October 3, 2011
By Elissa Elan
Restaurants are doing their part to conserve water during what may be the worst drought in Texas' history.
Because water regulation is so localized and splintered in Texas, the state is a patchwork of mandates, limitations and recommendations on use. But for restaurants, that really hasn't mattered, says Wendy Saari, vice president of marketing for the Texas Restaurant Association.
"Most restaurants have moved to offering water only upon request, and are really being cognizant of the water issue," she says. "How often they're running their dishwashers, how often they wash off their side walks, how often they water the grass - the things you used to take for granted are being reconsidered because of the situation."
But customers are very much aware of the drought, Saari adds. "I've not heard of one instance of pushback," she says. "Everyone appreciates what [restaurateurs are] doing."
Saari further noted that the TRA has facilitated those water conservation efforts by referring operators to the National Restaurant Association's Conserve Sustainability Education Program website, which offers tips for saving water and energy.
"It was absolutely a help," says Chuck Smith, operator of the Moonshine Patio Bar and Grill in Austin, and a member of the TRA's board of directors. In keeping with Conserve's recommendations, many Texas operators have reached out to local utilities companies, which often will conduct free onsite audits to discover where an establishment could trim consumption.
"They might say, 'Here's where you could have a leak; that toilet is 100 years old. Have you thought about waterless urinals?' " Saari says. Moonshine's Smith says restaurateurs in his state will be making more changes in a continuing effort to reduce water consumption.
"Longer term, conservation is shifting to more efficient equipment - maybe ice makers that use less water, things like that," says Moonshine's Smith. "It gets humid down here, even with the drought. You wouldn't believe how much water we could get from the condensation that forms on air conditioning equipment. New restaurants will be looking at that sort of thing."
Saari further notes she expects conservation efforts to remain in force even when the current drought eases.
"With saving water, a lot of our members look at it as a very practical and realistic thing that has to be done for their communities," she says. "Because of the drought, it's become more top of mind.
"As it becomes more of a habit and people realize it's a savings on their water bill, or that not offering water with every meal doesn't impact your customers negatively, they may look to make those changes permanently. It'll just become part of their business."
The money you save on operating costs (through energy efficiency) adds to what you get to keep, so saving 20% on energy operating costs can increase your profit as much as 33%.
Find out green trends and more in the 2011 Restaurant Industry Forecast. Learn more