Steve Brown, president of LC Systems in Dublin, Ohio, has been impressed with the company’s policies as both an employer and a responsible neighbor. “They are very focused on employee retainment and satisfaction,” he said.
LC Systems and Trane recently teamed up to improve comfort conditions for White Castle outlets, through a combined rooftop comfort conditioning and range hood exhaust system. Brown’s company focuses on the restaurant-kitchen exhaust market. Trane’s Voyager™ and Precedent™ packaged platforms also were incorporated into the system.
“When White Castle came to me, it was about comfort,” Brown said. “It wasn’t energy or maintenance, it was employee comfort.
“When I started working with them, it took me about six months to find someone working there who hadn’t been there for years. It made sense,” he continued: “When I learned that and I was providing their exhaust hoods, it was obviously motivated by the company’s desire to maintain employees, to keep these folks and make them happy.”
IF THE COOK'S NOT HAPPY ...Due to the nature of his company’s business, Brown has a high awareness of the challenges facing restaurant owners. The biggest challenge is hanging on to good employees, and one of the main reasons for their turnover are kitchen conditions.
“If the conditions are poor, productivity suffers,” he said. During initial research for White Castle, LC Systems and Trane had dataloggers installed in two restaurant locations within 25 miles of one another. One restaurant had the Total Kitchen HVAC™ developed by the two companies; the other one didn’t.
Every 10 days, someone from LC or Trane would go to the sites to download performance data. “During the summer months when it was hot outside, you could see the difference in the faces of the employees,” Brown said. “Nobody was in a good mood when you went into a kitchen that was hot and humid.”
It isn’t just a matter of making employees happy; in a restaurant environment, employee discomfort can affect the speed and accuracy of filling orders. If employee discomfort is high, more orders are returned by customers. More materials are used to replace them correctly. More customers are dissatisfied and complain to their friends. That doesn’t even take into account the effects of grumpy employees interfacing with customers.
“The overall environment is very important,” Brown said. “In the restaurant industry today, finding and retaining employees is a critical issue.” An oppressive kitchen can drive away employees for good. “They’re mostly not used to working in a hot, humid kitchen,” he said. “There is a big difference in acclimation for newcomers to the restaurant industry.”
A big challenge is achieving proper kitchen exhaust while delivering efficient, effective customer and employee comfort cooling. Poorly ventilated kitchens can drive cooks and other employees out of the cooking areas temporarily until it becomes bearable. This leads to slower order fulfillment and order problems - not good for any restaurant, but especially not for fast food, where speed is part of their reason to exist.
COMFORT VS. COOKINGMost restaurants have two ventilation systems, one for the kitchen hood exhaust and the other for the central HVAC system. On the energy side, it takes a significant amount of outside air to make up for kitchen hood exhaust. Meeting this requirement can push comfort heating and cooling energy costs very high.
Like everyone else these days, restaurant owners and operators have been looking for ways to reduce energy costs without making comfort conditions worse. White Castle wanted to reduce costs and actually make employee comfort better.
Each White Castle restaurant has about 2,000 square feet of space. New and renovated restaurants will feature a Total Kitchen HVAC™ system developed by LC Systems and Trane. According to Brown, “It uses a dedicated outdoor air unit to control all of the air introduced into the system.” By integrating the kitchen hood into the kitchen HVAC system, the hood becomes part of the total HVAC system. The dedicated outdoor air unit provides HVAC, plus ventilated conditioned air through the hood for the kitchen.
“When we introduce this air, it’s not as cold as you would introduce through a conventional system,” Brown said. “It’s room neutral - 72° to 73°F is appropriate.” The change in immediate temperatures makes no changes to the cooking process. “Nothing is taking longer to cook.”
LC-TRANE COMBOTotal Kitchen HVAC is an LC Systems product, Brown confirmed. “We used the Trane rooftop unit in the application. Trane has been promoting it because they have seen their product used and their people reported good results. They feel they should make their customers aware of it.”
The system combines traditional restaurant heating and cooling with kitchen ventilation by supplying 100 percent outdoor air to condition the space and replace the air exhausted through the kitchen ventilation system. The new unit features fully modulated direct- or indirect-fired heating and modulating cooling to deliver better temperature and humidity control.
“Most every customer that we have using the Trane rooftop unit as part of Total Kitchen HVAC has indicated energy savings for heating and cooling,” Brown said. “Everybody with a normal, operating kitchen has seen energy savings in both gas and cooling.”
White Castle has been using the system in its restaurant replacements. That’s right: At a predetermined time, the company replaces the entire restaurant building, tearing down the old one and putting up the new one on an adjoining space. Over time, each new White Castle restaurant will feature the Total Kitchen HVAC system and Restaurant Rooftop Unit.
“White Castle is probably one of the best good neighbors out there,” Brown said. “They stay in the same neighborhoods for years. They are one of the best customers I’ve ever worked with as far as dedication to their employees and their staff.”
The system also is being used in more typical retrofit applications by mechanical contractors. “When you start bringing the hood system into the total HVAC, it requires the skills of a total mechanical contractor,” Brown said. “You’re talking about the total building - heating, cooling, ventilation, and controls.
“Trane’s approach to total building controls is state-of-the-art,” he said. “For this type of system, they’re not more complicated but they are more eloquent. The controls on the Trane rooftop unit are accessed with an integrated touch screen. The human interface is much simpler than the controls we used before. It’s more intuitive than any of the controls I have used.”
“We are achieving better control of space humidity, temperature, and energy costs in our units that heat and cool with 100 percent outdoor air,” said Jeff Lynch, White Castle project engineer. “These 100 percent outdoor air designs are the most comfortable of any we have installed or tested.”
For more information, contact Steve Brown, LC Systems, at 614-235-9430; email@example.com; www.lc-systems.com.