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Reliable power – switching on from off [part 1]

Protecting my revenue stream as a restauranteur

 

Power loss protection (part 1)

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You’re busy with 12-20 tables in the first seating, the kitchen is keeping up nicely, your servers are busy bringing out plates and drinks from the bar, and the hostess just seated another 4 person party it looks like a good evening is in store and…. the power goes out. The kitchen is now closed. Out in the dining room the customers are still eating, the emergency lights are on for the next 15 minutes, but the point-of-sale system is not working, and the heating/cooling system has shut down. Potential customers, just pulling in, see the lights are out and they pause to make alternate plans before pulling away. Sounds like a bad revenue evening. The power never goes out – right?

So what now? How do you handle a power outage while the restaurant is open?

Most restauranteurs tell their wait staff to pull out the pencils and start adding up tickets, calculating the tax, and totaling the bill. This is often met with varying amounts of success. And so begins the financial losses associated with a power outage. The prepared hot foods can no longer be kept hot and the chilled foods kept cold, and so both start their temperature migration to room temperature and the inevitable meeting with the trash dumpster.

Many restauranteurs hesitate to put food back into the walk-ins because to open a walk-in now would allow all the cool air to escape and accelerate the demise of the food inside. While this is generally a good plan for short duration outages, each passing minute without power the walk-in food is also making its inevitable march to the dumpster. The total losses a restauranteur may incur are dependent upon the duration of the power outage. No surprise there!

Can this be avoided, and how do I keep the lights on?

With some forward thinking and a few pieces of electrical equipment a power outage doesn’t have to stop your restaurant in its tracks. Making a few electrical changes to your restaurant could help it be the top revenue producer in the area during a power outage, and the “go-to” place whenever the weather is threatening. Inclement weather may become your best friend! We will discuss this in more detail in part 2 of power loss protection.

First, it’s more than just keeping the lights on with a box store generator. If you want to be the “go-to” place in threatening weather you need to market yourself as that kind of establishment, and you need to plan on upgrading a few key electrical components of your restaurant. The amount of money it will take is a function of the size of your restaurant (its electrical load) and the amount of time you want to keep the restaurant functioning hours – days without power.

The hard decision – it seems there’s always a hard decision

Do you as the restauranteur want to keep serving during a power outage or do you just want to close out tickets, process payments, and call it a night. There are advantages to both. Let’s look at just closing out tickets and payment processing.

To close out tickets the restaurant POS (Point Of Sale system) will need to be functioning and the credit card processing service must be reachable to process your batch. This means that you need power for the POS system and, if you have one, a credit card terminal. As you might imagine, there are lots and lots of configurations for POS systems and the same is true for card processing equipment. Without regard to the configuration you may have, we can safely agree that all POS systems and card processing systems need power to operate.

How to get power when the power is out

Fortunately, the problem of providing power to computers during power outages is not a new problem. The computer industry has been developing solutions to this problem since the late 1900’s. Their solution was appropriately named an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS). The name was a bit cumbersome to use in conversation so, the shorthand of UPS was quickly adopted and has become the title by which this technology is known today. The UPS is a device that will continue to provide power to computers (or other) equipment in the event of a power outage.

How does the UPS work and which kind do I purchase.

The UPS is comprised of a battery, a charger, and an AC generator/inverter all housed in a small rectangular box. The UPS plugs into a wall receptacle and your computer equipment then plugs into the UPS. Inside the UPS there is an internal battery charger which keeps the battery fully charged. In the event of power loss a small circuit board inside the UPS will detect the loss of power and will very quickly start to generate power identical to what the power company generates. Any devices plugged into the UPS receptacles will receive their power from the UPS and continue to operate for as long as the UPS battery can provide power. The length of time the UPS can provide power is a function of the rating of the UPS and the power needs of the equipment plugged into it.

How do I determine the UPS size?

Fortunately, all UPS manufacturers clearly state the size of their UPS on their packaging. the number that they advertise is the maximum power that the unit can output to support any connected devices. The number is typically provided in Volt-Amps.

To calculate how many Volt-Amps you need you will have to add up the power requirements of each piece of equipment. An easy way to do this is to make a list of all the pieces of equipment you are going to plug into the UPS. Next to each device list the voltage and amperage. To calculate the Volt-Amps multiply the voltage by the amperage. If the equipment only lists watts use that number as the Volt-Amp value. Once you have all the devices listed just add up the values and the resultant number is your Volt-Amp load.

To account for growth multiply the Volt-Amp load by 1.15. This will give you a 15% growth factor which is customary when sizing UPS systems. Locate a UPS that provides at least the same value as your calculated load value.

Runtime is another aspect of the UPS that you need to think about. The runtime is the amount of time that your UPS will be able to provide power at the stated Volt-Amp rating.

