When it comes to restaurants, “comfort” is more than just a food category – it’s vital to creating a welcoming atmosphere. Most restaurants maintain their thermostats at a temperature pleasing to the vast majority of people – typically 68°F to 72°.
However, maintaining that ideal temperature is harder than it sounds. While the thermostat may be set at 70°F, the air near a busy kitchen might be closer to 80°F. Guests under an air conditioning vent may feel closer to 55°F or 60°F. Large windows, indoor-outdoor seating, constantly opening doors, hot plates of food and more can hamper temperature uniformity in a dining area.
Ceiling fans are a simple, effective solution. Most people think of fans solely as a cooling instrument, but overhead fans are also the most effective way to distribute both air-conditioned and heated air. Using fans to mix the air creates consistent temperatures throughout the restaurant, eliminating troublesome hot and cold spots.
In the world of personal comfort, which is typically managed through energy-intensive heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems, ceiling fans are also an energy-efficient, environmentally friendly choice.
According to ENERGY STAR, restaurants use 2½ times more energy per square foot than other commercial businesses. HVAC accounts for 28 percent of energy consumption, second only to food preparation equipment at 35 percent. While fans can’t make the oven more efficient, they can reduce HVAC energy use year round.
In winter, thermal stratification – the natural rising of hot air – causes energy waste in tall spaces. Hot air at the ceiling serves no purpose for guests on the floor, nor does it trigger thermostats to shut off in a timely manner. Overhead fans destratify the space, quickly pushing hot air to ground level and creating uniform, comfortable warmth while reducing heater runtime and costs by up to 30 percent.
In summer, fans reduce the need for air conditioning by providing up to a 10°F cooling effect at a fraction of the energy cost. After Haiku fans by Haiku Home were installed at The Local Taco in Lexington, Ky., managers raised the thermostat several degrees, so the air conditioner runs far less often and guests feel just as comfortable.
“Our electric bill has gone down about 5 percent,” said Kevin Lewis, co-owner. “Restaurants’ profit margins are usually fairly small, so over the course of a year, that’s a huge difference.”
Patios and indoor-outdoor dining areas present more concerns because pumping air conditioning into the open air isn’t financially feasible or environmentally friendly. Many restaurants, such as a Mellow Mushroom in Atlanta, Georgia, use a Big Ass Fan to cool its entire patio.
While fans are a no-brainer for alfresco dining, they can also eliminate the need for costly, disruptive A/C upgrades inside. For example, at Gas Monkey Bar N’ Grill in Dallas, the air conditioner couldn’t keep up with the brutal Texas heat. Co-owner Alex Mendonsa considered increasing the A/C tonnage, but found an effective alternative with several Big Ass Fans and a couple other common-sense steps.
“We installed the fans, tinted the windows and closed up some areas of the ceiling that were open to the roof,” Mendonsa said. “The result is a much more comfortable restaurant. The fans push cool air to every corner.”
Selecting fans for a restaurant is a tougher process than selecting ones for a home, as they will be scrutinized by employees, guests and health inspectors alike. Restaurant fans should have the following qualities:
Silence: The only sound coming from a ceiling fan should be a wisp of air movement, and only on the highest speed settings at that.
Balance: See above – a rattling or wobbling ceiling fan will distract and annoy customers. Even a minor weight difference in the airfoils ruins the balance of the fan and shortens its useful life.
Controls: Leaning over a customer’s table to pull a chain on a ceiling fan is a gamble that could end with a spilled drink or contaminated food. Guests who are conscious of their personal space also might not appreciate the interruption to their conversation. To avoid the issue, install fans that can be controlled elsewhere, either from a remote or wall controller.
Adjustable Speed: Fans directly over dining areas need more than the typical three speed settings. Too often, low- and medium-speed settings are ineffective, while high-speed is too effective, annoying guests, blowing napkins around and cooling food too quickly. Comfort is personal to each guest, so have a middle ground available.
Size: For large, open spaces, a big ceiling fan is more effective and more energy-efficient than installing lots of small, high-speed fans. Mellow Mushroom’s fan, for example, is 12-feet in diameter, replacing four conventional ceiling fans that had to constantly remain on the fastest settings for guests to feel a breeze.
Good Looks: It goes without saying – restaurants that value a high-end or contemporary atmosphere should avoid old-fashioned, blocky ceiling fans that only come in white or brown finishes. They will stand out in a bad way.
Damp Rating: Ceiling fans in restaurants must be regularly cleaned, so they need to hold up to water. Avoid fans with pressboard blades in any area prone to humidity or moisture, or they’ll suffer the droop. Use metal or composite fans instead.
While guests might not say anything when the temperature is just right, they’ll certainly flag down a server if they’re too hot or too cold. With guest satisfaction the top priority for most restaurants, thermal comfort can be a major contributor to positive customer experiences.