The world hasn’t fully realized the harsh consequences of dwindling water supplies, not to mention the effects a water shortage has on modern agriculture and food industries. Climate change is predicted to increase the rate and intensity of water shortages and droughts, like California’s state-wide shortage in 2015. Restaurants are among the more vulnerable businesses affected by poor water access and high utility costs. To thrive in our changing climate, restaurateurs should learn to conserve water and adapt to a future where water is more expensive and not as readily available.

The foodservice and hospitality industries use about 15 percent of the total water consumption in commercial and institutional facilities in the United States, according to Environmental Protection Agency estimates. A restaurant’s biggest water use is naturally in the kitchen, going mostly to equipment operation, food preparation, and cleaning. (Restrooms are the second highest.)

Water use affects a restaurant’s operating costs, environmental impacts and — in an increasingly environmentally savvy market — brand image. The EPA estimates restaurants that implement water-efficient practices can decrease operating costs by roughly 11 percent, energy use by 10 percent and water use by 15 percent.

Here are 10 ways restaurants can save water and reduce how strongly water shortages affect operating costs.

Use ENERGY STAR appliances
EPA’s ENERGY STAR certification cause a renaissance in consumer and industrial appliances, pushing manufacturers to design and market products that consume less energy and water. The best opportunities to replace aging restaurant equipment with a sleek ENERGY STAR certified product are:
    • Refrigerators
    • Freezers
    • Dishwashers
    • Ovens
    • Coolers
    • Ice machines

The EPA also offers energy efficiency financing to offset the investment costs for new appliances, which helps save more money in the long run.

Use air-cooled ice machines
A water-cooled ice machine that produces 800 pounds of ice uses an extra 1,300 gallons of water each day to cool the condenser. ENERGY STAR models are approximately 15 percent more energy efficient and 10 percent more water efficient than their conventional counterparts, according to the Arizona Department of Water Resources. A better option is installing an air-cooled ice machine, which uses 100,000 fewer gallons of water per year for a 500 pound machine.

Fix leaky faucets and pipes
Drips and leaks in a faucet, appliance or pipe waste a surprising amount of water. Use a Water Leak Cost Calculator to evaluate water and energy use to determine how expensive a single dripping faucet is. Be aware, this expense is calculated on an annual basis, so a one-time plumber fee will save money and water in the long run.

Install Low-Flow Faucets
Hygiene and cleanliness are paramount in the food industry, which means a lot of hand washing occurs throughout the day, from both staff and customers. Installing low-flow faucets, preferably ones with motion sensors, are a simple, inexpensive and effective way to immediately decrease water consumption.

Use Low-Flow Pre-Rinse Spray Nozzles
A common practice in restaurants is pre-rinsing dishes before manually washing or loading them into a dishwasher. Older industrial pre-rinse spray valves use up to five gallons of water per minute, whereas modern low-flow nozzles only use 0.65 gallons per minute. As a bonus, most pre-rinse sprayers use hot water, so conserving the number of gallons used per minute can also slash energy costs. As a best practice, scrape food waste into a waste can prior to rinsing; it will reduce pre-rinse time as well as reduce the grease going down your drain.

Swap to Boilerless Cookers
Boiler-based steam cookers can use up to 40 gallons of water per hour, averaging 175,000 gallons per year. A boiler with ENERGY STAR certification uses roughly 10 percent less water. Another option? Use a closed system steamer, which recycles its water supply and reuses condensation that would otherwise evaporate.

Schedule Regular Water Use
It can be difficult to tell how effective efforts to decrease water consumption are. The best way to determine where a restaurant might need to improve is to schedule periodic assessments by a third-party company. These assessments can thwart any potential water or energy waste before it happens.

A water consumption evaluation may include inspecting:
    • Automatic faucet sensors
    • Automatic toilet and urinal sensors
    • Dishwasher nozzles
    • Pressure gauges, gaskets, automatic solenoid valves
    • Water heater temperature pressure relief valve
    • Water heater storage tank
    • Air conditioning units
    • Swamp coolers

Replace Hoses with Water Broom
Using a garden hose, or similar type instrument, to hose down high-trafficked areas, such as garbage storage containers and entrances, will use more water than necessary to complete the job. Consider swapping the hose with a water broom, which cleans more efficiently by only using half as much water.

Build employee awareness
Outside of replacing old fixtures, refitting faucets and repairing leaks, water consumption comes down to employee habits. Teach employees that water consumption is important, and train them on how to use only what’s necessary.

Reuse Greywater
Kitchens produce a lot of excess water throughout the day, from ice buckets to old dishwater. For restaurants that have foliage, whether it’s a lawn, garden or shrubbery, reusing greywater for irrigation can cut down on overall maintenance costs. Just remember to ensure the water is free of salt.