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The Water Trick [split from LA]

  • e

the water trick has got to go, it is true. i'm wondering whether
it is simply best to stay home from now on.

food shouldn't be about business

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  1. I'd nominally agree that food shouldn't be about business, but then medicine shouldn't be about business either, and you don't see doctors running around with nurses salaries.

    1. what's the "water trick"? this is fascinating

      4 Replies
      1. re: thegrifter

        It comes in many forms.

        It usually starts when you or someone in your party says, "Oh, I'll just have water." Sometimes they ask whether you want sparkling or still -- this is your big tipoff here -- and sometimes they just come back with a giant bottle of extremely expensive water, already opened.

        The next part of the trick -- and jfood has written at length about this in another topic -- is where they then pour the water for everyone at the table, which often requires another bottle, depending on the size of the group.

        Then, if you're really not on the ball, they'll keep filling up the glasses throughout the meal, using new bottles of water. In the case of Acqua Panna (a popular brand for the Great Restaurant Water Rip-off because it comes in fancy glass bottles that look good), the cost to the restaurant is somewhere around $1-$2 a litre, and they often sell it for $6, $8 or even $10 a litre.

        So the original person, who really just wanted a glass of Colorado River Special on the rocks, ends up being the cause of a $20, $30 or more markup on the bill.

        You end up having to be ridiculously vehement and say, "A glass of TAP water, please," and then as often as not you end up having to chase down waitstaff for refills.

        Also, a big part of the GRWR is the bottle of water on each table as you sit down. Open it at your own peril -- it's probably even more ridiculously marked up than if the waiter brought it over.

        This happens in France too, but you can get round it there by saying "un pichet d'eau" (a pitcher of water), or "de l'eau du robinet" (tap water).

        Because Mrs Ubergeek doesn't drink wine, beer or soda, this is probably the negative thing we most often have to deal with. I've had to have "discussions" with managers, and the giant bottle -- unless Mrs Ubergeek SPECIFICALLY ordered a bottle of water -- gets sent back. If they opened it, too bad for them, let them use it in soup.

        1. re: Das Ubergeek

          Which is why I LOVED it when our waiter at La Campania (Waltham, MA) on Saturday night asked if we wanted tap or sparkling. BIG thumbs up for him. We chose the tap, and it was refreshed on a regular basis from a pitcher of water.

          1. re: Das Ubergeek

            I feel like the anti-Gunga Din, and thanks DU, as my twin brother of different mothers states so eloquently.

            One additional way they entrap you in the GRWR and I thank many CH'ers for correcting my NJ'ism is to change the order protocol. If you want to avoid the large bottle of sparkling water for $10 when you order a drink or coke for your companion and use the words "...and a sparkling water for me" is to change the word "sparkling" to "club soda". This has worked quite nicely recently and seems to carry the appropriate message.

            Or you can do the obvious and order a glass of ice water.

            1. re: jfood

              Good gravy!

              Even asking for water has become complicated.

        2. unfortunately restaurants are a business,and they make lots of money on bottled water -- mark-up can be 8 or 9 times. ordering tap water is easy enough and you bypass the nonsense.

          1. I really have to ask- what is embarassing about ordering "tap water"?

            6 Replies
              1. re: pesto

                Actually, I normally don't feel embarrassed about ordering it at all. The other weekend, though, I had the experience of having our server make a very big deal of us ordering tap rather than bottled. When I asked for it she was like, "oh, TAP?!?" and then she made a point at least twice afterwards of stopping by our table to say, "your TAP water will be right over." I guess I'm not the one that should be embarrassed, but it definitely was bizarre.

                1. re: mollyomormon

                  That has happened to us. Being from New Jersey, I am not one to sit idly by while someone attempts to embarrass me -- so the last time it happened, the waitress also brought my steak, which was overcooked (no doubt while the grill station was filling my TAP water). I said, "Oh, I ordered MEDIUM RARE, could you take it to the kitchen and ask them to cook me a MEDIUM RARE steak like I asked you?"

                  1. re: Das Ubergeek

                    Another Jersey Boy! We seemed to have assembled unwittingly on this board.
                    When I travel people can can always tell I am from Jersey. I wonder what gives me away?
                    Recently I had to return my entree TWICE to the kitchen. I even sent back the water ... it wasnt hot for my cup of tea.

                  2. re: mollyomormon

                    I hope you reduced her tip and told her why!

