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Asking for water at restaurants

When I go to a restaurant, I usually ask for water before ordering placing an order for drinks and food. I remember my first time when given the option of sparkling or still water, not knowing any better, I said, “still water is fine.” After having disappointing food, bad service, and an ass of a server, I saw a $9 charge for my lovely Italian Alps spring water. Being a student at the time and on a tight budget, I wasn’t too happy paying the bill. At another restaurant when my gf and I were given the option (remembering my first experience), I said, “I will have regular water.” The server gave me this condescending look and said, “Oh, ok.” His comments totally made me feel that I didn’t “belong” in the restaurant and just made me feel bad. Now if I were with someone on a first date or recently started seeing, I probably would have felt compelled to get the fancy water in order to make a good first impression. Regardless, my gf and I can no laugh about this, and now know to ask for “ice water” (sounds better than regular or tap water). I really don’t care to drop $7-10 on water personally. Has anyone been stuck ordering an expensive bottle of water? What are your thoughts?

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  1. I'm familiar with the "politics" of water service at restaurants, but I've not had a problem ordering "tap" water. My attitude is that if the waiter sneers, it's the waiter's problem, not mine. Of course, no one needs that kind of attitude when you're trying to enjoy dinner (and paying the bill for same!). There have been times when I prefer bottled water, and then, I always ask what is the kind of bottled water available. Far more typically, I'm fine with tap (in in nyc, where tap water is eminently drinkable....other locales may differ), and no one should be made to feel diminished by their preference.

    3 Replies
    1. re: 280 Ninth

      < I always ask what is the kind of bottled water available. >

      me too! Now, I don't mind paying for sparkling water at a restaurant if iti's the kind I want. But If I am offered Perrier, or Voss, I'd rather have tap water.

      Upon being told the house water was Voss, and then saying 'oh, okay well then I'll just have tap water, thanks". I have been surprised at the number of servers who have laughed and said "yeah, it's terrible, isn't it"

      1. re: orangewasabi

        Thank you OW. I thought i was the only one who has refused bottled water i do not like. I think Saratoga is the worst of the bunch, and I won't drink it, Voss is all about marketing (personally i am waiting for the article stating that XYZ resto is citing for re-filling Voss bottles). At least with Perrier, you have a chance for an individual bottle.

        It's getting to the point that i'm going to buy a case of the mini-Pellegrinos and bring one with me to the resto.

        1. re: jfood

          what waters DO you like, other than SanP?

          We're a water hhld, I like San Benedetto, my husband likes Gerolsteiner &Apollinaris.
          We can agree on Badoit but I like green he likes blue and we can't find either in NA though I hear AMI is distributing it.

          SanP is a great staple, though I once heard it was so popular because it has lithium in it -- which is just fine by me.

    2. I do not drink liquor or soda and also resent the exorbitant charges for bottled water. I order tap all the time and if the waiter gives me that "i have a cheap table" sort of look, I fulfill his expectations at the end of the meal.

      3 Replies
      1. re: jfood

        Great point. "Water Snobbery " is ridiculous. Fortunately, it hasn't hit Vermont on a wide scale basis as of yet.

          1. It's a silly trend around here too - apparently DC water's atrocious. I wouldn't know, I haven't croaked yet :D I hope you all realize that most bottled water is just tap water with a fancy label and big price tag. And most of the time tap water is actually cleaner. (Most of the time ... )

            My response when pushed? No thank you, I prefer tap water.

            1. When encountering a water snob server, I LOVE to respond to the sneer with "Oh, do you have a problem wrong with my preferring ice water?" at which point they backtrack to fakey niceness to reassure me that they would never think that way. I realize that all I'm going to get is the fakey niceness from this point on, but I don't really care what the server thinks of me as long as I get good service and he pretends he likes me when he's at my table. If I don't get good service, I have no problem asking for a manager and/or leaving a tip accordingly.

