Opening a restaurant—or retrofitting one with new, upgraded equipment—has never been more costly. Inflation and supply-chain disruptions have sent equipment pricing to unprecedented levels. With restaurant operators battling rising costs on all fronts, some may move their desire for new equipment to the back burner.
Fortunately for restaurant operators in California, an innovative rebate program offers a unique solution. California Foodservice Instant Rebates was launched by California investor-owned utilities (IOUs) SoCalGas, Pacific Gas & Electric, SoCal Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric seeking to take pressure off of their energy grids, as well as meet the state’s decarbonization goals. California Foodservice Instant Rebates engages the network of equipment dealers to offer restaurant operators a rebate as a discount at the point-of-purchase when they buy energy-efficient equipment.
Traditionally, utility companies offered rebate programs where restaurant operators would make the full-priced purchase, fill out an application for the rebate, and wait to get the cash rebate in the mail. It was a process that could take weeks between buying the equipment and receiving the rebate. The California Foodservice Instant Rebates program is much more efficient for restaurant operators, giving them the rebate at the point of purchase. The program also grants them long-term energy cost relief, and provides benefits to the entire state.
Beginning in 2021, Energy Solutions—an energy efficiency and carbon mitigation program implementor—became a link between the IOUs and restaurant owners. The company works with trade allies and informs restaurant operators about the program and which pieces of equipment qualify for rebates. Since 2021, restaurant operators have saved almost $14 million in rebates, while the equipment has saved approximately 31,288 metric tons of carbon from entering the atmosphere.
“The investor-owned utilities know that one of the easiest ways to reduce energy use is to incentivize business owners,” says Drew Enyeart, national account manager at Energy Solutions. “We take a lot of pride in helping restaurant operators earn those rebates upfront when buying new energy-efficient equipment—and in helping achieve the state’s decarbonization goals by reducing energy use.”
Not only do California restaurant owners get new kitchen equipment that can help them cook more precisely at a more affordable price, but in the long run, energy bills for the restaurant will decrease. In fact, according to California Energy Wise, an estimated 35 percent of a restaurant’s energy bill is due to its heavy kitchen equipment. The organization estimates that switching to energy-efficient equipment can reduce those costs by up to 75 percent. In an era where running a restaurant is increasingly expensive, those figures can be the difference between a profitable restaurant and one that shutters its doors.
Pieces of equipment qualify based on how energy efficient they are. The rebates are determined by just how much energy is used by the piece of equipment versus its traditional counterpart. Savings range from $50 on the low end for smaller appliances, all the way up to $3,000 for a full-size combi oven—currently, there are nearly 3,300 different appliances that are on the qualified products list.
The list of qualifying appliances includes many common makes and models of equipment like combination ovens, convection ovens, refrigerators and freezers. To be eligible for a rebate in California, the equipment must be installed at a non-residential site that receives its natural gas or electricity service from SoCalGas, Pacific Gas & Electric, SoCal Edison, or San Diego Gas & Electric.
“This has had a tremendous impact for restaurant owners,” Enyeart says. “We’re a mission-driven company: our goal is to reduce carbon in the atmosphere, and these programs are the way that we help do it.”
The California Foodservice Instant Rebate Program has been so successful that other states have used it as a model to build their own program around. States with a similar initiative now include Nevada, Washington, Idaho, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and parts of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Indiana—with eligibility and equipment varying across the states, dependent upon the jurisdictions of participating utility companies.
These states have either drawn inspiration from the program in California, or have created a very similar program on their own. Many other states are currently looking to California as the thought leader in the space—as the urgency over climate concerns ramps up, this is viewed as one way to not only support local restaurant businesses, but to also reduce energy use.
“Our goal is to spread the word to operators that they can experience both short- and long-term savings by making smarter equipment choices,” Enyeart says. “Even in California, there are still restaurant owners who don’t realize this is good not just for those opening a new restaurant, but for those looking to replace equipment.”
For restaurant operators in other states who do not yet have a program like the one in California, Enyeart recommends reaching out to utility providers as a first step. Operators can also contact Enyeart and the Energy Solutions Foodservice team, as Energy Solutions has team members across multiple states who are already working on implementing similar programs across the country.
“We’re honored to be implementing this program on behalf of SoCalGas, Pacific Gas & Electric, SoCal Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric,” Enyeart says. "It’s a great feeling to help restaurant owners find these resources and improve their bottom line.”
To learn more about the California Foodservice Instant Rebates Program, visit the California Energy Wise website.
To learn more about bringing a program like the one in California to your state, visit the Energy Solutions website.