                    1. re: mollyomormon

                      This happened to me once as well and annoyed me to no end. My dining companions told me to leave it alone, but the next time she came around and emphasized "TAP", I politely informed her that I worked for the Division of Water Quality as a public health inspector, and was responsible for setting the highest standards of water quality. She was pretty damn nervous for the remainder of our dinner, and I noticed the service markedly improved. I need to do this more often.

                2. I completely understand that a restaurant is a business. But in a world in which I feel that I have to constantly be on guard to avoid being ripped off, scammed or otherwise stolen from, it would be nice to know that when I went out to eat, I could, theoretically now, relax, shed the armour and unwind a little. But apparently, this is not so, and even when I am going out to a nice restaurant to enjoy myself with my friends & family I must still be totally on guard against this dog-eat-dog way of thinking.

                  So I can understand the original poster's musing "i'm wondering whether it is simply best to stay home from now on."

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: flourgirl

                    FG, please go out, enjoy and be in charge. Remember you are the customer and spending your hard earned dollars. That's a choice you made, similar to the app, entree and dessert. Waiter doesn't like it, too bad. Doesn't like everyone at the table ordering the house salad and inexpensive pasta, tough. Coffee without dessert, get over it. Attitude translates into less tip.

                    If the waiter pulls that "Tap Crap" leave less of a tip and make sure you tell the manager on the way out that you experienced rude behavior by the waiter. Then when the waiter complains to the manager he can give him feedback and explain that the rolling eyes, the emphasis on "tap" was the reason and that he should manage that in the future.

                    I only drink coffee and water 24/7, no soda, no wine, no liquor. I have my own well plus the 6-gallon Poland Springs bottle on top of the dispenser. I apologize to NOONE on ordering water in a resto.

                    1. re: jfood

                      oh don't worry - I am very good at being in charge :).

                      And I was being somewhat facetious in my comments to make a point. That it just can be exhausting sometimes to always have to be on guard for this kind of garbage - and I have to add, if any restaurant we patronize regularly tried to pull something like this, I wouldn't go back again. There is something extremely off-putting about being viewed as "prey" as opposed to a "customer".

                      1. re: flourgirl

                        See, I think like that about banks, car salesmen, and the MaryKay lady -or your cable/internet provider...
                        I really don't understand why everyone gets so worked up about the "up sell"-It's a fact of life now for almost everything we do. Why do restaurants, and specifically the server, get such a bad rap?

                        1. re: troutpoint

                          IMO, upselling is when I ask for water and they say "Would you like to try ?" and I have the opportunity to say "No, thank you."

                          Asking for water and then being handed an already-opened bottle of isn't upselling, it's slamming.

                          Upselling is just good business - lots of people say "OK, sure."
                          Slamming is bad business. In fact it's illegal in some industries.

                          1. re: jzerocsk

                            I guess I am used to being asked "sparkling or still" or "bottled or tap" and being able to make the distinction myself. Although, I have to say, if I order water and want tap, I say so right up front. Especially if I notice lots of bottles around, or bottles on the table.

                            1. re: jzerocsk

                              Thanks, jzerocsk. That's it exactly.

                              Troutpoint, I understand that restaurants are businesses, and I am not so unsophisticated that I don't get the difference between upselling and trying to take advantage of customers who may be reluctant to fight back when a restaurant attempts to victimize them with some of the maneuvers described on this thread. That type of behavior on the part of a restaurant and it's employees is despicable.

                        2. re: jfood

                          For me, it's not about having to apologize, it's about having one more thing that I have to remember is now a freaking "special request". I have to remember to ask NOT to have lemon in my water, which I find ridiculous. Now we also have to make a point of explicitly requesting tap water. The default should be the simplest version, then add on's special requests.

                          Thankfully, this trend has not hit North Carolina yet, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it doesn't, because I don't know that I could remain civil if such bs were pulled on me.

                          It's not the one little thing, it's the constant barage of many many many little things.

                          1. re: abowes

                            Thank you. The lemon thing drives me crazy. It makes my water taste like bad lemonade. I usually forget to say no lemon and end up trying to fish the lemon out of the water with a salad fork.

                            1. re: bonmann

                              Fruit water belongs in spas, not in restaurants.

