Ensuring the plumbing flowing to and from your restaurant meets regulations is as important to your business as keeping the salt shakers full and knowing which side of the plate to place the salad fork. Failure to comply with local, state, and federal mandates can keep customers out and your doors closed— permanently. There are a wealth of resources available both online and off, along with trained professionals from plumbers to inspectors, to keep your eatery safe, sanitary, and up-to-code. Taking advantage of this information and educating yourself is critical to keeping in line with regulations. That way, you can spend less time worrying about fines and more time savoring the subtle flavors of your chef’s signature demi-glace.
When it comes to researching and understanding the codes and mandates regulating your business, it’s best to start local and work outward to state and federal guidelines. Online code compendiums such as Municode (www.municode.com) contain nearly 3,000 codes for municipalities across the United States. If you can’t find your particular city, never assume you’re off the hook. Simple web searches and common sense can get you far. Start by searching for your county’s wastewater reclamation, sanitary commission, or Health Department websites. These are not only the most-reliable sources for information but also the most local institutions which matters a great deal when reaching out to city and county inspectors. Make certain any information you find online is from a trusted source, such as an official government website, and is up-to-date. Think all codes are the same? Think again. While states like Oregon mandate the use of specialized grease traps, others such as Florida have instituted strict codes requiring a minimum of 3 interceptor tanks. These regulations differ based on the needs of the local environment, community, and beyond. Educating yourself on municipal codes is critical and learning about the equipment being used will help expedite the process.
The better any restauranteur understands their equipment, the easier it will be to interpret the corresponding codes. Does your city mandate the temperature of water used in dishwashers? How many gallons can your interceptor tank hold? Does the county require monthly jetting of grease traps? Educate yourself on the critical equipment used in the process. Contact the manufacturer, call a plumber, or reach out to the local plumbing inspector to find the answers you need. Not only will it aid in understanding regulations, it will help to avoid plumbing issues found during the installation and inspection process.
Common plumbing issues occur as a result of improper installation, equipment failure, or bad management practices. Cracked lines and backups can result from not having enough fall in the pipe, for example. When installing service lines, 1/4-inch fall per foot is required to keep gravity on your side. All too often, “bellies” in the pipe occur as the line swells like a freshly-fed snake. Caused by buildup of food and debris, these can be easily avoided by following best management practices. Closely monitor what gets put down the drain, avoiding excessive food particles, dairy products, acidic substances such as soda or alcohol. Should you run afoul of installation woes or equipment failure, contact a plumber and local inspector immediately. Fostering good relationships such as these is vital for the longevity of your business. Remember, customers should be praising the smell coming from the kitchen, not complaining about a stench from below it.
Maintaining healthy professional relationships with plumbing inspectors is one of the most important things any restauranteur can do to keep their business open and on-par with local codes. These government employees are often given the power to override city mandates at their discretion, should they see the need. However, your relationship with inspectors should not be adversarial— far from it. Embrace the fact that they are there to serve the environment and community just as you are there to serve your patrons. No inspector wants to shut down a business for non-compliance. Being friendly with city officials goes a long way in providing assistance with keeping up to code and they’ll be more willing to share their knowledge of local mandates. Like the ingredients in a daily special, all the elements must support one another to create something that works. By educating yourself on the current codes, necessary permits, and equipment used, while cultivating good working relationships with officials, plumbers, and inspectors you will go far in ensuring your business is well within regulations.