Austin | Dallas | Houston
Food for Thought

Are you going to drink that glass of water? Restaurateur launches campaign to conserve precious Texas resource

Enlarge
Slideshow
water glasses, glass of water, restaurant table
During World Water Week, restaurant patrons where asked to pay $1 for that glass of tap water to help the project and they were informed about the lack of clean drinking water around the world. Nearly one billion people lack access to clean water. PhotosPublicDomain.com
Marene, water on request, June 2012, water reference on menu, Alto Pizzeria
The menu at Alto Pizzeria reads: “Please help us save our most precious resource. Water served upon request.” Photo by Marene Gustin
Becca, Legion of Honor party, May 2011, Robert Del Grande, Mimi Del Grande
Mimi Del Grande with husband and celebrity chef Robert Del Grande Photo by Gary Fountain
water glasses, glass of water, restaurant table
Marene, water on request, June 2012, water reference on menu, Alto Pizzeria
Becca, Legion of Honor party, May 2011, Robert Del Grande, Mimi Del Grande
News_Marene Gustin_columnist_mug_head shot

“I wish I could take a picture of every water glass bussed off a table that’s still full or half full,” says Mimi Del Grande.

She is referring to all the water that restaurants waste when they automatically serve patrons water. And she should know. Del Grande is the wife of celebrity chef Robert Del Grande and one of the original partners in Schiller Del Grande Restaurant Group.

Of course she’s not alone, but she is certainly one of the stalwarts when it comes to “free” water.

Last March, some Houston diners got a little schooling in water when 36 local eateries participated in UNICEF’s World Water Week, a fundraising effort for the Tap Project that brings clean water to children around the world. During World Water Week, restaurant patrons were asked to pay $1 for that glass of tap water to help the project and they were informed about the lack of clean drinking water around the world. Nearly one billion people lack access to clean water.

 You want tap water? Cough up a buck for charity. Any charity. Because someday, not that far away, it might be you who needs clean drinking water.

 I thought that was the greatest thing since the invention of queso, I just was shocked that only 36 out of thousands of local restaurants participated. And I wish it could go on year-round.

You want tap water? Cough up a buck for charity. Any charity. Because someday, not that far away, it might be you who needs clean drinking water.

According to the Texas Water Development Board’s 2012 State Water Plan: “In serious drought conditions, Texas does not and will not have enough water to meet the needs of its people, its businesses, and its agricultural enterprises.”

And even if we don’t face another drought like last year’s, by 2060 the region’s population will almost double while our existing water supplies will be less. The Water Plan contains recommendations at a cost of $12 billion for the Houston area (called Region H) and part of that plan is increased conservation.

“When it was really bad last summer we did ask restaurants to only serve water on request,” says Greater Houston Restaurant Association executive director Katie Clark. “We made a request in our membership newsletter, but we don’t have any policy on it. It’s hard because patrons are just used to the way it’s always been.”

At least in Houston.

In New York City there is a regulation that stipulates water in restaurants is only to be served upon request. Other cities have similar ordinances (Houston does not) but they aren’t always followed.

“Every time I go out to eat anywhere, even in California where they have restrictions, they are pouring water like crazy,” says Del Grande.

“I grew up in a very dry Riverside, California,” she adds. “Where we had droughts all the time. We used to take our used water out to water our plants and it was illegal to wash our cars.” Anyone remember Chinatown, the Jack Nicholson film about the California Water Wars in the '20s and 30s?

And by the way, Texas is currently battling both Mexico and Oklahoma over water rights.

“Americans think they have a god given right to water on the table,” says Del Grande. “Seventy percent of the world doesn’t have access to enough fresh water. It’s just bad juju.”

So Del Grande instituted a water-on-request policy at all of the Schiller Del Grande restaurants. Some other eateries, like Giacomo’s cibo e vino, have notes on the menu saying water is only served on request, but Del Grande took it a little farther. The menu at Alto Pizzeria reads: “Please help us save our most precious resource. Water served upon request.”

So how’s that working out?

“The backlash I have gotten on this you would not believe,” Del Grande sighs. “Particularly at RDG, the customers were getting really mad at the waiters."

 “The backlash I have gotten on this you would not believe,” Del Grande sighs. “Particularly at RDG, the customers were getting really mad at the waiters.”

 Which is why some of her waiters continue to bring big glasses of water whether you ask for it or not.

“You know people who order a glass of ice tea and a glass of water aren’t going to drink all the water,” Del Grande says. “It takes three glasses of water to wash one glass so you’re not wasting one glass, you’re wasting four.”

And yet we continue to do so. Wasting a precious resource that is itself wasting away as droughts get worse, subsidence reduces some of our water sources and our population continues to climb.

So what’s the answer? Education. Del Grande is hoping to produce some YouTube videos and wants to push the effort with other restaurants. She’s so passionate about it she would love to work on the issue fulltime, but she can’t.

So, in the meantime, next time you sit down at a restaurant table, tell your waiter you don’t want tap water. And if the bring it before you can decline, please ask them to recycle the water.

After all, it is one of our most precious resources.

Newsletters for exploring your city

Daily Digest

Houston news, views + events

The Dining Report

News you can eat

Insider Offers

Curated experiences at exclusive prices

Promo Alerts

Special offers + exclusive deals

We will not share or sell your email address