How to Reduce Water Use in Your Restaurant or Hotel
It's not surprising that hospitality businesses use a lot of water – but it's crucial that they minimise this where possible. In this article, we explore the practical steps that restaurants and hotels can take to reduce their water use and explain why this is so important.
Between operating equipment like dishwashers, preparing food, cleaning and regular hand hygiene – in addition to customer and staff bathroom use – it’s no surprise that F&B businesses use a lot of water.
While water scarcity might not be high on your list of concerns (especially for businesses in wealthy countries, in areas that don’t currently suffer from drought), this issue is much more urgent than you might suspect. Freshwater is surprisingly rare, accounting for just 3% of the world’s total water – and two-thirds of that is frozen in glaciers or otherwise unavailable for use. Around 1.1 billion people around the world already lack access to water, while 2.7 billion suffer from water scarcity for at least one month of the year. At our current rates of consumption, two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortages by 2025.
The climate crisis is accelerating this problem, altering global weather and water patterns, resulting in droughts in some areas and floods in others. More than half the world’s wetlands have disappeared, while rivers and lakes are drying up or becoming too polluted to use. Meanwhile, our agricultural system relies on high volumes of water, tying our future food security to our dwindling freshwater reserves.
Why hospitality businesses should care about water use
Large-scale water waste is a problem in almost every foodservice business, meaning that there is the potential for enormous volumes to be saved by implementing better practice and more careful monitoring across the industry.
The good news is that reducing water waste can be very straightforward; significant volumes of water can be saved by making some simple day-to-day changes and potentially replacing some equipment. Plus, restaurants and hotels that build water-efficient practices into their daily operations can also see reductions in operating costs and energy use.
Read on to learn how your business can decrease your water use in practical ways.
Understanding your water use
Before you can start reducing your water use, it’s important to understand your current patterns. Conducting a water audit should identify where you’re using the most water and highlight areas where you need to improve. While larger companies may choose to outsource this process, it’s just as important for small businesses, and it can be carried out by a business owner, manager or designated staff member.
How to conduct a water audit
- Look for any physical damage or inefficiencies in your taps, pipes and appliances – leaks can waste a high volume of water, and even a dripping tap can have a significant impact over time. While most of your water use might be in the kitchen, don’t forget the bathrooms: check automatic sensors on faucets, toilets and urinals to ensure they are operating properly and don’t use unnecessary water.
- Examine your restaurant’s water use patterns, identifying areas where positive changes could be made.
- Set realistic but ambitious goals for reducing your water consumption.
- Make a plan for how to meet these goals, putting timelines in place and clearly identifying who is responsible for each action.
Get your team on board
Just like every part of sustainability work, getting staff involved is key to success.
- Make water conservation a consistent part of your messaging. Include water consumption policies and procedures during inductions and training materials for new staff, and add water efficiency to the agenda at team meetings to keep everyone up to date on how you’re progressing against your goals.
- Nominate one member of staff (or more, if you have more than one location) as a ‘water steward’ to help keep everyone on board.
- Install signs in your kitchen and bathroom areas to remind staff and customers to use water wisely, and display water smart posters in kitchens, staff rooms and toilets.
- Encourage employees to report any issues – such as leaks, drips or faulty equipment – as soon as they arise.
- Celebrate milestones along the way and offer incentives for team members who help create positive change.
Larger-scale changes to reduce water use
- If you’ve pinpointed any leaks or drips, make sure these are fixed ASAP – there’s no point implementing any other measures until you’ve got those sorted.
- Invest in water efficient devices and appliances; over the long term, this can have a significant impact on the amount of water and money you use in the kitchen. You don’t have to replace them all in one go if budget doesn’t allow, but when the time does come to buy new equipment, be sure to choose water-smart options.
- Many ice machines actually discard some of the water they take in, rather than freezing it all. Choose a machine that converts as close as possible to 100% of its water intake into ice. As a bonus, newer models often have a better energy efficiency rating, meaning you’ll also cut your energy bills.
