How The Perennial in San Francisco Supports the Earth

How bars and clubs can do their bit for the environment.

The Perennial, a bar and restaurant in San Francisco, is doing its part for the world. Opened last January, the thinking behind this whole venture is to be as sustainable and good for the earth as possible.

The first way The Perennial does this is using up as many leftover food and drink items as it can (see this story that ran in Nightclub & Bar). But the food is just the first part. 

Another major undertaking at Perennial is to reduce ice usage, which has a two-fold advantage: both water and energy are saved. To this end, no cocktails are stirred or shaken. “We have no water waste on the entire menu,” says bar director Jennifer Colliau. She explains further: “Drinks that would normally be stirred are batched and pre-diluted, held in the freezer, and poured to order. Drinks that are normally shaken are assembled in mason jars and have a specific amount of ice added. They’re then put on the blender, not to make a slushy drink, but to blend until the ice is completely dissolved, thus providing the correct level of dilution and temperature reduction every time.”

The Perennial also uses straws made of actual straw. These are completely natural and compostable, Colliau says. She can’t use “so-called ‘biodegradable’ straws” because they take 9 months to biodegrade and in San Francisco compost must biodegrade in three. “We use a combination of a metal straw and a spoon to ‘straw taste’ drinks; each bartender has their own that can be reused all night without washing and without wasting,” she points out. There is a downside, however. “Guests bite on them and they split, and then they can get really cranky.”

Before it opened, The Perennial worked with Chad Arnholt and his business partner Claire Sprouse, who together run the consulting firm Tin Roof Drink Community in San Francisco. Here, Arnholt offers his top tips to bars wanting to do their bit to save the earth:

Check your equipment, especially your ice machine and dishwasher, since water and energy are the two biggest factors in any bar towards damaging the earth.

Arnholt explains that the most efficient model of icemaker uses 89% of the water that goes in; the least uses 15-20%, “so inspecting your equipment is key,” he points out.

The Perennial uses a Scotsman cobbled ice machine, which is 95% efficient, as opposed to Hoshizaki and Kold-Draft machines, which Colliau says waste 50% of the water they bring in. “We have kegged draft highballs that we pull over the cobbled ice, as well as built highballs like the Salted Lime Collins and Meyer Lemon Brandy Cream Soda.”

Eliminate martini glasses. These, especially the massive steakhouse type, are a space suck on your dishwasher rack, Arnholt says. A rack will hold around 15 of these, as opposed to 40 to 50 slimmer glasses. Here’s another savings of water and energy.

“Just for water, we like to shift the focus away from how can restaurants be sustainable to what’s the cost of each cocktail,” Arnholt explains.

Examine your sourcing. “Look at every single product and see how it got to you, including food and drink,” he advises, which is something The Perennial does in fine detail. Colliau looks for environmentally friendly farming practices; how and where glass bottles are sourced; transportation; and other things each producer is doing to work in more sustainable methods.

“Japanese whisky that comes to the Bay Area into the Port of Oakland on a boat typically has a much lower carbon footprint than an organic whisky coming from New York on a truck,” she says. She’s also keen on practices like those at Mezcal Vago, which uses its spent agave fibers to make its labels, or Falcon Spirits, which uses tail cuts as sanitizer.

The Perennial also chose to serve a well gin made by the local Oakland Spirits Co. “Because [their products] are produced and distributed only in California, they do not have to abide by TTB regulations that dictate that bottles cannot be refilled or reused,” Colliau explains. “So they deliver themselves, we save empties, and they pick them up when they deliver. So we have eliminated our well gin from the waste stream.”

In-house water recycling. “The majority of water used in a bar is toilet flushes and dishwashing and sinks,” Arnholt says, so in-house water recycling “is something to look forward to down the line.”