3 Rules of Thumb for Outdoor LED Lights for Quick Service Restaurants

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We work with a lot of quick service restaurant owners, and one of the hot topics of conversation these days is outdoor LED lights. While lighting typically represents less than 15 percent of a company’s overall electric bill, we support good practices across the board, as long as they also make good financial sense.

It turns out that outdoor lights demand a lot of energy, so LED lighting can improve both energy-efficiency and quality. But they are not cheap, so it’s important to know the facts before you switch.

Here are our top rules of thumb for evaluating outdoor LED lighting as a quick-service restaurant.


Rule #1: Target lights you use more than four hours a day.

When making the switch, the need to update your fixtures and the higher bulb cost can deliver a shock to your expense line. If the lights you convert are used fewer than four hours a day the payback period may be too long to justify the expense. On the other hand, if you maintain overnight lighting for security requirements or to comply with municipal mandates, your payback period will be significantly accelerated.


Rule #2: Metal halides are a high-value target, but also a high-cost conversion.

Those halide lights in your parking lot are probably costing you more than you realize. In addition to their high energy consumption (a typical Halide pole light costs more than $100 a year to power, based on 12 hours a day of usage), they also require a lot of maintenance, more than $200 a year according to U.S. Department of Energy estimates.

Installing LED fixtures in their place is a costly expense about $1,500 – $2,000 per pole with labor. It will cut your energy use by 40 percent, but the payback time is often close to 10 years.


Rule #3: Don’t Overlook the Maintenance Costs

When you evaluate outdoor LED lights be sure to consider the cost of maintenance of your legacy lighting. (The above estimates for payback time do not include maintenance.)

Traditional outdoor lighting requires routine bulb replacement, which requires a cherry picker. Because LED bulbs last exponentially longer maintenance savings can add up, and other maintenance is minimal, just occasional washing with a spray hose and trimming away overgrowth, both easy DIY projects.

When you review vendor estimates of your projected payback period, however, be sure maintenance estimates represent your actual practices as opposed to “best practices.” We don’t know any owners who are bringing in a cherry picker every three months to replace a couple of bulbs.

The best business cases for switching are when you have:

  • Older lighting fixtures
  • 24-hour locations
  • Overnight lighting requirements

A final thought: If you make the switch to LEDs outdoors, don’t forget to review and update the control settings on your timers. One mistake we see a lot of our customers make is to trust those controllers too much, and not realize when they’ve gotten out of sync. Ensuring good habits for lighting use also helps to maximize savings.

Want to know when it makes sense to convert your indoor lights to LEDs?


Marco Loeffke is an Energy Analyst with PlotWatt; as such he spends most of his time converting customers’ energy data into actionable, energy-saving insights. Marco holds a BSE in Electrical and Computer Engineering, a BS in Economics, and a BA in Environmental Science and Policy from Duke University.

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