Approximately 15 per cent of all industrial, commercial and institutional (ICI) water usage comes from the restaurant industry. From prep to cooking, from washing to sanitizing, foodservice operators use water throughout their whole process. A Vancouver benchmark study revealed usage figures of 87.1 litres per seat, per day, with some mild variance for type of food and service. Nevertheless, across the board, that usage number rises in the summer.
While Canada’s freshwater is abundant, it’s not evenly spread across the country. Nor is it infinite. Recent years have made us all more aware of human impact on our water systems, and with hard work we have made improvements in both water conservation and quality.
Continued improvement is not only possible, it also provides benefits in unexpected directions. Kimberly Wright-Caraballo, a Water Consultant with the City of Toronto, explains that every cubic litre of water saved also saves one kilowatt hour of energy. That’s not just good for the planet, it’s also sound business practice.
The best way to begin your water conservation efforts is to start by examining your past and current water usage. “You can’t measure what you don’t meter” says Steven Snopkowski, Water Smart Business Program Coordinator with the City of Guelph. “Be proactive to get that understanding. Reach out to your local utility for support and expertise to get that information. Then you can make significant changes.”
There are many changes that will help you conserve water. Some are the concrete changes are small, others will require investment of time and/or capital. But these changes in process, education and equipment all have the same goal: to ensure we use our most important resource as wisely and carefully as we can.
Inspect your water heater, and make sure any leaking faucet or fixture is fixed immediately. Tiny drips can quickly add up to large losses. Ensure your hot water pipes are properly insulated.
Use blinds and shades to block the light and heat, as well as fans to move cooled air around. This has the added benefit of saving power as well as water.
Dishwashing accounts for a significant portion of water usage in restaurants. Low-flow pre-rinse spray nozzles save water, power and time. Opt for Energy Star dishwashers; they use much less water than older models — sometimes half as much. Wash full racks only.
Wright-Caraballo says air-cooled (rather than water-cooled) refrigeration systems offer a significant reduction in water use. Other recommended Energy Star equipment includes: closed-system steamers, which recycle their own water supply by reusing condensation; air-cooled ice machines, which use thousands fewer litres of water per year, and low-flow aerators for hand-washing and motion sensor taps.
When it comes to cleaning large areas, use highly-efficient water brooms instead instead of hoses. Dry-clean carpets with dry shampoo rather than steam-cleaning them.
Water from steam tables can later be used to wash down cooking areas. Used blanching water can be cooled and used to water any domestic plants, gardens or herbs.
First, it will help you establish proper water-saving procedures. Second, even more importantly, it will make everyone on the team aware of the importance of water conservation. Your employees may have ideas and suggestions that can further help.
Don’t use water to thaw frozen food; use a thaw rack and proper timing.
For items that require hand washing, use the three-sink method: wash, rinse, sterilize. Use cold water for the sanitization sink; hot water reduces the effectiveness of the sanitizer and cold water saves power.
While your main efforts may be aimed at the kitchen, don’t forget about the public areas. Wright Caraballo recommends installing low-flow taps and toilets in all restrooms. “Today’s versions use much less water than older models.”
When it comes to water conservation, your local government can be your ally. Many municipalities offer special programs and rebates for ICI water users. Guelph’s Water Smart Business Program offers support through knowledge, tech support and financial incentives.
Snopkowski says the program has helped customers save 4.5 billion litres of water since 2007. The City of Toronto has three rebate programs for ICI users. Each involves some paperwork and follow-up: all of them reduce both water use and cost. Some jurisdictions may offer equipment replacement incentives, and all of them should have valuable advice.
When you clearly communicate your intentions, your customers can help your efforts. Plant-based menu options generally require less water in the farm stage: that’s something guests would like to discover on your menu. Try not filling water glasses until asked. It may feel inhospitable and counter-intuitive, but it gives your customers a chance to be part of your whole conservation process. Water is so fundamental to every part of our lives — it’s good to make everyone part of the endeavour.