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Jul 9, 2008 01:00 PM

no more free water?


Hi there,

I just went to Lee's Sandwiches for lunch here in SF on Larkin and got my usual #6. When my sandwich was ready, I retrieved it from the counter and asked for my usual glass of tap water. I was greeted with a '...we no longer give out free water...'

They have plenty of drinks to buy, but I've been getting free tap water for more than a year. I can see if I didn't order any food, then maybe they would shut me out, but this just felt wrong in so many ways.

I then thought to myself, is it legal for a eating establishment to decline free tap water to its customers?

Your thoughts?



  1. The only law I know of regarding water is that in SF and some other places around here it's illegal to serve it unless the customer requests it. (They passed that the last the time the supply was inadequate to meet the demand created by decades of unbridled development.)

    4 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      I know that some patrons have confused this law with an actual prohibition on serving free water, so I could see where an uninformed restaurant could reach the same conclusion. However, there is no Constitutional right to free water, either.

      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        AFAIK that "law" is an urban legend. In California, a utility is permitted to implement such a regulation as part of a mandatory rationing scheme, but SF is currently under voluntary conservation measures, not mandatory rationing. The East Bay MUD is going to mandatory rationing on August 1, but will only be "encouraging" restaurants to serve water only on request. Same with a few other places in NorCal.

        As to the OP--given that SF is currently under a National Weather Service "excessive heat watch," it's may be legal, but it's incredibly foolish for a restaurant owner to refuse to serve tap water to a customer. A little dehydration, a little heat stroke, a little litigation. Dixie cups are cheap.

        1. re: alanbarnes

          If it were an urban legend, you wouldn't see me repeating it. It was adopted by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission in 1977:

          The Code of the City of San Francisco, California

          It shall be unlawful for any person, firm, association, corporation, partnership or organization of any kind, with respect to water provided directly from the San Francisco Water Department through its facilities to ... (g) Serve water to a customer in a restaurant unless specifically requested by such customer.

      2. I think they could legally charge you for a cup if they wanted.

        2 Replies
        1. re: dignyou

          yeah, i would have accepted that i guess, but she didn't offer it as an option and i guess i was too put off by the miff that i didn't offer to buy a cup either. ho-hum.

          1. re: dignyou

            I've seen many signs (generally in pizza parlors) where they say the water is free but there's a charge for the cup.

          2. When I get water at Lee's, I just grab a cup from the coffee area and fill it up at the soda fountain (there's a button for tap water). No one ever notices/comments and I never ask.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Concetta

              whoa, nice one! you mean the Lee's Sandwiches on Larkin and not Lee's Deli (scattered all over SF), correct? if so, that rules. thanks for the tip.

              1. re: sfindie

                oops - you're right. Was channeling the ever ubiquitous Lee's Deli. Sorry for any confusion.

            2. It's completely ridiculous. My reply to, "We no longer give out free water" would be along the lines of, "All right, then I no longer buy sandwiches at Lee's." And they probably wouldn't care, but I'd feel good about it.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Atomica

                It's not completely ridiculous. They are trying to cut costs as all other businesses do. You are welcome of course to get a $6 sandwich from another vendor.

              2. Just duck into a Starbucks, don't they have a policy of offering free water?

                1 Reply
                1. re: walker

                  Starbucks, I think, only gives a thimble size free water unless you buy something there, then they'll give you a bigger one. I was approached one day by a teenager who explained it to me and asked if I would request a free large water with my latte and give it to him. I obliged, but it was weird.