So much can feel out of control right now with regard to the supplies you need to run your business. One supply (among many) that has been climbing in price and scarcity in recent months is natural gas. In September, CNBC reported that prices had climbed 99 percent higher on a year-to-date basis due to escalating demand and concerns around supply. But unlike the many other items in short supply right now, natural gas consumption is something you can take active steps to reduce in your business without a significant downside. If you experience an especially cold winter or simply broad fluctuations in the traffic coming to you, being more efficient with your natural gas usage in cooking, washing and heating could generate significant savings. The Rail suggests that when cooking, aim to avoid overusing appliances – so limit the time you spend preheating, avoid using a larger oven when a smaller one will do, precook foods in a steamer prior to frying, limit use of the range top and schedule your cooking to ensure you are making most efficient use of ovens and cooktops. When washing, wait to use your dishwasher until it is full, turn off water heaters when the restaurant is closed, and ensure that water tanks and pipes are well insulated. When heating, use smart thermostats and set them to align with the business schedule and occupancy. Finally, keeping appliances maintained, clean, and free of buildup – whether grease, limescale or dust – can help ensure you’re not overusing energy.
Even in the best of times, restaurant margins are thin. Challenges related to the pandemic, labor, food prices and the supply chain only place additional strain on them. But the good news is that there are a number of steps operators can take to cut costs without taking anything away from the guest experience. First, ease supply chain-strains by ensuring your inventory goes as far as possible. Encourage precise ingredient measurement across your menu – Modern Restaurant Management advises operators to measure ingredients in grams vs. ounces for a more precise result. Take stock of your energy use and find ways to use it more efficiently – by turning equipment on only at the time it is needed, using energy-efficient lighting, and adopting technology to monitor your appliances so you can be alerted and act quickly if something isn’t working as it should. Be just as mindful of food waste. To avoid having usable food scraps tossed out, Restaurantowner.com suggests eliminating trash cans in the kitchen and giving each kitchen employee a clear box with their name on it where they can place food scraps so managers can minimize food waste being generated from the kitchen. Where possible, consolidate purchases with a single supplier to gain leverage in purchasing agreements. Finally, make the most of the staff you have by scheduling people in accordance with your anticipated sales and traffic each week – your schedule should not be on autopilot
The capacity to offer outdoor seating is changing the competitive landscape for restaurants right now. Datassential surveyed consumers recently about their perceived safety of a long list of places, ranging from food trucks to grocery delis to stadiums. Restaurants with outdoor seating topped the list, with 63 percent of consumers perceiving them as safe places to go when restrictions are lifted. But is outdoor seating a feasible longterm solution, particularly as the weather gets cold? Air quality has been a key factor in allowing restaurant dining rooms to reopen during the pandemic – and ventilation of indoor spaces is likely to become a growing concern for operators who want to continue to serve people in dining rooms. In Florida recently, McDonald’s unveiled its first net-zero energy restaurant, which includes a new automated energy system and passive ventilation dining room designed to circulate air and regulate temperature. Further on down the ladder, look for more restaurants to incorporate potential air quality fixes like ultraviolet lights – such as the ones installed in the grated ceiling at Marlaina's Mediterranean Kitchen in the Seattle area. The technology holds promise: NPR reports that research shows close to 90 percent of airborne particles from a previous coronavirus (SARS-CoV-1) can be inactivated in about 16 seconds when exposed to the same strength of ultraviolet light as in the restaurant's ceiling.
As you contemplate ways to boost your restaurant’s bottom line, don’t forget about small changes you can make to your equipment that can generate significant savings in the long term. For example, is there room to reduce your restaurant’s water and power consumption? As QSR Magazine reports, the U.S. Energy Star program can help you identify energy-efficient equipment ranging from small ice machines and coffee markers to large commercial ovens. Or start with even smaller changes. Swap out incandescent light bulbs for LED or CFL bulbs, or update pre-rinse spray valves or use low-pressure sinks and dishwashers to reduce the wastewater your facility generates.