City calls for limited water use; what are restaurants supposed to do?

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Lift StationThe lift station at South Street and Mills Avenue is one of the facilities affected by a water-main break caused by Hurricane Ian.

Update: A spokeswoman for the city said that there is no directive for any restaurant to stop using water in a way that would negatively impact their business. the city asks only that all residents and businesses be more mindful of their water use during this critical period.

Like many other Central Florida businesses, Scott Joseph’s Orlando Restaurant Guide was closed for a few days during and following Hurricane Ian. We fared fairly well – a leaky roof; two separate power outages – but decided to suspend publication on the site and newsletter out of deference to those who were more severely impacted. Restaurant news and reviews, we determined, could wait a few days while things got back to normal.

But we begin this week with a new unnormal.

The tremendous amount of rain that fell over the area has overwhelmed the city’s sewer system. Power outages and damage to wastewater treatment centers and lift stations have exacerbated the problem, sending sewage into lakes, backyards and into homes. It's a potential health crisis. The Orlando Sentinel’s Kevin Spear has a very good explanation of the situation.

As a result, Orlando has asked residents and businesses to severely curtail the use of water, including limiting flushing toilets, taking showers, washing hands, doing laundry, washing dishes and watering lawns. A media advisory from the city estimated it may take a week for the situation to be resolved. There is nothing wrong with the quality of the tap water and the city has not issued a boil-water alert.

It’s a bit easier for a household to adhere to the advised restrictions. Anyone who has lived in the desert or in a drought area has heard the toilet advisory “If it’s yellow, let it mellow...” And even though we’ve been drilled over the past couple of years to wash our hands, often, for at least 20 seconds, we’ve all probably got plenty of hand sanitizer, um, on hand that we could use.

Not taking showers was easy during the pandemic when we were social distancing.

But how are restaurants expected to comply? They use a lot of water, necessarily so. Vigorous hand washing is not only advised, it’s the law. Produce and other ingredients have to be washed, too. Huge pots of water are used to cook vegetables and noodles and then discarded down the drain. Floors get hosed down. Dishwashers are constantly spraying water. Toilets must be flushed. Diners are routinely offered glasses of water that, if not consumed, are dumped down the drain.

A call to city hall requesting guidance for restaurants did not elicit an immediate response.

So what should restaurant owners do? Don’t skimp on hand washing; it’s vital to prevent foodborne contamination and disease.

Maybe switch to disposable plates and utensils. They’re not desirable ecologically, but let’s deal with one environmental disaster at a time.

Are there temporary adjustments to your menu that can be made to eliminate items that use a lot of water?

Provide drinking water to guests only on request, and have your staff tell them why. Most of your customers will appreciate your civic responsibility. And you may help educate them about their own role in helping to mitigate this problem.

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