HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >


Restaurant refuses to serve tap water

Recently at lunch my DH and I ordered glasses of water to drink with our meals. Our server informed us that they did not serve tap water and that if we wanted water we would have to buy a bottle. I knew that there was nothing wrong with the local water, so was flabbergasted. Has anyone else ever run into this?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. That's interesting, given the growing *green/sustainability* awareness that bottled water is a resource drain. I was googling to confirm that NYC had a law requiring tap water service and came across this about restaurants dropping bottled and serving filtered carafes.

    and a Bruni blog piece about being refused tap water in an NYC restaurant

    3 Replies
    1. re: pitu

      Many restaurants "push" bottled water but NYC has the best and purest tap water in the world. If a restaurant didn't "serve" tap water, I'd leave.

      1. re: pitu

        yeah, sounds like it's going to be the new big trend. here's another article from a canadian magazine.
        that's neat that restaurants can just buy a carbonator to add bubbles to tap water- most of the bottled water i sell is sparkling.

        1. re: excuse me miss

          Is it just me or is that Macleans' article unbelievably dismissive and patronising, as if tap is a "trend"? I hate Macleans so much of the time...

          We have YUMMY tap water in Calgary and since the source is the cold, cold Bow River, we never have to worry about the nasty geosmin-caused mustiness in summer months that you have in eastern Canada, and even in the hottest parts of July and August, the tap runs ice cold- delicious, delicious stuff. Problem is when I ask for tap water I get a teensy 12-oz styrofoam cup and the person behind the counter never lets the tap run long enough for it to reach icy perfection. So I have sometimes bought a bottle of water just because I know it will be more than a dribble and will be cold. Kudos to places that don't do this- and extra marks to Midori Sushi here (17th Ave and 9 St SW, Calgary), which gives you a big 24-oz tumbler of tap water with ice and a lemon wedge when you ask for "plain" water. They always get big tips from me for that extra bit.

      2. after spending two years traveling the world trying to bring clean water to water-starved areas, the idea that a resto in the USA has the audacity to charge for this resource would make jfood pull a Snagglepuss...."exit stage left". How dare they? What's next a surcharge if the custo wants a second knife or fork?

        2 Replies
        1. re: jfood

          Redchile wonders if there would be a BYOB for water.

          Would there be a cappage fee?

          1. re: jfood

            >>> What's next a surcharge if the custo wants a second knife or fork?

            Don't give them any ideas, pl-ea-se! :-p

            Bad enough was a few years ago McD's was contemplating a 5-cent charge for extra napkins and condiment packs. In some cases let private owned ones do as they pleased.

          2. what city was this restaurant in? i've never heard of such a thing. did you end up buying a bottle?

            having been a server for a long time i don't like jumping to the conclusion that the server was trying to pull a fast one on you. however, having worked with dishonest servers in the past who would try to tell people their only option was bottled water, i would have asked to speak to a manager and confirm the restaurant's policy. maybe 2 glasses of ice water would have magically appeared after that.

            3 Replies
            1. re: rebs

              This was at a little place called The Notch Bakery in Southwest Harbor, Maine. When I asked if they didn't have running water from which to fill a couple of glasses, the (young) waitress snapped at me: "There's no need for attitude!" I have to say that this really bad service was an abberation -- all the other folks we ran into in Maine were friendly and helpful.

              1. re: pikawicca

                Holy #*$&! Please tell me you said something to the owner/manager about the attitude she gave YOU?

                1. re: pikawicca

                  if you tipped more than .01 you are crazy... I would have walked OUT at that point and not left a DIME.

              2. A basic provision of any health code in the US is that any establishment that invites the public is required to provide unfettered access to potable water - with the exception of Dry Tortugas National Park, because there isn't any. If my waiter would not bring me tap water I would fetch my own from a rest room sink, and later share my tip with me. How much unvarnished extortion can the industry cram down the dining public? They seem to be plumbing the depths without consequences.

                1. I ran into this once in a bar and I'll never go there again - I'd spent $20 on drinks over a few hours and then asked for a glass of water - I was informed that it was their policy to only serve (sell) bottled water. That 20 was the last they'll ever get from me.