              1. waiter water snobbery is pretty silly, and sets a bad initial tone. if he's that worried about $7-$10 on a check, he has bigger problems. even funnier, because he's only making about $1.50 on the bottle, but the restaurant is making at least $6.

                my pet peeve is when i'm sitting/eating at a bar. if i ask for water, then my drink, at least 90% of the time, the bartender will forget my water. i've finally learned to make it a separate request from anything else. that cuts the "i forgot" to about 50%. it makes me nuts.

                1 Reply
                1. re: hotoynoodle

                  I completely agree. I've heard countless managers tell servers how much more money they make selling bottled water--an extra $1-2 per table becomes x/night and x/week--usually when trying to justify the hard sell on water. It's absurd. It's nice to offer bottled, as Bryan says below, and it's a shame when the guests get defensive when offered an actual choice (bottled v ice/tap), but hard selling water doesn't help anyone.

                2. I am a waiter. When I greet a table I ask, "Would you like ice water or bottled water?" Some people want bottled water, others want ice water. Some respond, "ice water is fine," while others say, "Baltimore has some of the best water on the East Coast." I never said it didn't, I simply offered a choice. There is no reason to be upset. I think some people expect waiters to be upset when they don't order bottled so think they are even when they are not. It is similar to when someone says, "Oh, we're the last people here you must want us to hurry up and leave.' It doesn't matter what you say they believe their statement to be true. Just my thoughts.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Bryan101

                    You are not the waiters to which we are referring. Trust me, when you meet a water snob, you know. I agree that it's nice to give an option to those who want it. And perhaps people may react one way because they have dealt with water snobs in the past. But make no mistake, there are absolutley servers who act as if you are asking for Boones Farm because you ask for ice water.

                    1. re: Bryan101

                      And well spoken thoughts they are, Bryan.

                      1. re: Bryan101

                        This reminds me of a SNL skit, in which people are too sensitive to the waiter or custo. The waiter was asking the perfect question and the custo was responding. Not being there it is unclear whether the custo was being obnoxious or proud of his water. It's similar to the question i've posted several times on the body language of the waiter when he asks if i would like a dring and i order water.

                        So it depends onthe circumstances.

                      2. I think one of these days I'm just going to ask for an empty glass and tell the server I brought my OWN bottled water.

                        What are they going to do? Charge me a corkage???

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: ipsedixit

                          In fact, in Canada (ok- NB in Canada) we would ask you to put it away, because you are not allowed to bring in "outside" beverages into restaurants. Due to health regs!

                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            I certainly would charge you corkage. But then we never show any attitude if you ask for tap.

                            1. re: ipsedixit


                              One night when I was working at Denny's, we had a large group of teenagers come in with their bottles of water and pop, and was immediately asked to leave.

                              It seems they failed to grasp the concept that "Bring Your Own" beverages (food, etc..) into an establishment is Loitering in our neck of the woods. They also missed the fact the City Police Officers were in the corner wing.


                            2. Once upon a time, we'd make sure to ask for "Guiliani water" when we'd eat out in NY. That made it pretty clear to most servers. Of course, now it would have to be "Bloomberg Water"...

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: MRS

                                In San Francisco the term is 'Hetch Hetchy water'. I know the server won't sneer when s/he asks if I would prefer 'bottled or Hetch Hetchy's finest'.

                                1. re: MRS

                                  There's also the universally appropriate term, "city gin."

                                2. When encountering a server with a water attitude I like to ask if the offering is eco-friendly water. If the bottled water was transported in heavy glass all the way across the pond, or over the mountains, consuming mass amounts of petroleum products and contributing to global warming in its transport to my table, it isn't necessarily what I consider "eco-friendly". Knowing what the reply will be - I politely thank the server and request "eau municipal". Right back at them.

