This week’s blog is by Marilyn Hall, Water Conservation Coordinator for Athens-Clarke County
A couple of weeks ago I received an application from the Outback Steakhouse for our Certified Blue Program. This was the first major national chain to apply! I was very excited and nervous too. How could a national chain with unique branding and standardized operations help us with water education and change habits in their kitchen? It would be tough, or so I thought. Participation in Certified Blue requires restaurants and bars to go through a “Water Use Assessment” that identifies leaks and opportunities to save water. They must retrofit aerators and pre-rinse spray valves with WaterSense labelled ones*. They also help the Water Conservation Office educate their customers and staff on water conservation.
Little did I know that Outback was already working toward becoming water efficient and they welcomed the extra help of the Water Conservation Office! During the assessment I found a couple of leaks and helped them retrofit a bunch of aerators and pre-rinse spray valves. It was the largest kitchen I had looked at so far. They had already implemented some water conservation tricks that help staff save water without even trying. For example, one of their hand-washing sinks did not have handles, but a foot pedal instead. The water only runs when the employee is standing there washing his or her hands. Add a WaterSense labelled aerator and thousands of gallons of water can be saved every year with just that one sink alone!
Another thing that they did after the assessment was retrofit their dip wells. A dip well is a perpetual flow sink you often see in ice cream shops. Food-preparation utensils are placed under the continuous stream in order to remove allergens and protect against bacterial growth. The dip wells at Outback ran hot water and were typically kept at full flow during serving hours. Dip wells can use between 30 and 60 gallons per hour and there were 6 dip wells in the Athens Restaurant. That is a lot of hot water! They got rid of 3 of them!! They kept three in places where they are absolutely necessary, like the ice cream station. Getting rid of the other three required some habit and procedure changes in the kitchen. For example, those yummy butterballs that you get with your potato are pre-portioned a bunch at a time instead of with each plate. That is a great idea! (Reducing their hot water use saves electricity too, saving even more water!)
If Outback can save a lot water with a few retrofits, behavior changes, and fixing leaks, imagine what you can do at home! The Water Conservation Office wants to help you, too. We offer free workshops, WaterSense labelled showerheads and aerators, and conservation advice. Our next indoor workshop is at Nuci’s Space on March 21 from 5:30 to 7:00 PM. At the workshop you will learn about the water saving efforts made at Nuci’s Space as part of Fix-a-Leak Week and how to fix your own leaky toilet. The workshop is free and there will be supervised activities for kids ages 3 and up. (a.k.a. Free Childcare, yay!)
If you made it this far in my blog, you deserve a prize! Go to Lily Anne Phibian’s facebook page and tell us what you like most about water and you can have a coupon for a free appetizer at the Outback Steakhouse in Athens! (You will have to pick it up at the Water Conservation Office located downtown at 124 E. Hancock Ave. Ask for a free t-shirt while you are here!)
*WaterSense is a program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that tests water-using fixtures and appliances. To earn the WaterSense label a fixture or appliance must be very water-efficient and still work really, really well. It is like Energy Star, but for water.