Drive-thru Energy Savings

By Holly Carr on Apr 01, 2015

If you’ve ever worked in a commercial kitchen or fast-food restaurant then you know all about the equipment inside: the fryers, ovens, dishwashers, heating lamps, fans, and walk-in freezers. They’re necessary to making delicious food – but did you know how much energy they sap?

Food service organizations are notorious for their intensive use of energy. In fact, restaurants use about five to seven times more energy per square foot than other commercial building types.

Wait, how much? 

The food service sector in the U.S. consumes approximately 400 trillion Btu of energy per year – that’s 6.5% of the total commercial sector’s energy use. More than 300,000 food service facilities span 1.7 billion square feet and, compared to other energy uses, the energy footprint of our nation’s restaurants is significant.

That’s why DOE is working with food service organizations to monitor, manage and ultimately save energy. Through outreach and conversations with food service partners such as McDonalds, Wawa, Wendy’s, and Yum! Brands, DOE understood the food service sector was motivated and eager to save energy. What the food service sector was not excited about was tracking energy-use reductions based on square footage. Instead, the industry wanted to track energy savings using a “kBtu per transaction metric,” which connects energy use to the number of meals prepared.

Restaurants tend to function like manufacturing plants – the more meals they make, the more energy they use, rather than commercial office buildings where energy use is largely a function of building size. The Better Buildings program has approved a kBtu/transaction metric for food service organizations to use in the Better Buildings Challenge. The response was encouraging.

In January, Arby’s and CKE Restaurants (the owner of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s) joined the Better Buildings Challenge with commitments to reduce energy use across their company-owned U.S. stores by 20 percent over 10 years. We’re excited to work closely with these leaders to track their energy use and highlight their solutions for energy reduction in the food service sector. These partners will be among the first to report their energy intensity based on meals served in a location (kBtu/transaction) rather than the square footage of the restaurant (kBtu/SF).

If you’re a food service organization – whether a sit-down establishment, fast casual restaurant, cafeteria, or convenience store – consider joining these leaders to take the Better Buildings Challenge!

For more information please visit the Better Buildings Solution Center or contact me at