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How to avoid being ice-axed by the polar vortex

There’s no denying that it has been a bone-chilling winter. Temperatures have hit record lows in much of the country, keeping consumers snuggled at home instead of heading to restaurants. Bob Evans Farms alerted investors that a constant below-zero wind chill iced more than $3 million off sales projections for the current quarter. The damage also extended to the bottom line, driving up the family chain’s operating costs by a projected $1 million to $1.5 million.

With fuel costs rising as the temperature plummets, other restaurants are likely seeing similar spikes in utility expenses. Yet there are ways of winterizing profits, according to Laura Abshire, the National Restaurant Association’s director of sustainability policy and government affairs.

“One thing in particular to look out for is making sure you are properly insulated—from your doors and windows to the water pipes,” says Abshire. “Also, set your thermostat a little bit lower. In the winter, most people can be comfortable at temperatures below 70°F. If you make the change gradually, say in one-degree increments, you will save on costs and your customers will not be affected or uncomfortable,” she suggests.

For operators looking for more help in managing heating and energy costs, the NRA’s Conserve initiative offers a list of environmentally friendly best practices:

  1. Properly insulate and seal off the establishment to cut heat loss.
  2. Insulate all accessible hot water pipes leading to and from the water heater.
  3. Optimize the water temperature by setting the thermostat on the heater to deliver the minimum hot water temperature required by health codes.
  4. Use door air blowers to keep cold air out of the restaurant.

The advice could come in handy. Bob Evans CEO Steve Davis predicts “an additional weather impact during the remainder of the quarter,” as the forecast shows more snow and chilly weather throughout much of the country. 

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