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With long operating hours and lots of equipment for storing and cooking food, restaurants devour energy. Add lighting, estimated to account for 25 percent of the load, and you can understand why many operators are finding a place for low-voltage light-emitting diode (LED) sources at the table.

Denny’s recently tested LED lights from Durham, N.C., manufacturer Cree in various applications, and the results were such that Cree LEDs are now the preferred lighting standard for all new and remodeled units in the full-service family restaurant chain.

Pete LaBarre, a Denny’s franchisee in Colorado Springs, Colo., is seeing green — as in dollar savings — since converting to LEDs. LaBarre has installed more than 400 Cree LR6 downlights in the dining rooms of his five restaurants — a move that has saved him around $15,500 per year in energy costs alone.

Impressed with the energy and maintenance savings the LR6 lights provided in the dining area, LaBarre subsequently replaced 500 restaurant perimeter fluorescent lamps with 200 Cree LR6 fixtures.

“Our lights stay on all the time,” he says, “so we did a watt comparison of what we had in place before the LR6 downlights.

“We found that we used 6,000 kilowatt hours less per month in the store that had the Cree fixtures vs. the store that had the fluorescent lighting,” LaBarre says.

High color rendering
Franchisee Joey Terrell’s second Denny’s in Joliet, Ill., was built according to LEED Gold standard. His restaurant includes a combination of natural lighting and Cree LR6 LED downlights to reduce the lighting load.

According to Terrell, the lighting design reduced utility costs by 83 percent: His electricity bill is now around $1,000 a month, instead of the expected $2,100 a month based on the average costs for his Mokena, Ill., location. “Restaurants use 285 percent more utilities than the average commercial building,” he says. “The easiest way to reduce these costs and improve energy efficiency is to switch from traditional fluorescents to daylighting and LEDs.”

In addition to reduced energy and maintenance costs, the LR6 downlights provide “the quality of light customers want,” says Cree’s vice president of LED lighting sales Craig Lofton.

LaBarre concurs. “It really is lighter in our restaurants because of the LED lighting. Fluorescent lighting “was kind of turning the colors green,” and that’s a turnoff to diners.

“High color rendering is especially critical in the food service industry, where steaks need to be beautifully red, peppers should pop with color and the wood tones of the décor can create a warm, home-like atmosphere,” Lofton says.

LEDs offer benefits to workers, as well. At the Colorado Springs Denny’s, “One server told us there’s less glare now,” Lofton says. “She notices her eyes don’t hurt after a long shift.” Another server remarked that customers regularly inquire about the new lights. “They ask where they can get them for their homes,” he says.