Maintenance Detection: The Case of the Broken Freezer

A few weeks ago, we let you know about one of our services — helping your business detect when appliances have broken or are about to break. Recently, we’ve seen this feature of PlotWatt’s software in action. Since PlotWatt’s team of algorithm developers has worked hard to perfect the detection of malfunctioning appliances, it has been exciting for us — and quite useful for our customers — to see this feature in action.

During a recent pilot with a local Burger King location, our software revealed that a walk-in freezer had begun to malfunction. The freezer had gone on the fritz over a weekend. PlotWatt’s software sent alerts to our team, and we quickly sent the store owner a notification saying that his freezer may be breaking down. After the owner had maintenance check the freezer, he determined that the appliance was indeed malfunctioning.

Because PlotWatt’s software showed us that the walk-in freezer was having problems, the owner had the opportunity to schedule a repair immediately. This saved him the worry of wondering whether the freezer was broken — PlotWatt’s software gave him solid evidence that the appliance was in need of repair. It also saved the restaurant  from dealing with inventory loss and food safety concerns.

You could call this a “lucky” save. After all, it was fortuitous that our client found out right away that his freezer needed attention. But it wasn’t luck that was on his side; it was our software.

PlotWatt’s software allows store managers and employees to address problems like these right away. With our recently upgraded software, we’re able to prevent problems before they become too big to handle. This helps store managers keep their customers happy, and a happy customer will keep returning.

Biweekly Article Roundup

As a follow up to our article from a couple of weeks ago on the White House’s efforts to increase energy efficiency for businesses, check out this detailed view of the administration’s plans to combat climate change. Restaurants are not left out of Obama’s plans — proposed efficiency standards for commercial refrigeration could lower energy bills across the country by as much as $4 billion.

Fast casual and QSR chains need to watch out for newer, up-and-coming restaurant chains that appeal to young, hip customers. The Chicago-based restaurant Potbelly’s has been serving up amazing sandwiches (order “The Wreck” — you won’t regret it) since 1977 and has just gone public.

This has been great news for Middleby, a company that sells its energy efficient ovens to Potbelly’s and other fast casual chains. Check out this article to learn more about what Middleby’s growth says about the future of fast casual dining.

KFC in China is going strong. As the leading catering brand in the world’s most populous country, the fast food giant has turned its efforts to energy efficiency. Two restaurants there have achieved LEED Gold Certifications, a testament to their focus on efficiency.

Soraa LED lights are bringing ambiance to restaurants throughout the country. After all, visiting a restaurant isn’t always just about food; it’s about the entire experience of dining. Many fine restaurants using these phenomenal LED lights are also saving on energy bills because of their lighting choices.

Fast casual restaurants have continued to grow in the past several years. Even though fast casual restaurants traditionally serve more expensive entrees than their QSR counterparts, customers are often willing to pay more at fast casual restaurants. Additionally, diners often find themselves attracted to fast casual food over family-style dining due to the reasonable price tag. It seems like this growing sector has found a “happy medium.”

QSRs are going mobile — meaning that customers can order from their phones or computers and pick up food without the hassle of standing in line. Some QSR owners are resisting the mobile movement in favor of more traditional ordering methods — others are seeing more and more satisfied mobile customers who are thrilled not to stand in line.

 

Biweekly Article Round-Up

Look forward to our upcoming biweekly article round-up! Keep abreast of the current events in the exciting world of QSR and energy savings.

Vegawatt is a pretty interesting innovation, boasting the ability to run QSRs on nothing more than vegetable oil. Biodiesel is an attractive option, particularly for QSRs, but is this source of power sustainable in the long term?

After separating itself from Wendy’s, Arby’s is working on an overhaul of the brand. You can look forward to some upgraded food offerings in the future, and — more exciting to us — more attention to their energy output. Arby’s is exploring a new program, “Energy Matters,” which keeps track of how much energy the chain uses.

It looks like food trucks might be infringing on the QSR customer base. Definitely saves on overhead and energy costs — but brand loyalty for the big names can’t be underestimated.

An Empathica survey revealed what we here at PlotWatt already know: a “delighted” QSR customer has brand loyalty. This finding reinforces the idea that QSRs need to protect store operating procedures, especially with the increasing popularity of local chains and fast casual restaurants.