                                  1. Sometimes it's just so cold, I immediately ask for plain hot water. No tea, just a lemon. Seeing how a cup of tea can go for 3.50, I confess I have thought about bringing my own tea bag before. :)

                                    1. That definitely sucks. I had that once at an upscale restaurant. I never care about water. And I live in NYC, where the tap water really is quite clean so it's not a big deal to me. Was not happy when I was paying so much for a meal already to have to foot the bill for sparkling water as well. I wouldn't have minded if I knew what I was ordering.


                                      1. Sparkling water? I've had several - if I want Alka-Seltzer, I'll dine in a drugstore.

                                        Sneering waiter? It'll take about one more irritation before I get up and leave - I still enjoy a Big Mac in the right company.

                                        1. You've hit on yet another peeve of mine. If I ask for water, I want it before I order food and more drinks. I like having a glass of water and on the few occasions I've encountered the Bottled Water attitude, I say " Just give me a glass of water". Seems to the point enough.

                                          1. I recall a waiter offering to "bring a hose" to the table of a customer that had a water glass that was continuosly empty.

                                            25 Replies
                                            1. re: TonyO

                                              i can't tell you how many times i've had a bartender remove my waterglass rather than automatically refilling it, or asking if i'd like more. obviously i'm THIRSTY! grrrrr.

                                              1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                OK. If the bartender "automatically" refilled your martini- how would you feel? It's the same thing. Difference is, you'd have to pay fo rthe martini.....

                                                  1. re: troutpoint

                                                    No its not the same thing at all. The water is free. The correct approach is to ask if hoto would like a refill, on either the martini or the water and charge accordingly.

                                                    1. re: troutpoint

                                                      troutpoint, i can only hope you're joking. ;)

                                                      1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                        Ok, I guess my point is that, as a customer sitting at the bar, you also have some responsiblity! The bartender is indeed there to serve you, however, I think that is sometimes a lot to ask for him to AUTOMATICALLY refill H2O at the bar...Unless you have made it clear that that is what you want to happen!
                                                        In a fine dining restaurant, it's a different kettle of fish. More of a personal bond between server and customer, if you will.

                                                        1. re: troutpoint

                                                          "sometimes a lot to ask for him to AUTOMATICALLY refill H2O at the bar."

                                                          I think it's his job to refill the water. Whether the custo is sitting at the bar, a table or anywhere else, filling the water glass is BASIC service, not something t hat is the responsibility of the custo.

                                                          1. re: troutpoint

                                                            i don't drink at the elks' lodge, so perhaps i'm supposing a better level of service. MY responsibility would only be to inidicate i don't want any more water. removing my glass without asking if i'd like a refill is just dumb.

                                                            1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                              you would be amazed at how many people at my bar will order a glass of water, take two sips, and forget about it altogether. my question is what kind of bars are you drinking in? i can see your point in nicer, loungey, upscale places, but at my roaring dive i will grab ignored water, dump it, wash it and use the clean glass to serve another. and no one even notices its gone. and on really busy nights we struggle to get all the dirty glasses washed quickly enough to keep up with demand. service in bars can be quite different from restaurants, as in "drink that water and get the hell out and don't even think about coming back."

                                                              1. re: augustiner

                                                                i just read my post and i want to expand a bit. i don't want people to think that i advocate rude, attitude-driven "service" in bars. in case it wasn't clear in my post above, i wasn't referring to the average person who wants to have a few (or more) drinks and have fun, and maybe misbehave a little (while being thirsty). i was talking about the lost, offensive, obtrusive, sexually dangerous, wobbly, argumentative, potentially violent people that ocassionally need to get tossed out of the bar for everyone's sake. that's why i was wondering what sort of bars we're talking about, since service changes accordingly.

                                                                back to topic, if you are thirsty i will gladly give you a huge pint of ice water. and another, and another, if you want. but i won't make a point of refilling your glass, either.

                                                                1. re: augustiner

                                                                  i totally see your point, augustiner. i've worked in those places too. but that isn't where i go to drink anymore! lol.

