Utility expenses are Shari’s Restaurants’ third biggest operating expense, behind food and labor. In 2008, the 24-hour, family-dining chain began to take a closer look at how to minimize its utility costs.
“We knew we couldn’t control the price of our utilities, but we could control the usage,” said Jodenne Scott, energy efficiency manager, Shari’s Restaurants, Beaverton, Ore., which operates 104 locations, primarily in the Pacific Northwest (all are corporate-owned).
Scott subsequently launched a comprehensive program of water, energy and waste reduction. The initiative, called S.W.E.E.P. (Shari’s Water and Energy Efficiency Program), returned dollars to the chain’s operating budget, reducing energy usage from 2008 to 2010 by 22%. It expects to save an additional 5% this year.
Most recently, Scott has focused on water efficiency. In 2010, she piloted a “smart” water management solution (HydroPoint Data System’s WeatherTRAK). The system, which utilizes irrigation controllers, rain sensors and irrigation system technologies, is designed to eliminate landscape overwatering and the problems it can cause, from soil erosion to foundation damage.
“The WeatherTRAK technology easily integrates with any existing irrigation system to optimize operational efficiencies and landscape health,” said Jeff Welch, VP business development, H20 Designs LLC, Battle Ground, Wash. The water management company brought the technology to Scott’s attention.
The pilot application, at Shari’s Salem, Ore., location, ran from May until October 2010 (the conclusion of Shari’s irrigation period).
“We reduced out outdoor water usage by 75%, which is astounding,” Scott said.
The decreased water usage also translates into reduced energy. Both add up to utility savings, Scott added.
There are other benefits as well. The WeatherTRAK solution has a smart controller that automatically adjusts watering schedules based on landscape needs, moisture levels and local weather conditions.
“We don’t want our restaurant managers micro-managing their site’s water system,” Scott said. “With this system, the manager doesn’t have to worry about a thing when it comes to landscape irrigation. It’s all automatic, and we get the reports at headquarters. The controller is dialed into a weather satellite system. If it’s going to rain, the grounds are not watered.”
Scott is equally pleased with the ROI of WeatherTRAK.
“It’s about a one-year investment, which is great,” she said.
Based on the positive results of the pilot, Shari’s is installing the system at 10 additional sites.
“We are trying it in different climates to see if we realize the same type of savings,” Scott said. “If we do, we will roll it out.”
In 2011, Shari’s is focused on reducing water use by 20% across its entire property portfolio.