Fast casual restaurants like Chipotle and Panera are starting to influence quick serve restaurants. QSRs have begun experiments to create more upscale restaurant environments and updated product offerings. At PlotWatt, we’d love to see energy efficiency be a part of those plans.

The Obama administration’s new regulations for appliance efficiency will affect QSR owners across the nation — in a good way. Because of the push for more efficient fridges, QSRs should see some savings in the future. And the country will see a lower overall rate of carbon emissions.

An Illinois restaurant reports significant savings with the installation of an energy management system. We here at PlotWatt know that energy management can work, but PlotWatt boasts a smaller cost upfront and a quicker return on investment — and quite often, more savings over time.

Why Pay More for Energy Management?

As a QSR owner, you’ve probably seen your fair share of energy management systems. The folks at energy management companies love to pitch to QSR owners over and over again about how much money they can save by switching to a more sophisticated control system. One topic that’s always included in these pitches is HVAC control. Whether it’s a sophisticated fully automated control system, a “smart” thermostat with two way communication capability, or a variable speed air handler, they all promise significant overall energy savings.

At PlotWatt, we’ve examined these HVAC control systems with a critical eye, curious to determine what works best for your store’s energy expenditure and for your wallet. We’ve monitored and reviewed the data on company-managed systems that cost $10,000+ per store, and we’ve assessed $500 smart thermostats that promise to employ fancy logic to automatically optimize your energy usage. It turns out though, that you only need a simple system to lower your costs and keep your store’s temperature regulated.

PlotWatt’s research on these systems has shown that simple is best; a programmable thermostat ($100 at Home Depot or Lowes) and a clear lockbox save the same amount of money as much more expensive systems.  Program it once, lock it, control access to the key, and you’ll get virtually the same result as those higher cost solutions. When you partner with PlotWatt, you can use PlotWatt’s monitoring feature to see how much energy your HVAC is consuming and make sure that the unit is running to manufacturers’ specifications. If your system malfunctions, PlotWatt will notify your team as quickly as any fully automated control system.

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The idea is to install tools that give you more time, reduce your operating costs, and quickly return the investment.  The data has shown simple and inexpensive is the best solution to reduce your HVAC energy consumption.

PlotWatt 101 for QSRs: Detecting Breaking and Broken Appliances

Imagine a world where you can predict the future – the future of your store’s appliances, that is. As a QSR owner, the state of your appliances probably weighs heavy on your mind – after all, large appliances are the workhorses of the QSR world, and breakdowns slow your business to a crawl. PlotWatt knows you worry, and we’ve developed tools that can make those worries disappear.

When you sign up with PlotWatt, you don’t have to wait for your walk-in freezer to start shooting off sparks. Instead, you can check your email and see that your freezer is about to break down.

That means you can schedule repairs at your convenience. You don’t have to wait for your restaurant’s food to spoil, and you don’t have to interrupt the workflow of your store.

Each of your appliances has its own energy signature, and PlotWatt’s software detects when anything in that signature changes. Even a tiny change can signal a major meltdown, and PlotWatt notifies you as soon as our software detects a change.

Up until now, it hasn’t been easy to determine when an appliance is breaking or about to break. PlotWatt can’t make you psychic, but we can help you predict – and manage – the future of your appliances.

PlotWatt 101 for QSRs: Enforcing Standard Operating Procedures

As a QSR owner, you expect your employees to follow the rules. You know that your standard operating procedures ensure that employee performance and customer satisfaction remain the same at each site. After orientation, you can’t do too much to control what goes on at your stores every day. So how can you protect your customer experience from a distance?

PlotWatt takes the guesswork out of enforcing store regulations. Our patent-pending algorithms detect the small changes in energy that often signal a failure to comply with the rules of the business. It sounds unbelievably simple, and it is that simple for you and your business.

What Does PlotWatt See?

PlotWatt’s software maps your typical energy use, and it reveals when your store’s patterns change. A change in pattern can represent a change in operating procedure. Recently, PlotWatt has helped several quick-serve restaurants enforce standard operating procedures. For example:

  • At a Wendy’s location, PlotWatt’s software revealed that employees were shutting down Frosty machines before closing each evening.
  • At a Burger King, changing energy patterns have shown that employees shut down the freezer during deliveries each week and often forgot to turn it back on again.

