Food for Thought

Water, water everywhere: In restaurants, please don’t pour it unless I ask for it

Water, water everywhere: In restaurants, please don’t pour it unless I ask for it

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But I looked down and there were two glasses of water in front of us. Photo via Photos Public Domain
News_restaurant_The Counter_THIS for restaurant challenge
And at the year-old The Counter built-your-own burger emporium in The Heights, Manager Alex Outtrim says they’re trying to ask before pouring. Courtesy of The Counter Custom-Built Burgers
News_Lake Houston_drought
A severe lack of rain and near biblical triple-digit temperatures is causing rivers and lakes, like Lake Houston, to dry up like a raisin in the sun. Photo via iWitnessWeather
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At Haven, floor-to-ceiling green screens and fast-growing shade trees help reduce air conditioning use, which is a chilled-water duct system. Photo by Barbara Kuntz
News_water_glasses_restaurant table
News_restaurant_The Counter_THIS for restaurant challenge
News_Lake Houston_drought
Places_Food_Haven_exterior

Dad and I were sitting at the counter in a very packed Goode Co. Seafood, watching the customers, the staff bustling back and forth in the narrow prep area and the flames shooting up from the grill. It was all great fun food theater and we were having a great time while we were drooling, waiting for our mesquite grilled catfish and those divine seafood empanadas to appear.

There was so much activity going on in that narrow old rail car that I never even noticed how or when the two water glasses appeared.

But I looked down and there they where in front of us. Sweating onto the napkins they were sitting on. And there they stayed.

This has long been a pet peeve of mine (and Dad’s). We don’t drink water before our meals, preferring to sip on a glass of wine or a cocktail. In fact, Dad seldom drinks water unless, of course, it’s mixed with bourbon.

Frequently we ask for the glasses to be taken away, as often the tables are too small for the food, my iPhone and notepad.

 I know a lot of people are used to having that ubiquitous glass of ice water magically appear, but today, when Texas is in serious drought mode and Houston is under mandatory water rationing, it just seems wrong to waste water.

 Which is why I like the service at Tony’s and Philippe Restaurant +Lounge, where the waiters’ first question is, “Would you like sparkling or flat water?” To which I may say sparkling, or none, thank you very much. Or, to which Dad may answer: “Only if it’s mixed with bourbon.”

Now I know a lot of people are used to having that ubiquitous glass of ice water magically appear, but today, when Texas is in serious drought mode and Houston is under mandatory water rationing  — banning residents from watering their lawns more than twice a week and only between 8 p.m. and 10 a.m. — and where more than 700 water main breaks a day are causing the city to draw water from Lake Conroe in order to supple drinking water while causing serious problems for the resort area there, well, it just seems wrong to waste water.

I wish all restaurants would ask before pouring.

And some of them are.

Over at Molina’s Cantina, the rule is to only serve water on request these days. And at the year-old The Counter built-your-own burger emporium in The Heights, Manager Alex Outtrim says they’re trying to ask before pouring.

“We’re asking a lot,” he says. “We’re trying to conserve and we only run the dishwasher when we need to as opposed to having it running all day long.”

And while our waiter didn’t exactly ask, he did inform us that he would bring us water, which allowed us to decline.

I have no idea how much water is wasted in a city of some 9,000 restaurants but it seems like every drop saved would help.

Sitting in an über trendy eatery in Houston, where the spigots flow freely and you can still have your car washed just down the street and then return home to take a refreshing shower before running your dishwasher and washing machine, it seems hard to imagine that our state is dryer than it has been in over a century.

 Imagine not being able to flush your toilet when you want, or wash your clothes. Instead of the web-footed world of Kevin Costner’s ill-fated Waterworld we could be living in Death Valley in the future.

 According to the U.S. Drought Monitor (who knew there was such a thing?), more than 90 percent of Texas is in extreme or exceptional drought conditions. A severe lack of rain and near biblical triple-digit temperatures is causing rivers and lakes to dry up like a raisin in the sun. Fish are dying. Livestock is dying. Crops are dying. And there is no relief in sight.

Some say the drought could last into next year.

And that will effect us all. Food prices are going to rise and water rationing could get even worse. Imagine not being able to flush your toilet when you want, or wash your clothes. Even in trendy inner loop areas we’re already seeing our lawns turn brown and trees die. Instead of the web-footed world of Kevin Costner’s ill-fated Waterworld we could be living in Death Valley in the future.

So please, restaurants please think before you pour, and diners please inform the staff right away if they don’t want the water.

“When I was at Brennan’s the busboys would always bring back full glass of water,” says chef Randy Evans. Now at his eco-friendly Haven he is very conscious of the drought.

“We still put out our own filtered water here,” Evans says. “And fill the glasses at the table, but that’s because our water is actually tasty and people drink it. Plus we serve a lot of wine and people seem to want to sip the water when they’re drinking. We don’t get a lot of full glasses returned.”

But Haven does conserve a lot of water because it was designed that way. The ice cube maker makes larger cubes, saving water and the restaurant’s overhangs, floor-to-ceiling green screens and fast-growing shade trees help reduce air conditioning use, which is a chilled-water duct system.

But sadly, Haven is using more water from the city these days. Evans’ fabulous garden beds outback and grape vines and potted herbs where supposed to be watered from the large rainwater cistern he built.

“It’s been bone dry for months,” Evans says. “I pulled all the tomatoes out in July because they just weren’t doing well. The grapes are hanging on and most of the herbs and the bees seem okay.” Yes, he has his own beehive now and plans to have his own honey soon.

“But hopefully we’ll have some rain this fall when we start replanting.”

Hopefully.

Until then, waste not, want not.