                      2. I bring my own bottled water ... and then get charged a "corkage".

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: ipsedixit

                          I believe that would more accurately be a "screwage" ;-D

                        2. The tap water/bottled water phenomenon has not reached our local restaurants in any great way, other than at the nicer restaurants, they offer bottled, but they always offer tap first. I've only had one occasion when we've traveled where a wait person looked down his nose at me for ordering tap water, and said, "tap? You're sure?" and I said, "Why? Is there something wrong with the tap water here? Is it unsafe?"

                          Personally, I think the whole bottled water business is hooey. Unless you live on the beach or are using well water, there's nothing wrong with water from the tap. It's sanitized, filtered, flouridated and just FINE. It's WATER, for heaven's sake, not fine wine.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: Andiereid

                            Whoa baby, my well water is awesome. I get it tested every other year and it has less chemicals than most city water.

                            1. re: jfood

                              Ah yes, my apologies, jfood. I am originally from Arkansas, where "well water" means LOTS of iron, very high hardness, some sulfur and other unspeakable stinky compounds that make the tap water undrinkable.

                              But for the record, those "chemicals" aren't ALL bad.

                              1. re: Andiereid

                                no prob Mr A. Hard water is really bad, hence the Culligan Man.

                          2. BF and I have talked about this a lot and agree our preference is when the server asks if we would like "tap or bottled water." Then if we want bottled we can specify if we want sparkling or flat. It drives me up the wall when the server only asks, "do you want flat or sparkling?" and I have to tell them no, I'd prefer tap. The flat/sparkling upsell is so annoyingly transparent that I would love for it to stop.

                            1. I remember going out to lunch at a fancy place in Santa Monica once with about a dozen co-workers. It was the boss's birthday. His administrative assistant had made a reservation. When we arrived, the table was ready for us, and - I could not believe this - before we even sat down, the wait staff had ALREADY poured Acqua Panna water into every water glass on the table. (Perhaps the admin. asst. had naively answered "OK" when they asked if we would want water?) They continued pouring freely throughout the meal, although several people ordered iced tea, soft drinks, wine, etc. When the luncheon was over, the check came. It included a $72 charge just for the water! At the time I was a graduate student and $72 could have fed me for a month. Imagine how mortified I was when all of us except the boss were asked to split the tab evenly! To this day - 10 years later - I NEVER order bottled water in a restaurant.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: 2m8ohed

                                Oh my goodness. That is just awful! (and I highly doubt they had pre-cleared this with the administrative assistant.)

                                1. re: 2m8ohed

                                  I just experienced the water trick last night for the first time ever at an Italian restaurant in midtown Manhattan. The server asked us first if we wanted to 'start off' with water. After following this thread for a week or so now, I refused, and we ordered wine. Two more times during the meal he asked if we were sure we didn't want any water (and just water- he didn't offer soda, or tea, or other drinks) so I was fairly certain if we had said yes, there would have been a big surprise on the bill!
                                  Thanks Chowhounds!

                                2. The Great Water Rip-off has been going on in Europe for decades that I know of. Actually, they have raised it to an art form because they sometimes bring a bottle of water already opened that they have filled at the tap but of course you get charged for whatever the label says. And we are not talking about rural Brazil but about major Western European cities where tap water is perfectly drinkable and yet there is a lot of pressure to buy bottled water (which in this case you don't get anyway).

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Querencia

                                    I've seen that... a lot of the touristy places in Paris do it. Since a meal in a Paris bistro is often a contention of wills between the diner and the waiter anyway, I have no compunction about saying, "Jetez cette bouteille et apportez-moi en une qui ne soit pas deja ouverte." (Get rid of that bottle and bring me one that hasn't already been opened.)

                                  2. I should have read this sooner, last year when we went to Ruth's Chris they asked if we wanted water. So I figure since the waiter asked it somehow was complimentary. NOPE we were billed $8 for Pellegrino which I saw in the super market for waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay cheaper.

                                    A lesson learned, more alcohol please.

                                    1. To be gracious and concise about my liquid preference, I ask for a glass/carafe of <name of city>'s finest, vintage one minute following my request. The server, if in a good service mood normally chuckles and zips back with a glass/carafe of "eau municipal" (which is what my French friends always advise me to order when in France).

                                      If I coose to order a bottle of water and it has been opened prior table presentation, I request another be delivered unopened. Then I am able to verify the seal is being broken. There are some bottles whose seals can be breached without detection, but they are not as prevelant.