All of these instances represent a potential dip in customer service for the quick serve restaurant in question. PlotWatt provided hard evidence that could be used to improve employee behavior.

If you have a hunch that your employees are not following standard operating procedures, PlotWatt can help you provide hard proof. PlotWatt’s software can also reveal problems that you might not know about.

Behavioral Modification for Your Employees

Think of PlotWatt as a form of non-intrusive monitoring for your employees. After new-hire training ends, you might not have a daily presence with your workers. Without someone overseeing their work, employees can become relaxed about following procedure. PlotWatt acts as the touch your employees may be lacking. When they are aware that PlotWatt’s software can detect their daily activities, employees are more likely to comply with the guidelines.

In short, PlotWatt can help modify your employees’ behavior to maintain a strong customer experience.

PlotWatt 101 for QSRs: What is Peak Demand?

 What is Peak?

As a business, you know that your utility company charges you for how much energy you use each cycle. Energy is measured in kilowatt hours (kWh), and you pay for the total amount of kWh you’ve used for the month. That’s the straightforward part of your energy bill. There’s another type of charge that factors into how much you pay the utility company each month.

Many energy plans also include charges for peak demand. Peak demand charges reflect the highest kilowatt usage during a continuous fifteen-minute period for the month. Every appliance needs to draw a certain number of watts in order to operate, so the more stuff that’s plugged in and turned on, the more watts of energy your restaurant needs in order to be operational. The “demand charge” is meant to reflect the amount of generation capacity the utility company reserves to make sure a business has enough energy. And unfortunately, utility companies base this demand charge on your highest 15 minutes of usage during any given month.

Simply put, the utility company charges for how much energy capacity your business needs for the month.

So what is this costing you? Peak charges vary wildly from $1/kW to $20/kW. Typically, quick serve restaurants have peak demand levels between 20kW (Dunkin Donuts) and 120 kW (McDonalds). Depending on your rate plan and your size, your peak demand costs can be quite different.

What Causes Your Peak to Increase? 

When your restaurant’s energy use spikes, your peak usage can spike too

  • When many appliances are on at one time — during breakfast or lunch rus
  • When employees start up several appliances at the same time (appliances often use more energy during their start up cycle)
  • When an appliance is rapid cycling and may be about to break
  • When employees overuse high-demand appliances.

Many variables can cause your peak demand to increase. When one small factor changes in a month, your demand charge can spike significantly. For example, if a rapid cycling freezer causes peak to spike one month, you could be stuck paying inflated charges the next month.

PlotWatt Can Help You Keep Peak to a Minimum

 PlotWatt’s patent-pending algorithms detect abnormally high spikes in energy use. This helps you minimize demand spikes, and could potentially save you hundreds of dollars a month.

PlotWatt tells you when your daily energy demand spikes occur and lets you how know high these spikes are. PlotWatt’s patent-pending algorithms also tell you whether those energy spikes are normal based on your store’s unique operating behavior. This knowledge makes you aware of the critical time periods when your demand spikes occur so that you can easily lower those spikes. Because PlotWatt provides daily feedback on your energy spikes, you can keep track of the highest peak for your billing period. This helps you change your behavior much more quickly so that you don’t set a new peak and waste money paying for that abnormally high peak the next month.

Not knowing about your peak can cost you big. PlotWatt hands you the information you need to put hundreds of dollars back in your pocket each month.

PlotWatt 101 for QSRs: How Does PlotWatt Work for You?

PlotWatt is an energy analytics company that reduces utility costs for your quick-serve restaurant (QSR). PlotWatt dissects your store’s raw energy data to provide easily actionable solutions that make your business thrive – how does this happen?

When you sign up with PlotWatt, we send a certified electrician to install a PlotWatt-compatible energy monitor. This monitor collects second-by-second electricity usage data and transmits that data to PlotWatt’s cloud-based energy analytics engine. The software uses patent-pending algorithms to map the energy data from your store(s). This gives a comprehensive view of what happens at each of your restaurant(s) – from how employees turn on appliances at the start of the day to which appliances are being left on each night.