Most UPS’s will run for 5 minutes providing power at their full Volt-Amp load. If you want the UPS to run twice as long you need to adjust either side of the equation. Either cut in half the calculated Volt-Amp load or double the UPS Volt-Amp rating. So, the lower your Volt-Amp load and the higher the UPS’ Volt-Amp rating the longer the UPS will run. Still, it is a good idea to not waste a lot of time once the power goes out before customer checks are printed and credit cards are run. Its almost always a good idea to purchase UPS systems that are rated higher than your calculated Volt-Amp requirement. This is because you want a longer runtime before the UPS exhausts its internal battery and shuts off. Consider sizing your UPS to be at least twice the calculated volt-amp requirement. Of course more is always better so if you can go three times larger that will buy you even more runtime.

What should I connect to the UPS ?

As a general rule most POS systems have a computer that stores the master file from which all other POS terminals share data. This computer should be protected as should at least one other POS station. Don’t forget that the printer needs to be connected to the UPS and the monitor as well. Most restauranteurs connect their POS and peripherals to desktop UPS systems that are placed next to, or under, each POS system. It will depend on how much space you have to work with as to where you will place your UPS’s.

If you use the internet to process payments, don’t forget your router, switch, and any other telecommunications-related equipment (like a cable modem). You will need to connect these devices to a UPS to keep them running as well. If you use a phone line there is sometimes a phone base station that will need to be protected by the UPS. Be sure to get a small LED light that you can use to see the keyboard and credit card terminal. When the power is out it can get very dark.

Shutting down gracefully

UPS systems available today often are equipped with the ability to shut down POS computers when the UPS’ battery is running out of power. This is called a graceful shutdown as opposed to just turning off the power while the POS is running. Whenever possible you should opt for a graceful shutdown. It is less damaging to the POS system and does not require intervention by anyone. If you are unsure of how to configure the shutdown feature, call your POS support line and they can assist you.

Which manufacturers are recommended?

There are many manufacturers of UPS systems that will work just fine for your needs. Because you operate a commercial venture I would lean towards manufacturers that vend to the commercial marketplace. APC, Trip-Lite, and CyberPower all have a significant presence in the commercial sector, and each have competitive pricing for smaller UPS systems. I have heard good reports about each manufacturer, yet APC seems to get better overall press. Their smart-ups line is well designed for POS systems. I personally have all three in one flavor or another.

[Factoid]

Most electronic equipment repairs are due to power problems. Adding a smart UPS that continually monitors the line voltage and will kick in to provide clean power when there is either a low voltage, high voltage, or just dirty power, will significantly decrease repairs/failures due to failed power supplies. Is anyone thinking of the LED TV’s that you just purchased and hung on the walls? Don’t forget to protect their power supplies as well with a UPS.

UPS management the UPS and downs

Having UPS systems at each POS station and at the router/switch does add an additional burden on the restauranteur to check each month that the batteries are in good condition. Yet, having a checklist is not unfamiliar territory to most restaurant owners. It takes only a moment to see if there is an indicator light showing a bad battery. One of the nice features of network-attached UPS systems is that they are usually able to be viewed from a single workstation and configured to send an email if one of the UPS’ determine they have a low battery. These UPS’ also typically have internal thermal protection to keep the batteries from becoming too hot.

By far the best feature of the more recent network attached UPS systems is remote management. Most of the UPS manufacturers of commercial grade UPS systems all offer remote management of the installed UPS. This service will check your UPS periodically and listen for alerts from the UPS indicating trouble or the need for battery replacement. If a battery replacement is needed they will send you the replacements or dispatch a repair technician to replace batteries for you. The service is inexpensive and takes the burden off of you to manage one more thing in your business.

What if I don’t want a bunch of UPS’s all over the place, but do want the protection of an UPS

There is a solution for this too. The question to be answered is one of electrical load. It is possible to have a single UPS provide power to all your devices, but it must be sized to your electrical load. These UPS systems use larger batteries and stand a bit taller than the desktop UPS models. An electrician will be able to install this type of UPS with a new load center(breaker panel) to which the outlets for each POS will be attached. I have seen restauranteurs connect a few lights to these larger UPS systems too. Bear in mind that each device you add to this larger UPS increases the electrical load and reduces the overall runtime of the UPS. An example of this type of UPS is the 4000 watt/ 5000 Volt-Amp APC smart-UPS which can be either mounted in a rack or set up as a tower. An example model would be: SUA5000RMT5U which looks like these pictures:

Using this type of UPS allows you to protect the flat screen TV’s in your bar, your POS system, your security cameras, and have enough power left for a few LED ceiling lights. The cost is around $2,000. and the convenience is hard to beat.

Investing in this style of UPS does not preclude you from upgrading later to a facility generator. This UPS will still have a role to play if you choose a generator for your restaurant.

In summary, don’t be caught without power protection for your restaurant. By implementing a desktop or facility UPS model you will remove just one of the potential headaches of maintaining your restaurant revenue stream when the lights go out. For a more comprehensive solution to protecting your business investment, review part 2 of this discussion.

 

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