                  1. Maybe this place KNEW they had something wrong with their particular plumbing (lead in the pipes, legionaire's disease??) and wouldn't serve tap water on that account. Still not very reassuring from a diner's perspective.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: ballulah

                      If they have problems with the tap water, how do they safely prep and cook food in the kitchen? The access to clean potable is necessary to run any kitchen, and if they don't have it the health dept should have closed the establishment.

                      If this restaurant didn't have a sign on the door explaining this problem, them what they did was purely fueled by greed.

                      I would have asked to speak to the manager. If they could not give me a satisfactory explanation, I would have walked out.

                      1. re: Kelli2006

                        I thought of the prep in the kitchen AFTER I hit "Post My Reply."

                      2. re: ballulah

                        "Lack of hot running water" is a standard failing on most health department inspections. If they don't have tap water, they shouldn't be open for business.

                        1. re: ballulah

                          "Maybe this place KNEW they had something wrong with their particular plumbing (lead in the pipes, legionaire's disease??) and wouldn't serve tap water on that account."

                          Really? If that was the case, then the water that is used for cooking in the restaurant would also be contaminated with lead. If the water was contaminated with Legionnaire's disease, I would certainly hope that the establishment would be shut down until the death toll among staff members and patrons began to taper off.

                          In either case, I don't think that this is a very compelling argument in favor of the restaurant in question.

                        2. i ran into this at Joel Robuchon at the Mansion (MGM Grand, Las Vegas). Very annoying, considering how much one is spending there for food. I didn't order any of their expensive water, the waiter didn't bring me any, and I left a smaller tip than i normally would have.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: barleywino

                            Did you ask for water and they said no or was it just not brought to you? It is not uncommon in the southwest to have to ask for water. It IS uncommon to be refused and required to buy bottled water however.

                            1. re: ziggylu

                              i asked them for water and they said no, only expensive bottled water was available. Couldn't believe it. I should have ordered a bottle of champagne and drunk the water out of the ice bucket...

                              1. re: barleywino

                                Interesting! In Arizona it's illegal to refuse a person a glass of water...would have thought maybe they have similar laws in Nevada. Maybe not?

                          2. At least they told you they didn't serve tap water. I was a little surprised at La Folie in San Francisco when I asked for water and the server brought a bottle to the table. I was even more surprised when I saw the check and found out that that liter of Fiji cost $19.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: alanbarnes

                              my tip would have reflected the sans $19 water. In San Fran I KNOW for a FACT they do this to pad the bill. his tip 10% sans water change.

                            2. This happened to me all the time in Europe. One thing I really dislike in restaurants in US is when the waiter appears, he asks if you'd like sparkling or still water; in other words, he wants you to pay for special water. If you don't want it, you are forced to say so and worry you will appear "cheap." I just feel, if that's what I wish to order, I'll do so without any prompting. It's just a trick to run up the bill for no reason. If the waiter were to suggest his favorite app or dessert, I'd be open to that.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: walker

                                see- i'm fine with "appearing cheap" and asking straight up for tap. if the server shows an attitude it will probably be reflected in his tip at the end. and maybe he'll smarten up when i order my wine and show i'm not so cheap after all.
                                it's silly- a bottle of water is what, $6? so NOT selling one to a table means i miss out on a potential tip increase of what, $1.20? big wow.
                                i'd be inclined to worry about the future of a restaurant that has to have a policy about only selling bottled water. why? they're not making enough money? that's probably what i'd ask the manager. as a server, i couldn't work for people like that.

                              2. oooo- what if you ask for a mug of hot water with lemon, and a large glass of ice on the side?

                                1. This happened to me at a hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant in South Lake Tahoe. The surly and rude (almost comically so) proprietress refused us tap water, and insisted that we buy bottled waters and soft drinks from the display case. Although the food was surprisingly good, I will never return, nor will I recommend it to others.

                                  1. If I do, I would get up and leave on the spot, with an audible discussion with the manager before heading out the door.

