Restaurants use roughly two-and-a-half times more energy per square foot than other commercial businesses. Kitchen appliances are an obvious source of waste. Running industrial refrigerators, ovens and fryers can all add thousands of dollars to an owner’s annual energy costs.
One cost factor restaurateurs may overlook is lighting, which represents up to 13 percent of the average energy consumption in a full-service restaurant, according to Energy Star. On average, most restaurants keep lights on for 16 to 20 hours a day.
All those Edison-style incandescent bulbs you see at the trendy place downtown may look great, but their high upfront cost and short lifespan can make for a poor financial investment. Meanwhile, energy-efficient lighting has made great strides over the past few years, in terms of both cost and quality. High-quality LED lighting can cut energy consumption by up to 85 percent and retail prices are dropping quickly.
With that in mind, we’ve put together seven easy tips for LED lighting that will help your restaurant’s bottom line, while also adding to the ambience:
1. When buying LED bulbs, look for a minimum of 25,000 hours, which is about three years if the bulbs are on 24 hours a day. Is the product Energy Star certified? Is the product UL Listed for use in any orientation, in a fully enclosed fixture like a jelly jar that you often see on a range hood, or for use in damp environments like a restaurant kitchen? If the answer to all those questions is yes, then chances are you’ve found a good product.
2. Start off small. Instead of a full retrofit, switch out LED bulbs in the fixtures that are “on” the most, like exterior lights and the overhead lights in the kitchen. Your ROI is greatest on the lights that burn the longest. Next, focus on hard-to-reach fixtures. Is it difficult—or do you even need extra equipment—to reach bulbs on a high dining room chandelier. Is there an enclosed fixture over a stairwell that seems to burn out bulbs? Install quality LED bulbs in those fixtures now and avoid the headache and maintenance cost of changing them every month.
3. Experiment with different output and color temperatures. You can often use a lower watt-equivalency bulb because the LED bulb appears brighter. For example, a cheaper 40 watt-equivalent LED bulb can sometimes be as bright as the old 60-watt incandescent bulbs you used to buy for your dining room. Unless you’re required to provide a certain foot-candle for a specific workspace, aim for the best lighting levels and save more energy while you’re at it. Or, start with the brighter LED bulb and dim to exactly the right level. You will cut energy costs and can always raise light levels when you want.
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4. Wait a day or so before making a final decision. You want to get a feel for how well that LED bulb works when you are not looking directly at the bulb. The best quality LED bulbs provide clear, clean, beautiful light. However, even the best bulbs of any type are harsh when you are staring directly at them. Instead, step back and look at how they illuminate the space.
5. A strange but true benefit of LED lighting is that it doesn’t attract bugs like traditional bulbs. Put them in your outdoor fixtures outside the restaurant and leave them on all night. No more swarms of flying insects to greet your guests—a much more appetizing solution.
6. Dim your LED bulbs. Of course, anytime you dim you save energy. You can put in higher output LED bulbs and dim them appropriately, giving you the option for more or less light, depending on the mood. Some dimmers already in use in restaurants are compatible with LED bulbs. The issue is older dimming solutions are geared for more power coming through and when LED bulbs pull 80 percent less power, the system may not engage smoothly, or not work. If your existing dimmer doesn’t work, dimmers optimized for LED bulbs can be purchased at home improvement and lighting stores, as well as electrical distributors, at reasonable prices. Check the manufacturer’s website to find out what dimmers they recommend for their LED bulbs.
7. LED A-lamp bulbs can be a great solution for recessed lighting, a common choice for dining rooms and hallways. A21 bulbs (the size of a 75-watt or 100-watt incandescent) are a bit longer and thinner and are usually the best choice. Downlights, though, can have different depths so you may find that using an inexpensive socket extender (readily available at home improvement stores) makes the bulb sit at the right depth in the bulb for a pleasing aesthetic and good illumination. The other consideration is the reflector. Try a matte white or brushed metallic (haze) reflector to optimize the aesthetic of the omni-directional A-lamp bulb. I recommend 75We and 100We bulbs for this application.
Deb Lovig is a channel marketing manager at Switch Lighting. Switch produces a full family of liquid-cooled bulbs, from 40 to 100W. Lovig has been an LED evangelist since 2004.