                                                                  1. re: augustiner

                                                                    Yes, restaurant bars and good old fashioned drinkin' bars are different. A restaurant bar should provide the same level of service at the restaurant. At a bar where the primary goal of 98% of its patrons is to get a buzz on, water is a special request, and automatic refills are unfortunately unlikely.

                                                      2. re: TonyO

                                                        Tony, the plain truth of the matter is that SOME people can be just unmitigated pains in the asses. Constanly carping, to an already harried wait staff, WE NEED MORE WATER!

                                                        They're also the ones, more often than not, who want separate checks and tip lightly.I know it sounds like I'm stereotyping but I also know, sadly, that I've found it all to often to be true.

                                                        1. re: Harp00n

                                                          Agree. In many restaurants I will just ask for them to leave a carafe of ice water on the table. In finer establishments, water should be refilled as part of the service for which us consumers in the know leave 20% + when properly taken care of. For example, if dinner for two is $150, I think a $30 - $35 tip certainly warrants a water glass that is kept full !

                                                          1. re: TonyO

                                                            You are, as always, the voice of reason & practicality.
                                                            Send the money to the usual......

                                                            1. re: TonyO

                                                              Almost our whole family and quite a few of our friends drink water, and when there's a big group of us in a typical (not upscale) restaurant, I have asked for a carafe before to save the wait staff some unnecessary work.

                                                              Now one time, I alone was drinking water in a large party, and I was drinking a lot. (I was eating a lot of spicy food! haha) The waiter had no problem refilling the other drinks at the table, but he did cop an attitude with me, and he brought a pitcher and fairly slammed it on the table in front of me.

                                                              I voiced my displeasure with my tip (still not bad but not what I would have left otherwise), but by the time everyone pitched in, it wasn't apparent.

                                                            2. re: Harp00n

                                                              i'm in the business too. i hardly consider it "carping" to want a refill of water, when i've even sucked all my ice cubes out of the glass. if the waiter can't multi-task, or see the big picture in his station, he's got a problem.

                                                              refilling water should be a normal facet of service, not an afterthought, or a "pain in the ass."

                                                              1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                                Not to go on ad nauseam H, but I'm talking matters of degree here. The parallel drawn by a previous poster of tap water vis a vie martinis may have been inexact but substitute designer water or a soft drinks for the martini and it is.

                                                                Scenario:a busy lunch spot, not upscale but not a dive either. The wait staff and kitchen are trying to turn around both the take-out and eat-in customers orders as quickly and accurately as possible. There's a table of six way over in the far corner with one woman drinking a Miller Lite, one guy a diet coke and another's sipping on a San Pellegrino along with their lunchtime specials. Two of the three re-order another "round".

                                                                And the last three people? Why they've ordered salads and tap water with ice. They continually flag their waiter down between and after the additional round ordered by the Coke & SP drinkers. Like dromedaries that have just finished navigating the vast expanse of the Sahara in it's entirety. Obw, the tip they leave is the $0 .87 of the $1.87 change they were given.

                                                                Embellishment? Sure, but not by much, I've seen it happen, often. In an upscale spot I also would expect that the water glass is filled automatically because I'm paying a premium for that level of staff and service. Btw, I'm not in the business and would make a lousy waiter. What I am, I hope and think, is a good customer who's expectations match my dining destinations.

                                                                1. re: Harp00n

                                                                  You win some you loose some. The waiter did pretty good on the other three with close to $20 for the beverages alone.

                                                                  Everyone at the table deserves the same attentiveness. Maybe the waiter only received the $.86 because he ignored the salad and water people and treated them badly. Self fulfilling prophesy.

                                                                  1. re: jfood

                                                                    Given the nuances, possibly clumsily stated, that you've chosen to ignore of my essentially true scenario I'd be comfortable letting the jury decide.

