Water Conservation

Top 9 Ways Restaurant Owners Can Conserve Water

By Megan Porter

California’s recent drought has made water usage a focus of businesses, and it promises to be an ongoing issue for the foreseeable future. This is particularly true for restaurants, which require large amounts of water compared to other types of businesses. Water is used in almost every phase of a restaurant’s operation, from cooking and steaming to washing and sanitizing.

Luckily, each of these operations is an opportunity to save water and cut costs. Below, you’ll find nine of the top water-saving measures restaurant owners can incorporate into their operations to enhance their green profile and their bottom line. Most are simple, all are effective.

  1. Low-Flow Pre-Rinse Spray Nozzles. This is one of the easiest and least expensive water-saving upgrades, and one of the most effective. Most restaurants pre-rinse dishes before putting them in the dishwasher, and many older pre-rinse spray valves are highly inefficient, using up to five gallons per minute (GPM). High-performance low-flow nozzles clean just as well with flow rates as little as 0.65 GPM.1 And because pre-rinse sprayers generally use hot water, saving water in this phase also cuts energy usage. Finally, the valves are easy to install. Just unscrew the old one, and screw in the new one.
  2. Fix leaky faucets. Slightly drippy faucets are easy to ignore, but the amount of water they waste over time can be shocking. The Food Service Technology Center’s Water Leak Cost Calculator incorporates water usage and energy usage to determine the annual expenses of a dripping faucet. It’s easy to see how quickly a new gasket will pay for itself.
  3. Install Low-Flow Aerators. Food service involves a lot of hand washing, so installing low-flow aerators at hand-washing stations is a simple, inexpensive and effective way to lower water usage immediately. It’s a good idea to install them not only in kitchen sinks, but in kitchen bathrooms and your public restrooms as well.
  4. Go boilerless. Excellent heat transfer makes steamers among the most energy efficient kitchen appliances. However, boiler-based steam cookers and combination steamer-convection ovens are notoriously water-intensive, using as much as 40 gallons of water per hour whether they’re in active use or not.2 Closed system steamers recycle their water supply, reusing condensation that would otherwise vent into the air or go down the drain.
  5. Upgrade dishwashers at reduced cost. Most restaurant operators are aware that dishwashers are big water and energy users. But operators may not be aware how little water new ENERGY STAR-rated machines need: Often just half as much as older models. In some cases, energy efficiency financing is available that can amortize the savings new appliances are expected to generate, resulting in purchase costs that can approach zero after just a couple of years of use.
  6. Air-Cooled Ice Machines. Air-cooled ice machines are just as efficient as water-cooled versions but of course use significantly less water: 100,000 fewer gallons per year for a machine making 500 pounds of ice per day.3
  7. Scheduled assessments of water-use areas. You can’t fix problems you don’t know about. So periodic scheduled assessments can help head off potential waste before it happens. A checklist might include sensors on automatic faucets, toilets and urinals; dishwasher nozzles, pressure gauges, gaskets, automatic solenoid valves and other water-handling points; your water heater’s temperature pressure relief valve and water storage tank; and the entire “swamp cooler” unit if you have one.
  8. Water brooms. If there are areas that are routinely cleaned and rinsed with a garden hose (high-traffic areas or garbage bin storage areas, for example), use a water broom instead. They clean far more effectively and typically use less than half as much water.
  9. Employee awareness. One of the most effective ways to conserve water is simply to let employees know it’s important. That can just mean taking the time to train them on proper dishwasher prep and loading. Or you can take it to the next level by instituting a sustainability competition featuring awards and recognition if certain targets are met. Studies show that a little motivation can go a long way to raising employee awareness and participation.

And remember, if a restaurant's sewer bill is derived from water usage, these upgrades save even more. In California’s water-starved environment, conservation is paramount to sustainability. And for restaurants that make conservation a priority, it can lead to increased profitability as well.

To learn more about ways you can improve your business' energy efficiency and save on utility costs, please download PG&E's "20 Sustainable Products" eBook.


  1. Environmental Protection Agency
  2. Pacific Gas and Electric Company
  3. Food Service Technology Center
  4. Food Service Technology Center

Top 9 Ways Restaurant Owners Can Conserve Water
  • SMB Blog Author
    Megan Porter
    Senior Program Marketing Manager at PG&E, is a recognized leader in solutions marketing for small and medium-sized businesses. Megan uses her proven and practical expertise to bring energy efficiency education to businesses in every industry. In this vital role, she develops and oversees highly successful initiatives that result in the adoption of more efficient long-term energy management behaviors.

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