In a world where diners have nearly unlimited choices for full-service restaurants, creating unique menus that offer high-quality food is key. With healthier oil options and smaller portions, fried foods are once again in demand–everything from traditional onion rings to fried pickles and house-made chips.

Fryer oil is one of the most expensive commodities for full-service restaurants. But high cost is not the only concern. Fryer oil affects everything from food quality to employee safety. So how you manage it matters.

Most restaurant staffs still handle oil manually, lugging jugs to the fryer and used, hot oil to the dumpster. But today, thousands of full-service restaurants around the country, including Houlihan’s, McCormick & Schmick’s and Carrabba’s Italian Grill,have adopted automated oil management systems.

Automated oil management takes the employee out of the handling process such that they rarely touch a drop of oil. When the fryer needs filtering, employees simply push a button and filtration occurs. And when the oil needs replacing, they just push a button that automatically pumps out the old oil into a used oil storage container and then adds fresh oil into the fryer from a fresh oil storage container. If employees want to top off the fryer, they can by pressing another button on the ‘add’ wand.

Because the entire system is automated, managers are alerted when the oil has not been appropriately filtered or when it’s been prematurely disposed, which ensures you are not wasting money on oil. The result: lower costs, better-tasting food, less mess and fewer workers’ compensation claims.

Using an automated oil management system, Wild Wing Cafe, a South Carolina-based full-service sports bar and restaurant franchise, reduced annual oil use by almost 14,000 pounds, saving the company $150,000 across 13 company-owned stores. At the same time, restaurant management reported an improvement in food quality.

Restaurants that use automated oil management systems frequently reduce their oil use by an average of 15 percent which results in an oil spend decrease of approximately 20 percent (when including waste oil credits.) That’s right: Some restaurants are even making money from their used cooking oil. Used oil can be sold and converted into biodiesel, which adds a unique sustainability twist to fried food.

To reign in oil costs and improve food quality, you need to find out how often and for what duration your employees filter the oil. Depending on the answer, you could be facing two problems.

The first, and most common, scenario is that employees are not filtering often enough or for a long enough time. Using old, dirty oil can cause major problems in food quality and give your customers a reason not to come back. On the flip side, if your employees are disposing too often because they are skipping the filtering and want to protect the food quality, they could be throwing perfectly good oil down the proverbial drain. To prevent both of these scenarios, an automated oil management system monitors whether your employees’ oil management routines are in compliance with your quality specifications so that you can manage these behaviors and ensure the best possible food quality.

Tony De Salvo, franchise owner of the eclectic, urban Bar Louie, noticed his employees were not filtering the oil according to his restaurant’s standards. He knew their oil management quality was low and could be damaging food quality and spiking costs. De Salvo looked closer and found his restaurants were not filtering the oil and thus using approximately 100 pounds more oil per week than necessary. He decided to install an automated oil management.

“Our old system was so messy, physically strenuous and even dangerous, that employees were cutting corners to avoid doing the work,” De Salvo said. “Instead of filtering the oil, employees would add fresh oil to bad oil, overuse the oil and then dump and replace large quantities.”

Beyond food quality, De Salvo recognized other tangible benefits from having a cleaner, less greasy kitchen. Workers’ compensation claims from slips and falls in the kitchen at Bar Louie have dropped 50 percent since installing automated oil management.

“We just had a workman’s compensation review, and it’s surprising how much difference an automated system can make,” De Salvo said. “We want employees to feel safe at work, and this is an easy way we can make it safer.”

In addition to safety improvements, the new process allows employees to focus on other kitchen tasks and guest experience during their shifts. “We estimate that employees spend at least 15 fewer minutes on cleaning the kitchen at the end of each day,” De Salvo says. “This also saves us about $150 to $200 per week in labor costs at each location, and allows employees to get home to their families faster.”

Tina Swanson is the director of customer experience, sales force effectiveness and marketing at Restaurant Technologies, Inc. (RTI). She can be reached at tswanson@rti-inc.com.