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Feb 24, 2008 05:16 PM

Paper plates in all restaurants due to drought - does it matter? [Moved from South board]

Those of us in the Southeast have been experiencing a pretty bad drought over the last year. I'm in central NC, and Raleigh went last week to Stage 2 drought restrictions. They've never had to go to Stage 3 before, so the rules for who can do what (or not) under those conditions have not yet been written, but there is talk that those restrictions may include requiring restaurants to use disposable silverware and plates. ALL restaurants.

The NC Convention and Visitors Bureau recently held a meeting of hoteliers and restauranteurs to discuss voluntary water conservation methods. For restaurants, those include using floor cleaning fluids that don't require water, and using hand sanitizer instead of water for hand-washing.

I've noticed some restaurants in the area are also asking patrons who want a glass to water to agree to paying a nominal fee (17 cents, in the case of Tyler's in Durham) for bottled water instead of using tap water.

But water usage is going to rise as the weather heats up, and that's not going to be enough. I'm sure other places in the Southeast are facing similar issues.

I know restauranteurs sure don't want to get to the plastic-fork-and-paper-plate-stage, but if it does happen, would it affect your restaurant visits, especially among the higher-end establishments? It seems quite unfair to penalize restaurants for something they will be required to do, but something like this would also affect the overall experience of dining, most especially in a pricier establishment. For people like us, who don't have a lot of money and can only dine in the more expensive places on special occasions, it might, I'd have to admit. Burger-and-pizza places, not so much, but a 3-star place? I'd have to think about that. Maybe a lot.

Your thoughts?

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  1. I'm probably in the minority here, but I live in the Triangle (Cary, where we have restrictions year-round) and I haven't washed my car since last summer. I collect the water that runs from the faucet while heating up and use it on houseplants. While I don't necessarily time my showers, I've decreased their length dramatically. I'm an avid gardner, and the water restrictions, both self and city imposed, are going to cut into that hobby dramatically.

    Therefore, if it's a choice between me having dinner on a china plate and having water coming out of the faucet when I turn it on, well, you can guess what my answer is going to be. I just don't think anyone can afford to be worried about the quality of their dining experience when the city in which you live has less than three months of water left. I personally think that the city's been slack in not imposing tighter restrictions sooner, so I'll live with the paper plates and cheer their arrival.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Suzy Q

      I'm taking from what you are saying that you would still dine out and not mind the paper plates. It also sounds like you are being very water conscious, more so than many people, and yes, I've been surprised by how little has been done in an official capacity to this point.

      But - what if eating at home, vs. eating out, would save more water? I can't prove it would, but I'd suspect that would be the case. I know I can cook here and use less water than a restaurant would. I don't have tables to wipe after every meal, linens to wash or a requirement to wash my floor every night regardless of how many people eat here on that night. I know I use less plates than a restaurant would for the same amount of food. Would your tendencies toward water conservation restrict your eating out even if it doesn't come to the paper plate stage?

      I know one thing I've considered too is everything that would go into a landfill if it couldn't be washed. I don't know if one offsets the other, but living in a rural area where one needs to pay for what one takes to the landfill - a significant increase in dump fees could be a consideration as well, not to mention how it affects the land environment. It's a tough question, no doubt.

    2. If it is a special occasion in those circumstances, bring your own then bring 'em home to wash. I'm in the same area & echo suzy Q's feelings. On a side note,I am appalled at the number of people I have come across unwilling to modify their life regarding water usage - I guess it won't really hit them until we have to truck it in. At this point my gardening plans are very scaled back. Just some herbs & maybe a few tomatoes is all my "caught" water will cover.

      5 Replies
      1. re: meatn3

        That's an excellent idea! I've got some very expensive china at my house that gets used about once a year. :) I suppose if I called ahead and asked, the restaurant folks might be willing to accomodate in such a situation. Hand washing at home takes less energy (and probably water) than machine washing for sure.

        I completely suck at food gardening, but I won't be planting any new ornamental stuff this year for sure, and I have invested in shares at a CSA, which is keeping us abreast of the water issues they expect to face this year, so I do plan to eat at home as much as possible.

        1. re: romansperson

          I'd have no problem bringing my plates and silverware in a bag for a nice meal...fair to the restaurant, fair to you.

        2. re: meatn3

          There will be no home grown tomatoes for us this year, alas. And certainly no basil and hence no pesto. In the warm weather we collect the condensation run-off from our AC unit and use that to water the herbs. The rosemary, tarragon and oregano are proving to be very hardy.

          I'm not too certain about trusting my mother's wedding china to outsiders. I'm not eager to find out if Replacements has that old a pattern. But great food still tastes great whether it's on china or Chinette. As with Suzy Q, I'd rather have water coming out of my tap.

          1. re: meatn3

            Surely everyone taking crockery home to wash will use more water than the restaurant would use washing it all together?

            1. re: Peg

              I don't know much about health dept guidelines, but I bet there are probably some prohibitions on BYOD (bring your own dishes). And I'm sure there would be someone out there who would sue if a restaurant chipped a plate!

          2. As someone who lives in the county (Union) that was the 1st in the state to impose restrictions, I'm very aware of my water usage. Paper plates-yes, disposable cutlery-no. As Romanperson stated there are disposal issues, the paper plates will degrade pretty quickly-the plastic forks will not. Also, you can wash a lot more cutlery than dishes with a few gallons of water.

            To SuzyQ, go to Auto Bell for a car wash, they recycle the water used. With some of the weather we've had this winter the damage to your car from the chemicals used on our roads can be awful. Here's a link to their environmental statement . BTW, I do not work for them.

            1. IMHO,we aren't in a drought. Our incompetent leadership?, in league with developers, has had their collective heads in the sand for too long regarding restrictions on growth. Paper plates and 3 minute showers are fine, but negligible in the face of 400 unit apartment complexes springing up like weeds. (That's 800 toilets, folks.)

              1 Reply
              1. re: jiminea

                I must say I was surprised when the Stage 2 restrictions were put in place that developers were given an exemption to continue building. Not only for the water issue, but I'm not sure we need more housing space being put up during a market slump.

                Two new houses are being built less than a mile from where I live, too. There's no city water, so they'll be on a well. Let's see how long it takes for those to get sold. Probably a long time. Part of the problem with well water is that it's hard to determine how much you have left ....

              2. When I had lunch at Rue Cler a few months ago and was presented with plastic "cutlery" and plastic cups I almost fainted. We're such a band-aid society. How can the restaurants have these restrictions when people are still washing their cars in places that don't recycle water? That's just silly. I can eat off a paper plate, but perhaps I should bring my own cutlery, which doesn't necessarily have to have hundreds of gallons of 400 degree water blasted at it to get clean. Not a bad idea, but then again, part of the fun of going out is not having to do your own dishes. Maybe I'll stick to finger food for a while.