Some restaurant operators are scoring points with ecominded customers by replacing commercially bottled water with “house” waters made by filtering, chilling and carbonating tap water on the premises.
Among the equipment they’re installing for this purpose are carbon, paper and reverse-osmosis filters that remove impurities, ultraviolet light sources that zap microbes, and soft-drink carbonators that make bubbly waters from the tap.
Prompting them is the mounting public concern about the environmental costs of producing and disposing of millions of used plastic and glass water bottles, particularly the carbon footprint that results from shipping them. San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom recently urged his city’s 3,000-plus restaurants to get off the bottle and turn on the tap. The message seems to be sinking in. In a National Restaurant Association survey of chefs last fall, filtered water ranked as the fifth hottest product in nonalcoholic beverages, ahead of coffee, iced tea, fruit juice and soda. Still, consumers have a growing yen for the convenience and perceived purity of bottled water. Last year, total bottled water volume increased by 6.9 percent to 8.8 billion gallons, according to the International Bottled Water Association.
In 2002, Mark Pastore, owner of Incanto, an Italian restaurant in San Francisco, replaced bottled water with house waters. His complimentary one-liter glass carafes of still and sparkling waters are filled from a system built with “off-the-shelf parts,” as he put it. The bubbly water is made with a carbonator purchased from a soft-drink supplier at a cost between $3,000 and $4,000. A regulator valve controls the amount of carbon dioxide gas added to the water.
Restaurant Nora, an organic restaurant in Washington, D.C., stopped selling bottled still water 10 years ago and last year stopped selling bottled sparkling water, reported co-owner Steven Damato. The restaurant invested between $10,000 and $15,000 in a triple-filtering system for all its incoming water. It removes minerals with softening salts and takes out most impurities with charcoal and fine-screen paper filters. Not only does it make tap water purer and more palatable, the restaurant uses about half the amount of cleaning products it once did, because the softer water lathers more readily, Damato noted.
For its sparkling water, Nora invested about $3,000 in a soft-drink carbonator. Two varieties are available in refillable one-liter bottles for $6.