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Every Drop Counts: Utah Restaurant Chain Cuts Back The Automatic Water Pour

SALT LAKE CITY — This week, KSL-TV is exploring simple ways to save water that go beyond how we water our lawns, because every drop counts — especially when 90% of Utah is in extreme drought.

Recently, viewer Gaye England emailed the KSL Investigators about the customary practice of restaurants pouring us a glass of water when we sit down, whether we asked for it or not. 

“I can’t help but wonder why restaurants continue to bring complimentary water to everyone’s table,” England wrote. “So much waste because most who go to restaurants order soda anyway, and the glass of water goes untouched.”  

At Tsunami Restaurant and Sushi Bar in Salt Lake’s 9th and 9th neighborhood, you find fresh seafood flown in from around the world daily, a busy sushi bar that serves up a wide and unique variety of sushi rolls, and a spacious outdoor patio.

What you will not find there is a glass of cool, crisp, refreshing water poured for you the moment you sit down.  

“You can order water, but we don’t serve it by default,” said Julie Hiatt, the restaurant chain’s operations manager. “Obviously, we’ll keep it full once you have your water, but we’re not going to serve it by default.”  

Hiatt said Tsunami Restaurant used to pour out that customary glass of water, whether patrons asked for it or not. Then, an employee pointed out much of that water was going untouched or was downed by only a sip or two.  

“We took a look around and yeah, we are wasting a lot of water. So that’s an easy fix,” Hiatt recounted. “If you want water, we’ll happily bring it to you, but it just won’t be by default.”  

The Utah Restaurant Association estimated restaurants serve 2,000,000 meals around the state daily. If an eight-ounce glass of water came with each of those meals automatically, that is 125,000 gallons of water, each day. And that does not even include the water needed to clean a full or half-full glass of water for its next use, or non-use.   

“So, it saves time, saves glassware, saves room on the table so that you can have room for your food. You have room for your phone because everybody has their phone out,” laughed Hiatt.  

The KSL Investigators called up more than 100 sit-down restaurants all around Utah and asked: “Do you serve customers water, even if they don’t order it?” We found nearly two out of three (63.6%) served water by default. 

 Hiatt admitted Tsunami Restaurant’s water-on-request policy met some resistance at first.  

“Even my parents texted me one day that, ‘We haven’t even gotten our water yet,’” Hiatt explained. “I said, ‘Did you ask for it?’”  

That was a couple of years back, and servers at Tsunami locations have not seen much backlash since, she said. If the drought should magically vanish tomorrow, they are sticking to their water guns on their water-upon-request policy.  

“Utah’s been in droughts and not in droughts, but we’re always in a desert,” Hiatt said. “So, water conservation just makes sense. We’ve got to protect where our supply is coming from.”  

In past droughts, the Division of Water Resources has requested the Utah Restaurant Association ask its members to serve water by request only. The association told the KSL Investigators they were up for it again.  

If you have an idea for an investigation of a small way we can save water, let us know about it. Call (385) 707-6153 or email matt@ksl.com

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