The new Fork n’ Pint restaurant in Lake Orion, Michigan, installed front doorway air curtains in an effort to keep patrons and employees comfortable, resulting in more than $500 in annual energy savings and the elimination of $15,000 in potential vestibule construction costs.

Co-owner Doug Young thought a complete remodel of the 4,800-square-foot existing restaurant would set the table for optimum American comfort food dining; however, patrons and employees were frigidly uncomfortable near the interior front entrance when Fork n’ Pint opened in early 2018.

The cold entrance area wasn’t due to cutting corners during the renovation, as Young had invested upwards of $500,000 in a complete restaurant space remodel that included replacing the original multiple layers of 30-inch-thick concrete flooring, underfloor plumbing, HVAC, kitchen equipment, interior design, and dozens of other improvements.

After fielding patron wintertime cold complaints, Young eliminated three tables and 12 chairs near the drafty entrance. This resulted in lost revenue during full capacity periods, which was frequent since the restaurant was an instant hit with the small, suburban Detroit bedroom community of 3,000 people.

Most patrons were cold due to the many front door openings during peak times.

“When your host is writing down reservations while wearing a heavy coat and winter gloves, you know there’s an air comfort situation,” said Young, who co-owns the restaurant with brother Burge Young. 

Young could have added more remodeling expenses in the form of an airlock vestibule at an estimated $15,000; however, vestibules aren’t foolproof, especially when patrons hold both doors open simultaneously. Furthermore, more space was needed to accommodate a vestibule. 

“We didn’t have the space to add a vestibule, so the air curtain is now preventing cold air from entering when the door is opened,” said Young.

Young, who inherited two air curtains when acquiring the first Fork n’ Pint four years earlier in nearby Waterford, Michigan, reported positive experiences with the technology, as the Waterford location uses them effectively to prevent outdoor air and insect infiltration through two garage door-style openings between indoor dining and outdoor patio areas environments.

Manufactured by air curtain producer Berner Intl. and installed by Triple R Electric, the 72-inch-long Architectural Low Profile ALC08 air curtain was mounted over the double glass swing doors via steel wall brackets provided by the manufacturer. It activates automatically when the door is opened and an onboard electric heater is programmed with a delay to continually operate as a supplemental heater until the air curtain’s thermostatic control temperature set point is satisfied. The onboard controller allows Young to adjust the settings, including the motor speeds, as needed.

The air curtain successfully separates outdoor and indoor environments by projecting a steady airstream with optimum velocity, volume, and uniformity that meets the floor just outside the doorway’s threshold. 

While air comfort was Young’s motivation, the air curtain will also cut the restaurant’s air conditioning and heating energy usage by 139-MMBtu, resulting in a $583 annual savings. The savings is an estimate performed by manufacturer representative Gold Star Products of Oak Park, Michigan. The company used the free online Berner Energy Savings Calculator and based its finding on a total open door time of 1.5-hours per day, six days per week. The air curtain’s annual operating costs are under $10, not counting supplemental electric heat periods.

Young also finds his establishment unintentionally in vogue with current construction trends. The International Code Council (ICC) has approved air curtain vestibule substitutes per the ICC’s overlay International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) of 2015. The IECC creates prescriptive and performance-related provisions that local jurisdictions adopt to establish minimum energy regulations for building systems. Consequently, retailers, restaurants, and other commercial facilities are taking advantage of the IECC to cut constructions costs. The IECC allows the energy-saving substitution of air curtains to circumvent the high costs associated with vestibule construction, but they must be certified by the Air Movement and Control Association-International (AMCA).

Customers who were previously cold while sitting near the door at Fork n’ Pint now describe the air comfort as comparable to other parts of the restaurant, according to Young, who now plans to install air curtains over another door.