                                                                    1. re: jfood

                                                                      It's obvious that we are going to disagree, jfood...We have on almost every post that I have made.
                                                                      That being said, I get it that you and your wife don't drink, (and I don't think that it is something that should be an issue) but you seem to have a chip on your shoulder about it.
                                                                      I realize that I was not particularly succinct about the water refill at the bar, but: there is always a level of service that depends on personal interaction. The personal relationship that happens between a server and his or her patrons. So, if there are problems with the service perhaps they are larger than "the server not refilling your water glass"
                                                                      BTW- It's lose , not loose.

                                                                      1. re: troutpoint

                                                                        Thanks TP,

                                                                        not sure about your point about "almost" always do but if you have time to keep score, more power to you. In deference to your scorecard, i checked the past few posts and either the mods have deleted or we do not disagree all that much (i.e. status of using GC's).

                                                                        I agree that there is a relationship between custo and server, but i disagree that the custo has any "responsibility" for a refill on a water glass. This gets to Basic Service 101. If the custo's water glass needs refilling, simply refill it. If the custo has not touched the water in the glass then do not refill it. If the custo ordered a bottle of water then, in the same manner as your martini example, the server should ask if the custo would like another bottle or switch to tap water. This is basic and does not approach the level of "relationship".

                                                                        And I apologize for the fat fingers typing loose versus lose. Nice catch Webster. Gotta get spellcheck/grammarcheck into these posts.

                                                                    2. re: Harp00n

                                                                      if the waiter had any sense, he'd have brought over a pitcher of water for a refill, while returning with the 2nd round, anticipating their needs and providing good service. instead of resenting them, making them ask and then wait, so he could passively aggressively punish them for the crap tip he's positive they'll leave. don't you think people can sense that negative vibe?

                                                                      i don't want to go too far afield here, but water is part of service, just like cutlery. just because a woman ordered a salad instead of a steak, do you make her wait for a fork?

                                                                      yeah, waiting tables is hard. if it's too much trouble to get people water, you need a new job. (royal *you*, i see you don't wait tables, harpoon.)

                                                                      1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                                        No I don't wait in tables and no I don't have an unreasonable sense of entitlement either..There is a time and a place and we are obviousy going to disagree to disagree.

                                                                2. re: TonyO

                                                                  Major demerit inthe Jfood Rules of Tipping.

                                                                3. Short sighted waiters who pass as water snobs give our business a bad name. But, what I also truly dislike are joints that have the water bottles already on the table "just waiting for you". I've owned a restaurant before and I'll say it again, this was one of my biggest pet peeves.

                                                                  Anyone remember the name of the NYC restauranteur who started giving away bottled water a few years back? He swore it brought in more business.

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: chef poncho

                                                                    And i normally thank the waiter for the complimentary water and could he please pour it.

                                                                    The stumbling that occurs at thispoint is priceless.

                                                                  2. The only reason servers push bottled water is because it can add significantly to a restaurant's revenue. I generally request NYC tap water (we have great water here that's why our bagels and beer are so good!). I have been very lucky and not experienced too many servers with attitude. Of course, one of the factors in my dining choice is quality of service.

                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                    1. re: financialdistrictresident

                                                                      NYC water is very good and the bagels are a tear-jerker for those of us sitting 20 miles outside the city on a sunday morning and do not have that luxury. :-((

                                                                      I am curious to your last sentence. Do you see the attitude at the higher end of the mid-ranged. I have seen both great and not so great at both and i think it's more server driven than resto driven. Some servers see each table as a revenue maximization linear program (restos too) and others understand the law of large numbers.

                                                                    2. Sometimes I feel like their should be disclaimers and releases prior to the servers placing orders..."Check here if you agree to pay this outrageous amount for flat water, extra blue cheese, etc"

                                                                      1. Agreed. Some of the worst charges I have seen have been for bread basket refills, and iced tea. A glass of tea cost about 7 cents, so maybe after 15 refills they may have a valid reason. I would be shocked if anyone felt that beeing charged $1.50 x 5 is fair. maybe if that was the norm, but it is not. Trust me, I'm as supportive of restaurant owners/managers/employees as anyone, after many years in the industry, but there are limit as to what is reasonable.