Today, it’s common for quick-service restaurants to take advantage of the latest technologies to enhance their operations, such as digital signage, tabletop tablets and food delivery apps, to name a few.

However, there is one critical element affecting the bottom line of restaurant chains that can be easily improved through technology but is often ignored.

Most quick-serves lose hundreds of dollars a month because of inefficient energy management. On average, a quick-service unit consumes three to four times the energy of a comparably sized office building, with HVAC costs making up as much as 35 percent of their monthly energy bills. The heat generation from the kitchen alone is a massive burden on any HVAC system. Summer time is especially taxing, as hotter days force air conditioning units to work overtime, causing energy bills to skyrocket.

Up to 40 percent of the energy spent on restaurant HVAC systems is wasted due to “leakage.” This includes heating or cooling an area where no one is present as well as poorly managing setpoints which can cause the HVAC to work harder than necessary, especially costly during peak demand periods when energy is at its most expensive.

There may even be a better reason for properly controlling a restaurant’s climate. Savvy restauranteurs know that customer satisfaction is king. However, if the restaurant is too hot, cold, humid or stuffy inside, customers are likely to grow irritable but never tell anyone. When customers are comfortable and enjoying themselves, they are more likely to stay and spend money as well as return for future visits.

Many quick-serve owners don’t have the time to get into the details of how restaurant comfort affects energy costs, relying upon programmable thermostats that they set with basic schedules and temperature setpoints on day one, manually adjusting them as needed without considering peak demand energy rates or any other variables.

HVAC systems are also one of the operator’s largest capital investments and that investment needs to be protected beyond sporadic maintenance checks.  These systems are complicated and can fail with little warning, leading to costly repairs or replacement that can lead to days of discomfort for staff and patrons. 

The good news is help exists with smart, automated HVAC control. These HVAC systems can manage themselves 24/7 to ensure patron and employee comfort while actively curbing energy waste.

With the simple installation of a “smart” thermostat and a few strategically placed sensors, an automated energy management system can take over and optimize HVAC energy use without manager or staff involvement, cutting energy bills with immediate payback and no upfront costs. Just as importantly, the system can identify and resolve small HVAC equipment issues before they become big ones.  

The basic ingredients in the secret sauce of these HVAC control solutions include: 

  • Cloud software, which are apps that work through the Internet instead of being stored on a device or computer; 
  • The Internet of Things (IoT), which refers to sensors that can wirelessly send a constant stream of data such as occupancy, room temperatures, current outdoor weather, etc. without human involvement;
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) combined with data analytics, which is like having a diligent Ph.D. candidate studying each piece of new information to achieve the best results.

With this blend of advanced technologies, an HVAC management system can coordinate the activity of multiple HVAC units (most quick-serves will have two or more) to maintain consistently comfortable temperatures while minimizing energy use, adjusting temperatures within tenths of a degree for optimum benefit.

How does a quick-service restaurant owner get started with an automated HVAC control system?

To provide an estimate, an HVAC management provider just needs a location’s address to gather information such as utility rates, square footage, the number of rooftop HVAC units, etc.  They may ask for the past year of utility bills as well.

Next, the firm will want to know how the HVAC system is currently managed and what kind of thermostat and controls might already be installed.  With that information, a company should be able to tell how much savings can be gained, all without a site visit.

Once given the go-ahead, the firm will install a networked thermostat and any necessary sensors. A location will then undergo a 30-day energy audit to see where there are opportunities to reduce energy waste—for example, inconsistencies in how thermostats are managed, and any consistent times or areas of the restaurant where HVAC is in use and no one is present.   

These insights will help the service provider recommend and implement adjustments to the HVAC setup to maximize the restaurant’s energy efficiency.

HVAC systems are one of the few areas where owners can still maintain direct control over their operating costs and how it benefits the restaurant. Automated systems offer an opportunity to take advantage of new technologies to improve the cost efficiency of the business.

Bryce Rubio is president, Smart Buildings, for mCloud. mCloud is creating a more efficient future with the use of AI and analytics, curbing energy waste, maximizing energy production, and getting the most out of critical energy infrastructure. The company manages thousands of assets for more than 100 blue chip customers in three distinct segments: smart buildings, wind energy, and oil and gas.

Outside Insights, Restaurant Operations, Story