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There are many low-cost energy-efficient methods to keep customers warm.

During the chilly months, it’s possible to keep customers warm and heating bills down. By Kerryn Ramsey

When the winter chill hits, your customers want nothing more than to be warm, cosy and comfortable as they enjoy their meals. Getting the temperature just right—particularly outdoors—can also lead to happy clients staying for one more bottle of wine, one more dessert or a late-night coffee.

While it’s easy to just crank up the thermostat or position blazing heaters everywhere, it’s not the most cost-effective option, particularly with energy prices going through the roof. Luckily, there are many energy-efficient methods to keep customers warm while keeping costs down.

Warm comfort

Inside a restaurant’s dining zone, it’s important that the ambient temperature is comfortable and unnoticeable. You don’t want customers sitting in their overcoats or wiping their brows with napkins—all their attention should be on the food, their company, and the dining experience. The best way to keep an interior space at a comfortable temperature level is with air-conditioning. However, every degree an air-con is set above 20°C can add around 10 per cent to the energy bill.

“A heating and cooling system that uses heat-pump technology, such as reverse-cycle air-conditioners, will always provide the lowest running cost per unit of heating in winter, and cooling in summer,” says Vaughan Furniss, EnergyAustralia’s head of commercial and industrial. “It’s also worthwhile considering replacing very old air-conditioning units with new, high-efficiency models. The upgrade can pay for itself within four to five years.”

Clever solutions

Any large space that uses a heating system to deliver heat from above is fighting against basic physics. Warm air rises, making overhead heating particularly inefficient and costly in a room with a high ceiling. “A simple solution,” says Furniss, “is the addition of ceiling fans that push warm air down.”

While solar and battery technology has advanced rapidly over the past few years, it still requires a detailed analysis before use in a commercial setting. While the concept is easy to grasp—restaurants capture energy from the sun through roof-mounted solar panels and store it for use during peak periods when energy costs are higher—expert advice and a careful cost/benefit study must be undertaken to ensure maximum value is wrung from the system.

Outdoor dining

In Australia, our dedication to alfresco dining means that effective outdoor heating will see your exterior spaces utilised all year round.

“A heating and cooling system that uses heat-pump technology, such as reverse-cycle air-conditioners, will always provide the lowest running cost.”

Vaughan Furniss, head of commercial and industrial, EnergyAustralia

The best way to warm an outdoor area is to have it enclosed. Clear plastic roll-down blinds are a popular option. Not only do they act as a barrier to the wind and cold, but they also supply natural heating due to the greenhouse effect. 

If an outdoor area is completely enclosed, gas heating should be avoided to prevent the risk of combustion gas build-up.

However, if at least 25 per cent of the area is exposed then all certified gas heaters can be employed. 

“There are alterative outdoor heating options that use less gas and are far more cost-efficient than electric heating or the old-fashioned mushroom heaters,” says David Diamond, managing director of Climate Australia, a company specialising in outdoor flame heating. 

A new generation of gas heaters can run off bottled LPG gas and are also available as a natural gas version for piped gas. They are also inexpensive to operate. These flame heaters are an attractive addition to any outdoor space, creating a fantastic ambience and are 100 per cent cool to the touch.

One of the simplest and cheapest ways to keep outdoor diners warm is to simply supply blankets or throws for customers. This will add a cosy feel to the outdoor experience and maximise the benefit of any heating units in the space.

Other tips

For restaurants, winter invariably means higher energy costs due to heating, but there are certain things you can do to minimise your outlay. Vaughan Furniss from EnergyAustralia has a few tips to help keep energy costs down. 

“It’s also worthwhile considering replacing very old air-conditioning units with new, high-efficiency models. The upgrade can pay for itself within four to five years.”

 Vaughan Furniss, head of commercial and industrial, EnergyAustralia

Minimise air leaks by blocking gaps around doors, windows and floorboards. This will help keep warm air in and cold air out. 

Replace high wattage incandescent and halogen light globes with long-life, energy-efficient LEDs. This can offer a saving of up to 60 per cent annually.

Have your appliances checked and serviced. Update any appliances more than 15 years old as newer appliances are far more energy-efficient.

Look at which appliances are left on all the time and whether timers could be used with them. Ensure fridges and freezers are set to their optimum temperature. Fridges only need to be 4°C to 5°C to keep food fresh; freezers between -15°C and -18°C for maximum efficiency. 

This great content is produced for members of the Restaurant & Catering Association. Find out about becoming a member here.

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