iStock_000022537476_Large_PPSue Nelson discovers how to keep costs low and the ambience high

When you think about waste in a restaurant setting, you’re probably thinking about food. But many restaurants waste thousands every year because their premises don’t make efficient and intelligent use of lighting.

Energy comes at a premium, and one of the biggest energy overheads is the cost of your restaurant lighting. Good planning when you start out can save you, and the environment, in the long run—but so can a clever retrofit. It’s all about selecting the technologies that work for you.

Designing lighting efficiency from the ground up

Planning for natural light may be the best investment you ever make in a new venue. There are no running costs for the full-spectrum light from the sun during day sittings—you just need a clever builder or architect and a good site. It may be worth paying a premium for these to enjoy the savings later.

Neil Slater, founder of Scratchley’s in Newcastle, NSW, developed his restaurant with environmental responsibility in mind. Scratchley’s passive solar design is assisted by its position—perched on the edge of the water and facing north. The building is well positioned to take full advantage of the sun through floor-to-ceiling windows, and the clever use of eaves ensures that the harsher rays are filtered out. “We’re fortunate to be located where we are—not everyone has the ability to take advantage of the natural setting this way,” Slater says. “You make the best use of what you have available to you.”

Ways to work with what you have may include planning for skylights and windows to improve natural light, or deflecting heat and glare with the use of eaves, shades, louvres and translucent wall panels. Wall colours can absorb or reduce light, depending on the needs of the space, and other tricks include reflection—well-placed mirrors and bright, shiny floors and surfaces—and ‘piping’, which distributes natural light through fibre optic materials into the darker parts of the restaurant.

Retrofitting an existing restaurant

An existing restaurant may not benefit from good passive lighting, but it’s still possible to make considerable savings by upgrading your lighting system. It’s important to take a holistic approach to your overhaul, although buying fittings online or attempting a do-it-yourself job on your lighting can end in disaster.

A consultation with a lighting expert can help you to assess existing lamp types and quantities, light levels, dimming compatibility and total consumption. A lighting designer can also tell you where you might currently be using inappropriate lighting for things such as customer and staff comfort, building size and shape or safety in terms of heat exposure and the potential for fire.

Time-pressed restaurateurs may find that computer-based lighting design, which matches existing and desired light levels with more efficient technologies, is well worth the investment.

“Some issues I see too often are over-lit spaces, resulting in wasted energy; lights used in outdoor areas during the day, just because they happen to be on the same circuit as the indoor lighting; and no intelligence in typically unoccupied spaces that could benefit from sensor lighting,” ESIC Lighting product director Stefan Maric says.

Which bulb technology?

In simple terms of hourly cost per bulb, LED is the most efficient form of lighting, followed by fluorescents, which includes compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) and T8 bulbs, then halogen, and finally, the old incandescent bulbs. However, achieving the right look for your restaurant is not as simple as making a bulb-for-bulb switch.

“Within each type of lamp you can find varying degrees of quality and efficacy. It is possible that one could provide a more efficient lighting system with high-quality, high-efficacy CFLs than with cheap, low-quality LEDs,” says Paul Kuck, who works with foodservice clients to design and implement resource-management programs as an energy manager with US-based energy and sustainability management company, Ecova.

“The distribution of the fixtures, the lamp wattage, ballast type and lighting needs all play a role in producing an efficient system. So, again, one could design a system that is more efficient using 32-watt lamps than another with 25-watt lamps.”

It’s important to ensure that the lighting system is compatible with your particular space.

What about other options for lighting the dining space? Candles seem like another way of going off-grid, and they’re perfect for restaurants. Their running costs, however, are not so attractive.

“Candles are good for ambiance but they aren’t a good means of lighting or necessarily a safe option,” Kuck explains. “There are non-petroleum based candles available, but they often can be prohibitively expensive for most restaurants based on the sheer volume they use.”

Back-of-house lighting

“In the back-of-house, high-performance T8 lamps are still the best option, though LED tubes are quickly improving in quality and pricing and promise to replace fluorescents in the near future,” Kuck says. “One of the drawbacks of LEDs is that they do not perform well in hot environments so they may not be a good option for overly hot kitchens.”

The best money is often spent on staff training. “There are simple behavioural opportunities,” says Kuck. “Kitchen staff are usually the first to arrive and typically only use a small part of the restaurant, so they don’t need to turn on lights throughout the restaurant. Breaking old habits can be tough, but these simple changes do not cost anything and behavioural-based savings do make a difference in utility bills.”

And don’t forget car park, office and toilet lighting. “Assuming you have the most efficient lighting already installed, various lighting controls are the best option for reducing costs,” says Kuck.

“Exterior lighting, particularly parking lot lights, can have high wattage and is often more wasteful compared to interior lights. A combination of a photo sensor with a timer is usually the best control option for exterior lights.”

The magic of LED

There isn’t one technology that works best, but rather a combination of technologies that work in harmony for a range of front- and back-of-house and night and day applications. This said, the consensus of lighting experts is that good LED lighting is part of the mix.

“If you’re fitting out a new venue, you can find an LED globe for just about any setting, including some that look very stylish and give off a similar light to the old-fashioned incandescent globes,” says Lucy Best, community engagement and communications manager at Positive Charge, a not-for-profit social enterprise run by independent energy experts. “Remember, although they cost more to purchase, the reduced running costs and increased lifespan make them more than worthwhile.”

Best cites a venue that paid $14,000 in initial costs to replace halogen downlighting with LEDs, but will save around $9000 per annum in electricity bills on lighting alone—the lights will have paid for themselves in under 18 months. These calculations do not include the savings made from reduced air conditioning costs, because halogens put out a lot of heat, but this is also
worth considering.

This saving can also be measured in terms of 61 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. Positive Charge helps businesses access the Sustainable Melbourne Fund (check for an equivalent in your state), allowing them to pay off the cost of installation with the savings they make—so there are no upfront costs to upgrade.

Stefan Maric has delivered similar results for a restaurant client. ESIC Lighting replaced all 50W and 35W halogen downlights with the same number of 10W downlights. The lights were in operation 15 hours per day, seven days per week. The halogen lighting running cost was $4577 annually. By contrast, the LED lighting running cost was $832 annually. The payback period was just under 10 months, with an ongoing saving of $3745 annually.


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