                                      1. Sansei Designs, I too joke (but am serious) by asking for "Cities Finest," which is good enough for me. If there is something wrong with the local tap water, let's raise taxes or move somewhere else. :)

                                        Plus, most restaurants have good-quality filters. I would rather spend the money on quality ingredients or additional cocktails or a more expensive glass of wine. I drink water all day, not that special!

                                        I hate feeling cheap because the water I pay taxes for and shower in (where more water than ever could drink is absorbed) every day is what I choose?

                                        1. Reminds me of an old-school dinner I visit in Boston - when you ask for water, the waitress always asks "sparkling water, mineral water, bottled water, soda water, or water water?"

                                          9 Replies
                                          1. re: LStaff

                                            That's precious. I like that a lot. I will try to order water water next time. Love it.

                                            1. re: LStaff

                                              In my head that just got translated into a South Jersey accent -- "spahkling wooder, min'rul wooder, bahdulled wooder, soda wooder, or wooder wooder?"

                                              1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                Ah yes, but in Bahstin, it's "waddah". Being from northern NJ, took me awhile to get used to the lack of R's at the end of many words around here. :-)

                                                1. re: LindaWhit

                                                  Yup- not many e's at the end of words- except when they don't belong- lots of Boston natives say "vodker".

                                                  1. re: macca

                                                    Yes, that's our Lawr of Consuhvation of Ahhs..being thrifty Yankees, after all.

                                                    1. re: Karl S

                                                      I was born and bred in this area, and on a trip to Ireland, a bartender said he could tell I was from Boston from my accent, but that I didn't add the "r" to vodka as most Bostonians do. Until he mentioned that, I had never thought abou it- but I did look for it when I came home- and he was absolutely correct!

                                                      1. re: macca

                                                        Well, the adding of the r is actually more characteristic of western New England than eastern New England, but there's a lot of overlap.

                                                        1. re: Karl S

                                                          Ok- makes sense- tha't why I never really noticed until I paid special attention. We got a real chuckle that the Irish bartender used it to peg people from this area of the US. He thought it odd, given the lack of r's in a lot of our speech. Of course, it was almost like speaking a foreighn language when talking with the Irish, as most everyone I spoke with talked SO fast!

                                                      2. re: Karl S

                                                        LOL! Owww....just had dental work done, and it hurts to laugh. But I can hear someone who grew up around here saying that! :-)

                                              2. I've noticed lately that restaurants are referring to tap water as the name of the city. For instance, "We can offer you water from Pellagrino or Pasadena."

                                                1. here in Boca we have what my staff call 'Boca Water'. This is tap water, a lot of lemon slices and the dreaded SweetnLow or the other yukky sweetener stuff. The customers then spend 5 minutes mushing it all up and making themselves free lemonade, whilst trying to smuggle extra sweetnlows into their purses or pockets.

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: smartie

                                                    hahahahahahahahaha! That is HILARIOUS! (And a little sad at the same time - and I guess not so funny when you would rather be selling lemonade, but still...)

                                                    1. re: smartie

                                                      Why not put "Boca Water" on the menu for $0.10 just for yucks and see if it sells.

                                                      I think you can tell which custo will do this because the was a study in the 60's that showed that rats fed certain sweeteners had a tendency to wear Leisure Suits.

                                                      I am doingthe Boca-shuffle next week and love stories like this.

                                                    2. I would love to charge for Boca Water, it drives my servers nuts, more ice, more lemons, more sweetener, they run for these tables for the freebies.

                                                      Changed my butter for the ones in envelopes as to the ones in the little plastic pots with the pull off lids as they went into purses too. Now they don't dare take this butter as the envelopes open up. Great savings on butter since I changed over.

                                                      There is a restaurant near one of the retirement communities that hands out sweetnlow one at a time with the coffee. If the customer wants more they bring ONE more.

                                                      I have had salts and peppers stolen, pot plants!! sauce bullets, sugar bowls, mugs, t spoons etc, we have watched them go into purses. Very hard to ask the customer to hand them back as they totally deny it.

                                                      Leisure suits?? ha ha.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: smartie

                                                        I think you need to take down the "Take Out Available" sign.

                                                        Whenever I visit in-laws i watch in horror but it's probably the only way many people survive on fixed income. But, I betcha most of the folks that walk out with the "stuff" do not need it.

                                                        My favorite was once when the table next to us were about to order dessert, The lady asked for another "basket of rolls and a couple of extra napkins to wrap it up".