- Go low-flow. The food industry requires a lot of hand washing, so installing low-flow taps — preferably with motion sensors — is a simple, inexpensive and effective way to decrease consumption. When it comes to dealing with dirty dishes, low-flow rinsing nozzles use significantly less water than older models.
- Hotel rooms can benefit from low-flow taps and shower heads and dual-flush toilets.
- Think outside the box. In 2023, we named Pensons the winner of the 2023 Sustainability Award at The Estrella Damm National Restaurant Awards. The initiative that really caught our attention was how they’d set up their own on-site laundry to reduce their environmental impacts. This included a system in which rainwater was captured, filtered and stored on-site, providing 75% of the water required.
- While potentially expensive to install, hotels with budget designated for sustainable investment might consider installing a greywater system. This enables up to 50% of wastewater from sinks and baths to be returned to the hotel after treatment; this can then be used in functions such as toilet flushing.
Rethinking your everyday water habits
Much of water consumption comes down to behavioural habits, so take a step back and look at how your restaurant’s cultural ‘norms’ might be contributing – especially in your kitchen.
- Saving water can be as simple as getting into the habit of turning down valves or turning off taps; water is often left flowing when not needed.
- If you’re running the tap and waiting for hot water to come through, don’t waste the flow: catch the water and use it for tasks like washing produce, making stock, rinsing dishes or cleaning.
- For most kitchens, dishwashers are responsible for the biggest proportion of water use. Make sure your team is using the economy setting and only turning it on when fully loaded.
- Make it standard practice for kitchen staff to scrape food waste into the compost bin before rinsing dishes to reduce how much water is needed; this will also cut the amount of fat going down your drains.
- Don't thaw food under cool running water; instead, be organised enough to thaw in the fridge overnight.
- Look for what you can change on the floor, too. Rethink bringing water to every table; many customers don’t end up drinking it. Instead, put a note at the top of the menu or drinks list explaining that you are working to minimise water waste but that tap water is of course available for anyone who requests it; you’ll be surprised how much water waste this can prevent.
- Build a schedule for regular, routine maintenance on all machines that use water to check for leaks, ensure that valves are closing properly, etc.
What about your food offering?
Be aware and respectful of how much water is used in food production; every ingredient you buy requires fresh water to produce – sometimes in shocking volumes.
- Avoiding food waste is critical work for the hospitality industry. By reducing food waste, you’ll also ensure that the water used to produce said food hasn’t gone to waste either.
- In terms of freshwater resources, it is vastly more efficient to obtain calories, protein and fat through plant products than animal ones. While the effect might be less tangible than that of fixing a leak or buying a new dishwasher, redesigning your menu to feature fewer water-heavy foods (like meat and nuts) can have a truly meaningful impact on the overall water use of your business. Over time, this can also help to reshape our food system, encouraging the transition of more agricultural land to crop farming rather than animal husbandry. This is key for our future food and water security.
Communicate with your customers
Getting your customers on board can also have an impact – plus, consumers are increasingly interested in supporting environmentally-friendly businesses, so being transparent about your sustainability work makes good marketing sense.
- Include signage in customer bathrooms explaining why you’ve installed low-flow toilets and taps (or, where necessary, reminding them to turn off taps after use).
- In hotels, the facilities within rooms are often the source of much water waste. Clear and succinct signage in each guest bathroom can go a long way towards changing habits. Encourage guests to use the shower instead of having a bath; suggest that they turn the tap off while shaving or brushing teeth; and invite them to reuse towels and linens.
- Include details of your water use goals and progress in the sustainability section of your website, and share news of accomplishments on your social media channels.
Water use is just one of 10 key focus areas for sustainable foodservice businesses. Read about the Food Made Good Framework here, or take our free Food For Thought quiz to see how your food business measure up.
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