catering business will know a great deal more about food preparation and presentation than they do about saving energy. This is completely normal for any business. People do the thing they are good at and that is the core of their business. Energy conservation is a field in its own right. Enough money is at stake that hiring a specialist is reasonable and justifiable. An energy audit and outside help to implement an conservation programme can more than pay for itself.

Making It Happen

The best laid plans often go awry. In order to make sure anything happens, you need to have some means in place to make sure things actually get done. Here are some ways to make sure energy savings are a reality, not just wishful thinking:

Start with an audit.
Make one person accountable.
Track what matters.
Involve the staff.

1) In order to know how much progress is made, you first have to know where you started. So, before making any changes, find out how much energy you are currently using and where it is going. The more detailed the breakdown of information, the power you have to make effective improvements. But, first, understand where things stand now. Then, plan and implement changes.

2) It is important to put a single person in charge of the energy savings programme. When there is not an identifiable point person, no one knows who to talk to when something goes wrong. This creates a power vacuum. Putting a specific person in charge of energy savings is like giving people a handle to grab onto. It lets them know where to go to make sure things happen.

3) What gets measured gets done. It is a simple means to empower people to know what their current performance is accomplishing, how they need to change it and by how much. Otherwise, people will just flail around in the dark and not hit the mark. Inevitably, that sort of experience will just frustrate everyone involved. So, make sure you measure what is being done and make sure you also share the numbers. This practice will help everyone participate effectively and feel confident they are doing the right thing.

4) The staff collectively knows things about the business that no one person alone can know, not even the boss. Getting the staff involved can turn up areas of opportunity that would not have occurred to the boss. You will also get more buy-in, thus more active participation and support, if the staff are involved. It is a powerful psychological motivator to ask for their feedback and allow them to participate in creating the plan and running the programme.

Saving energy can make your catering business more profitable. When done right, it can also mean staff is physically more comfortable while working because the kitchen is not overheated. In some cases, it also improves food safety, for example by making sure refrigeration equipment stays at the right temperature.

Last, reducing energy use is also good for the planet. Whether you just want to feel good about that or want to use that fact to further promote your business to environmentally minded customers, there is nothing but upside to pursuing a more energy efficient business model.

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