When diners consider water at a restaurant, they’re thinking about the liquid in the drinking glasses at their table. But that’s a small fraction of the water restaurants use—and they use a lot.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates foodservice and hospitality businesses account for 15 percent of the water in America’s commercial facilities.
Most of the agua employed by restaurants—52 percent, the EPA reports—is associated with equipment and processes in the kitchen, while restrooms follow at 31 percent. Drinking water is less than 1 percent.
Operators have many options to reduce water usage: Serving water only if diners request it, fitting aerators on faucets, making sure dishwashers are full, installing efficient toilets and sensor-activated faucets, and using water-catching landscaping devices.
“The technology has increased greatly,” says Michael Oshman, founder and chief executive of the Boston-based Green Restaurant Association (GRA), which helps eateries become more sustainable. “You can get incredible efficiencies.”
For instance, most full-service restaurants have pre-rinse units with high-pressure spray valves to cut the time workers spend scraping dishes before loading them into dishwashers. A low-flow spray provides a quick, environmentally friendly return.
“Considering what you’re paying for heating water and what goes down the drain, you can save thousands of dollars per year on a $60 investment,” Oshman notes.
Major equipment purchases like energy-efficient dishwashers, ice machines, and steam cookers can add up to big savings, although these investments take more time to recoup, he says. “Each has a payback; the question is how much and how quickly.”
Water thrift can be found throughout a restaurant, says Marcus Guiliano, a food activist, lecturer, and chef and owner of Aroma Thyme Bistro in Ellenville, New York.
“First off, we installed low-cost, low-flow aerators in all the sinks,” he says. “Where it really helps is in the kitchen. Chefs love to turn on the water and let it go, for cooling, defrosting, and so on. It’s a drastic difference in terms of water usage.”