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A California Chef's Dish-Pit Hack Could Help Restaurants Address the Drought

Sierra Mar's chef, John Cox, has a solution that could save billions of gallons of water.

Sierra Mar at the Post Ranch Inn
Sierra Mar at the Post Ranch Inn
Sierra Mar

Like many California chefs, John Cox, executive chef of Sierra Mar at the Post Ranch Inn, has tried every possible means to conserve water at his restaurant amidst the state's worsening drought. But Cox may have hit on an even more impactful solution for addressing water use than only filling glasses by request: replacing his restaurant's dish sprayer with an air compressor. In restaurant kitchens, dishwashing stations are responsible for over 50% of water usage; the dishwashers themselves are water-efficient, but spraying dirty plates and pans before loading them up can drain plenty of H2O. (Cox estimates that one sprayer handle uses up to 1,000 gallons of water per day.)

In something of a "you got chocolate in my peanut butter" moment, Cox came up with the idea after initially purchasing the high-powered air compressor to clean the restaurant's ovens. The machine ended up being temporarily stored next to the dish pit, where Cox hit upon the idea. By using the air compressor to blow scraps off food off plates and into the compost, Cox says Sierra Mar has been able to reduce sprayer usage by nearly 80%.

Posted by John Cox on Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Currently, the only regulations affecting restaurant water usage states that restaurants and other food service establishments can only serve water to customers on request. And, while that is certainly a step in the right direction, that accounts for only a fraction of water usage by restaurants, with over 50% dedicated to kitchen and dishwashing purposes; the National Restaurant Association reports that a full-service restaurant uses up to 5,000 gallons of water per day.

Cox calculates that if each of California's estimated 60,000 full-service restaurants swapped out their dish sprayers for compressed air, it could result in a savings of over 5 billion gallons of water per year, dwarfing the water saved by not automatically filling water glasses. After posting a video of the air compressor to his Facebook page, Cox has already been contacted by dozens of restaurants interested in making the switch to compressed air, including Monterey's Restaurant 1833 and Faith and Flower in Los Angeles. With a low barrier to entry (an estimated $300 cost and 10 minutes of setup), this small change could become de rigueur in California's restaurant kitchens—and make a sizable dent in their water use.

Sierra Mar at the Post Ranch Inn

47900 California 1, Big Sur, CA 93920, USA