You may wonder how PlotWatt takes granular energy data from QSRs and uncovers discrete patterns for each different store. The answer is pretty cool. Each appliance has a unique energy signature, like a human fingerprint. Around here we call that a WattPrint. The PlotWatt software breaks down the data, and it analyzes the collection of WattPrints unique to your restaurant.

PlotWatt’s energy map of your restaurant reveals “problem areas” in your energy use. That means that PlotWatt sees when your employees shut down early or when your store has one group of appliances on more than necessary. The software uncovers these patterns, and PlotWatt crafts easy-to-follow, low cost/no cost suggestions that nip these issues in the bud. While PlotWatt’s primary focus is saving money, PlotWatt’s software also works to detect malfunctioning appliances and enforce standard operating procedures set by the parent company, franchise, or owner.

After you implement our recommendations, you start improving your business right away. These recommendations often save our QSR customers 10-20% on their energy bills and help protect their brand and customer experience. At PlotWatt, we do the data crunching, and you learn the best ways to help your business thrive.

Subscribe to our blog to find out more about PlotWatt and how we can work for you.

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PlotWatt 101 for QSR: Your Energy Bill is Incomplete

As a business owner, you may not have thought too much about your electricity bill recently. After all, the bill arrives with the mail each month, and you pay attention to the amount you owe.

But your energy bill is incomplete — that piece of paper is not telling you the full story of how your energy is used. Depending on your energy supplier and rate plan, you might see some notes about your peak usage or the number of kilowatt hours used that month. These numbers are often difficult to interpret, leaving you in the dark about where your money is going.

Your energy bill doesn’t tell you what times of day your usage is at its highest or what appliances are the biggest energy hogs. It doesn’t give you any guidance about what you can do to save money for your business, nor does it tell you how to detect when your appliances are failing. And your bill certainly won’t let you know if your employees are shutting down an hour early and delivering subpar product to your customers.

You might think that this information is only available through an energy management system, which could cost tens of thousands of dollars to install. Or you might think that information is impossible to obtain. PlotWatt provides this information to its customers at around 10% of the cost of an energy management system.

A “complete” energy management system is far from complete in that it will only monitor and manage a handful of your appliances. PlotWatt monitors everything. One of these energy management systems, installed for $20,000, typically takes five to ten years to pay for itself. A PlotWatt installation, at a fraction of that cost, pays for itself in less than a year.

Energy management systems give you piles of data to sift through. PlotWatt breaks down your energy usage and analyzes this data with our patent-pending algorithms. The final product is actionable insight that can save you money and allow your business to thrive.

For the curious QSR owner, check out our continuing series about how PlotWatt works to help you — Plot Watt 101.

Reintroducing the PlotWatt Blog

PlotWatt is a Durham-based energy analytics company that works with quick-serve restaurant (QSR) owners and residential customers to save money on their energy bills. At PlotWatt we love what we do, and we are eager to share insights and discoveries on our newly refurbished blog.

2013 has been a busy year for PlotWatt, and there’s a lot more on the horizon. Over the past few months, we’ve hired new team members, taken on new customers and worked hard to streamline and expand our product offerings. You might have noticed that we are currently focusing on quick-serve restaurant customers. That doesn’t mean we’re moving away from residential; rather, we’re perfecting our platform with some of the most serious users of energy on the planet.

PlotWatt seeks out meaningful energy problems, and holy moly are the opportunities abundant at chain restaurants. For example, quick-serve restaurants use up to forty times more energy than a typical residence. By honing our magic in this environment, we make PlotWatt better for everyone. In other words, what we learn from QSRs extends to saving money for residential customers and other businesses alike.

Expect to read more details about these exciting developments in the future. Many of our posts will be focused on the energy needs of quick serve and fast casual restaurants. PlotWatt will begin a series of posts to educate new and existing QSR customers — PlotWatt 101. Through this series, you can learn more about how PlotWatt works for businesses. Over time we will expand PlotWatt 101 to include articles relevant to our residential customers.

Other future blog posts will serve to maintain our eco-geeky cred: we’ll share our experiments, discoveries, and thoughts on energy-related issues.

Stay tuned!

- The PlotWatt Team

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