Water Works

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Weaning restaurant diners off the bottle, one carafe at a time

“Still or sparkling?” It’s a standard part of the server’s script and usually results in at least one bottle of H20 being brought to the table, its contents emptied into glasses, and then summarily tossed in the bin.

But across the country, that script is getting a re-write, as chefs, managers and hosts are starting to appreciate the environmental and fiscal impact of serving and then disposing of hundreds, if not thousands, of plastic and glass bottles every year.

As a result, filtered water systems are becoming more common in restaurants, and they’re replacing the tried-and-true bottle service altogether. Opting instead for glass carafes, servers in leading-edge restaurants offer diners the familiar selection of still or sparkling, then hop behind the bar to fill those carafes with the acqua of choice from specially installed taps, similar to beer service.

Toronto’s Ruby Watchco has been using this type of system since the fine-dining resto’s opening last year. “We use it, because it gives us all of the benefits of bottled water, but we’re not contributing to the problem of bottles piling up in landfills,” says Teresa Mofina, head server at the hotspot.

Offered for the table, Mofina says the restaurant simply charges patrons $3 a head for the filtered water — with or without gas — and says, so far, the reaction has been positive. “The carafe option isn’t pushed on people, but it’s available and it’s encouraged,” she says. “Of course, people can still opt for plain tap water if they want; the filter system is literally just a replacement to selling bottles.”

The company that outfitted Ruby Watcho, Q-Water, is a Canadian-based firm, which officially launched its product at the CRFA Show in 2009, and similar systems are also in use across the U.S., from manufacturers like Natura.

“It’s a four-stage system that takes water from the tap, through several filtrations, the last of which is made of coconut-shell carbon, and is then split into either the carbonator or the still water tap,” says Paula Tekela, president of Q-Water.

“It’s an easy system,” she adds. “There is no inventory, it operates on your existing cold-plate instead of a chiller, so you’re not making any more ice than you normally would, and there is no recycling or disposal of bottles to worry about.”

According to Tekela, her company found the average restaurant throws out around 6,000 bottles a year, which is a hassle in itself. Operationally, Mofina says one of the biggest advantages she’s noted at Ruby Watchco is the added storage space, since there’s no need for case after case of sparkling or still water.

While the restaurant’s clients pay a flat, per head fee for unlimited still or sparkling water, Tekela says her clients across the country, which include the Oliver and Bonacini Group in Toronto and Rouge restaurant in Calgary plus many more, have pricing structures as varied as the food being served, including a flat fee for the table, a per-person price or even charging as much as $5 to $6 per carafe.

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