Benchmarking Basics for Food Service Organizations

Food service organizations face unique energy benchmarking challenges, particularly as energy use can frequently be more closely correlated to the quantity of food served than to the size of the restaurant. Nevertheless, the basics of benchmarking closely parallel those for other sectors, with a few special aspects that food service energy managers should keep in mind when getting started.

Benchmarking energy use means documenting and analyzing the energy consumption of a building – or a portfolio of buildings – allowing for comparisons of performance. For a single building, this can refer to either its performance over time or before and after a retrofit. For multi-site organizations, benchmarking is most often used for comparison of different facilities relative to each other and/or over time. There are at least three ways to do this:

  1. Upload energy usage information from your utility bills to ENERGY STAR®’s Portfolio Manager tool. While foodservice buildings, as a type, cannot receive a 1-to-100 ENERGY STAR performance score, Portfolio Manager is still a powerful way to capture and analyze portfolio data.
  2. Use a spreadsheet-based tool. For example, in 2011 the Better Buildings Alliance developed a spreadsheet tool that some food service organizations have adopted. However, it requires some analytical expertise that is automated in Portfolio Manager, and it can be time-consuming to implement. To receive a copy of this tool, email
  3. Hire an outside firm to benchmarking for you, for example a bill-pay firm with energy analytics expertise or a firm that specializes in energy management. These companies will often use Portfolio Manager as their basis for analysis, but they will gather and enter your data, maintain the account, and analyze and interpret the reports for you.

The general principle behind portfolio benchmarking is to get a portfolio-wide, facility-level understanding of your building energy use. Doing so provides direct insight into your portfolio’s average energy consumption, as well the energy use of the best and worst performers.

However, there are several factors that can affect energy consumption that are independent of how efficient a facility may be. These need to be accounted for in the analysis to get the sites on a “level playing field” when comparing them to each other. A common term for this accounting is called “normalizing” the data, and it requires an understanding of store characteristics and operations. The primary factors that need to be accounted for are as follows:

  • Climate Stores in warm weather locations will spend more energy on HVAC. Normalization occurs by comparing heating degree-days (HDD) and cooling degree-days (CDD), which is a feature built into Portfolio Manager and some other benchmarking tools.
  • Transactions The more food that’s cooked, the more energy a given site expends. There may be other energy-consumption factors related to building traffic as well.
  • Operating hours – Similar to transactions.
  • Building designEach building design has its advantages and disadvantages with respect to energy use. Often, a brand with several significantly different designs or footprints will separate and analyze the data so that a site’s performance is only compared with other buildings having the same design and footprint.
  • Building size Energy use, in particular for HVAC and lighting, increases with building size. For this reason, energy usage in a given time period is almost always reported per square foot.
  • Number of workers – The ENERGY STAR program has recently found a strong correlation between energy use and number of workers in the food service sector.

After gaining a full understanding of which stores are the best and worst performers, the next step is to investigate the factors that contribute to this performance. Practices at the best-performing sites might be applicable as best practices across the portfolio. There may be inexpensive and easy measures that could be rolled out system-wide to bring the low-performers up to the average and/or raise overall average energy efficiency. Information on current performance can also help with prioritizing sites for more expensive capital upgrades to realize the greatest savings for your investment.

With a strong understanding of current performance, a company can also make decisions on setting energy performance goals. Setting an energy goal involves the consideration of many factors--financial, operational, and structural characteristics, as well as the company’s views on brand image, social responsibility, and leadership.

Companies in the Better Buildings Challenge have taken the lead in their industry by setting ambitious portfolio-wide, 20 percent energy goals and tracking their progress. Food service Challenge partners Arby’s, CKE Restaurants, Wendy’s, Shari’s Café & Pies, and Starbucks are sharing their strategies for saving energy in the Better Buildings Solution Center. For additional foodservice information, see the list below for useful resources to help your company benchmark and save energy.