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QSR Feature
Crisis and Conservation
What drought-affected foodservice companies in the Southeast are learning about water conservation.
Southern U.S. drought teaches restaurants lessons about water conservation.

As the South grapples with the worst drought in recorded history, a number of states have gone into crisis mode to preserve their rapidly evaporating liquid assets. In October 2007, North Carolina Governor Michael Easley called for state citizens to reduce their water usage by half. That same month, Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue mandated a 10 percent decrease in water usage for Atlanta and the rest of the northern sector of the state. And, in an address to the U.S. House of Representatives, North Carolina Democratic Representative Mike McIntyre called his state’s drought “an issue of economic survival and, ultimately, it’s going to affect everybody.”

To downsize their current and future demands on dwindling water supplies, restaurants and associated commercial consumers in the drought-stricken areas are tapping into the latest technologies and, in some cases, their own creativity. CiCi’s Pizza, for example, has posted in-store signage asking diners at its 21 Atlanta-area restaurants to help the company forgo the use of trays at its signature pizza-pasta-dessert buffet to reduce the number of dishwasher loads each restaurant will have to run each day.

Although Kyle Smith, vice president of operations for the Coppell, Texas-headquartered company, does not have exact numbers, he believes the initiative will allow the company to “significantly reduce” water usage, while keeping the need for conservation in the forefront of guests’ minds. Trays are available by request for guests who really want them. “Very few have asked for them so far,” Smith says.

“As a Southern-based operation, we are well aware that many of our markets are currently contending with drought conditions and the rest probably will be,” Smith says. “Atlanta will serve as our model for our conservation efforts.”

A few weeks into the program, Smith reports it is being well accepted by both the company’s Atlanta franchisees and guests. For the long-term, CiCi’s, with 600-plus restaurants in 29 states, is also evaluating ways to cut kitchen water usage in all of its units. The company plans for a re-evaluation of procedures involving the three-compartment dish sinks and prerinse sprayers in its kitchens and the installation of higher-efficiency dishwashers in new units. Franchisees can also retrofit their kitchens with the new dishwashers, which Smith estimates could save a half gallon of water per cycle, resulting in a 75- to 100-gallon-per-day reduction in each store.

Last November, Subway introduced its first “eco-store” in Kissimmee, Florida. Among the energy-saving features being tested at this “learning laboratory” and model for future stores are low-flow water fixtures, according to Les Winograd, spokesman for the Milford, Connecticut-based company.

“Right now, the development and implementation of water conservation efforts are primarily in the hands of the franchisees, and, in that regard, we communicate their best practices chainwide,” Winograd says. “The eco-store is a very new concept for us, and we will share what we learn from it as well.”

On average, replacing one conventional spray prerinse valve with a low-flow model in dish-rinsing sinks can save a restaurant 62,000 gallons of water per year, a 44 percent reduction, according to the Green Restaurant Association (GRA). Many government programs offer low-flow models to restaurants at no cost. “The payback can be in the thousands,” says the association’s executive director Michael Oshman.

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