Mumbai eateries using half-filled water glasses, tissues to beat drought

Struggling with severe water scarcity, symptomatic of the rest of Maharashtra, restaurants in Mumbai adopt half-filled water glasses, paper napkins for patrons to clean up after meals among other measures

Last week, Matunga’s famed South Indian eatery Mysore Café saw the manager request a patron to exercise his grammar skills. A poster that needed to be shipped off for printing needed urgent proofing. Paper napkins would replace water to wash hands after digging into a comfort evening snack involving its star dishes like the khotto idli steamed in jackfruit leaves.

A waiter at Matunga’s Mysore Cafe carries a tray of ‘cutting’ water glasses. Pic/Sameer Markande
A waiter at Matunga’s Mysore Cafe carries a tray of ‘cutting’ water glasses. Pic/Sameer Markande

The poster goes up this weekend, say the proprietors, in an effort to grapple with the severe water scarcity that the establishment, like the rest of the city, is confronted with.

A waiter empties water, left over by a patron, into a bucket that will then be used to water plants on Chembur restaurant Le Cafe’s premises. Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi
A waiter empties water, left over by a patron, into a bucket that will then be used to water plants on Chembur restaurant Le Cafe’s premises. Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi

It’s an idea that’s going to find support from The Hotel & Restaurant Association (Western India). The apex body for over 10,000 restaurants across Maharashtra issued a circular on April 15, urging all eateries to serve half a glass of water to patrons, and replenish it only on request.

Proprietors of Churchgate restaurant Vihar have re-regulated the pressure of water in taps fitted in the kitchen and washing area. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar
Proprietors of Churchgate restaurant Vihar have re-regulated the pressure of water in taps fitted in the kitchen and washing area. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar

Bharat Malkani, its president, called it the call of the hour, given that the state is facing one of its worse droughts owing to three consecutive failed monsoons.

The poster at Mysore Cafe
The poster at Mysore Cafe

“We have intimated our members, especially those in Mumbai and Maharashtra, that waiters must be instructed to save water. The effort starts from the time the guest is seated and water is served,” says Malkani. Waiters, he hopes, will refill glasses only when asked, and drop in a polite message about the state’s grave drought situation.

Hospitality hotbed Bandra is seeing eateries come up with innovative measures of their own. Ashish Sajnani owns Eat Thai, a recent opening that offers a modern spin to Thai food. Staff at the Pali Hill eatery is collecting leftover water from glasses to pour into a tank to utilise later. “Until recently, we’d drain left over water from glasses. But, given the shortage, we are using it now to water our plants,” he shares. His other establishment in Chembur, Le Café, has ditched hosepipes for sponges as their delivery bikes get a bucket wash. “It’s now one bucket to one bike.”

Churchgate’s favourite thali joint Samrat decided to call the plumber for help. The pressure of water in taps fitted in the kitchen was re-regulated last month. “Until some time ago, there was little awareness
about water conservation among the staff. They’d keep the tap running when washing dishes. But the severity of Marathwada’s drought prompted the owners to take the step,” says Satish Shanbaug, manager. A stone’s throw away, Vihar, says its manager Purshottam Nayak, has done the same.

To match its fancy SoBo address, Chowpatty’s seafacing vegetarian restaurant Revival has invested in an e-smart dishwasher that is programmed to use minimal water for cleaning. Brijesh J, supervisor, says it’s an import from Dubai, and capable of washing 40 plates in just three litres of water. “We’ve managed to reduce water wastage by more than half,” he claims.

While the association has in its circular also suggested that a jug of water with empty glasses be placed on every table for patrons to pour out a drink if they choose, proprietors say it doesn’t gel with the service standard expected of certain eateries. “A restaurant like Samrat cannot expect patrons to serve themselves. It is not hospitable; it might offend some,” adds Shanbaug. His views resonate with several others.

Cars honk furiously at the Sukh Sagar junction of Chowpatty and Opera House, which turns into a veritable fast-food-on-car-bonnets hub each night. Summers mean the juice centre machines are whirring at top speed to keep up with orders. Waiters zip through balancing plates of idli and pav bhaji, its most popular eats. Sukh Sagar has decided to tackle the crisis by being size wise. They have changed the size of glasses they serve water in. Kitchen supervisor, Narayan Shetty, says they have been keeping the fast food joint going with a 30 per cent water cut. “We cannot deny a patron water to drink, so instead of saying no, we have stocked smaller glasses, automatically reducing consumption. Back in the kitchen, tubs of hot water are used to wash dishes instead of under a running tap.”

Just around the bend, Soam at Babulanth, every Gujarati’s out-of- home panaki fix, is offering water to customers only on request. “It’s not something we like to do, our patrons are a priority, but the shortage is grave,” admits Khushroo Randeria, manager.

And customers don’t seem to mind taking instructions.

At Mysore Cafe, among the many posters that line its walls — including those listing the ‘day’s special’ and instructions about the ‘dubra coffee’, the one surrounding tissues-not-finger-bowls has a few suggestions. ‘Do not put napkins in your plate’; ‘Do not spit in the napkin’; ‘Do not use the napkin for cleaning your nose’.

Yes, saar!

— Inputs by Shailesh Bhatia

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