                                    1. Have they forgotten that it's called the HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY???

                                      I'd get up right then and go someplace that wanted my business.

                                      I never drink bottled water - if I wanted to taste Alka-Seltzer with my meal, I'd bring my own.

                                      1. There was another thread about this same thing around April. It looked like a trend, so DH and I discussed it and decided we would just leave. I will actually give some slack if it's a hole in the wall, mostly take-out place where bottled water is $1. Oh, like a dim sum take out place. If it's a "regular" restaurant, we're gone.

                                        1. It may be nerve recking as the customer but what about the cost involved at the expense of the establishment? Over a course of even a year : how many glasses have to be run thru the dishwasher soap, power & water (EXPENSE) Each straw used (EXPENSE) each Lemon wedge (EXPENSE) and how about the cost of the ice. If you order a decent amount its one thing. Last week I had 8 men come in to watch a game and all they asked for was 8 glasses of water and requested extra lemons.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: colleenr

                                            last week my 19 yr old son had 3 friends over to watch the game... they ate over $50 worth of cold cuts, chips, salsa, soda and cheese......and you are griping about a whole lemon?

                                            now before you jump down my throat, know this... most bars have a 2 drink min. In restaurants there is VERY VERY VERY little chance that someone will come in and order tap water with lemon and nothing else....

                                          2. This happened to me in a Greek Resto in Montreal. They refused to bring tap water, and insisted on serving bottled water imported from Greece. This pissed me off to no end, but I was being taken out for my birthday, so aside from a few snide remarks to the waiter, I kept my mouth shut.

                                            I am always appalled by the markup on water bottles. $6-10 for a bottle of water? arghh!! And of course the environmental cost of putting it in a bottle and shipping it halfway across the world. I consider myself to have a very good palate, but I cannot notice enough difference in taste to justify the additional financial and environmental cost of bottled water in this setting. I understand that it may be useful to have bottled water in certain settings (outdoor festivals, where tap water would be hard to provide). But in a resto? Nope. Pisses me off.

                                            1. I do know of a couple of restaurants in NYC that refuse to serve tap -- and they're both Italian.

                                              1. There were a few times when operating my former restaurant that I refused to serve tap water. These were times when the municipal water supply was potentially compromised (ie we received an alert from the city that elevated levels of XXX were found in recent samplings). On these occasions, I served bottled water only at $.05 over my cost.

                                                This isn't in defense of those restaurants that deliberately upsell bottled water at high markup, just pointing out that there may be reasons behind bottled over tap.

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: hannaone

                                                  Well, I am just back from a vacation in the same part of Maine that Pikawicca, the original poster, was talking about and there is no health crisis that I was aware of. Sounds to me that this is just a cranky serving person exercising her authority. Bad choice of issue...

                                                  I read the Macleans article with interest. Our office is a "bottled water free zone" and has been for 2 years because of our commitment to going easy on the environment. It was done originally at the request of our Board of Directors who bought us the filtration gizmo as incentive.(We are a not-for-profit with ties to the environmental movement).

                                                  However, we do have one holdout on staff who refuses to use the filtered tap water and still hauls in her own small individual bottles and cools them in the office fridge. We love this gal for everything else but she just drives us nuts over this issue! But what can you do? (Seriously, what if anything, could we do?)

                                                  1. re: LJS

                                                    The municipal water alerts were mailed to local residence/business only and were not usually common knowledge outside of our small town. They generally were not considered health crisis, but as an issue that might have an effect on persons with compromised immune systems. Rather than take a chance with peoples health, regardless of the minimal risk, I opted to serve bottled water on these occasions.
                                                    A visitor dining at my restaurant during one of these times could have drawn the conclusion that I simply refused to serve tap water in order to make money from bottled water.

                                                  2. re: hannaone

                                                    Hannaone, your policy is reasonable, responsible and fair. I wish all places had such excellent management.

                                                    I save my ire for places where it isn't about health and safety, it is about crazy markup, image, etc. Places where they gouge you for the bottle, and make you feel cheap and unsophisticated if you dare ask for anything other than their $12 bottle of ridiculously packaged Voss water.