People who have seen me speak at conferences, workshops and tradeshows are familiar with my technique of using humor to make a point about energy efficiency. I love nothing better than to poke a little fun at some of the energy-wasteful things that I see in the food service world – not to be bossy or pedantic – just to lighten the mood and perhaps illuminate some of the things that we might all be doing better. With that attitude in mind, I hope you will indulge me as we ponder the question of “the Twinkie hanging from your ceiling”.
But first, a little background: I love good food and I especially love good, locally-grown, freshly prepared food. In fact as I’m writing this I’m enjoying a cup of premium “third-wave” coffee and a vegetarian egg brioche with fresh figs, greens and walnuts on a gluten free bun. (This would be the appropriate time for my burger-and-fries friends to have a chuckle at my expense.) I’m sitting in a beautiful sunlit cafe in Oakland CA and right across the street I can see the super-popular, nationally-famous restaurant that first inspired the idea of these dangling twinkles that I want to talk about.
This restaurant is super-popular for a reason; the food is amazingly good, fresh, local, and creative and the chef/owner is completely dedicated to his craft. I’ve had some of my favorite meals here and it was in this restaurant, while I was having lunch with lighting expert Derry Berrigan, that I was first able to articulate what was bugging me so much about many of my favorite local restaurants and bars. Derry and I were talking about the current practice of using antique-looking Edison style lamps in so many new establishments. These lamps are not our favorites. Besides the fact that the last time these lamps were fashionable was back in the 90’s (that would be the 1890’s) they are incredibly inefficient light sources and they add lots of heat to the space. To a sustainability geek like myself, these are charming little eco-nightmares.
In a flash of insight it suddenly came to me: “Derry” I said, “this chef, who cares so much about food sustainability that he raises his own chickens, would never pull a Twinkie out of the package, throw it on a plate and add it to his desert menu, but his ceiling is filled with these antique space heaters masquerading as lighting. Seeing these lamps in a restaurant that prides itself on sustainability is just as weird as seeing a Twinkie on the menu.”
[Now don’t get me wrong. I love a Twinkie as much as the next guy. They are a much beloved snack food with an amazing shelf life. It’s just that they are not exactly farmer’s market fare.]
“Derry” I continued, “I think that if this chef and all his chef friends knew that these energy guzzlers were driving up their utility bills and wasting natural resources, they would find some alternative and this nostalgia fad would fade away.”
Derry, who is one of the Nation’s top LED experts and a forward thinking lighting designer, had a quick comeback. “Richard, you have to admit that these lamps do add a certain quaint charm to the space, especially in an old brick building like this. What’s your efficient alternative?”
Okay, point well taken. Derry always inspires me to think about the big picture. So here are a couple of thoughts regarding these lamps:
- If you really love the look of these lamps, please use them sparingly and think of them as “quaint decorations.” Then, make sure that you are using the most energy-efficient lighting in the rest of your business.
- Check out some of the efficient alternatives to these lamps. Manufacturers like Rambus and Plumen make some lamps with really interesting form factors.
- Consider using actual fixtures instead of just lamps on a cord. When did we decide as a culture that bare bulbs hanging from the ceiling were “good design”? An LED lamp inside a nice pendant fixture is a better looking alternative and the energy savings will pay for the extra up-front cost of the fixture itself.
The bottom line is this: If you really want to operate a truly green and sustainable restaurant, then you should not be lighting your space with the most inefficient, energy-wasting light bulb on the planet. No Twinkies on the menu – no Twinkies hanging from the ceiling!