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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.

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            I stand corrected. Thanks for the info.

      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.

                2. This does sound weird.

                  The only thing to add is California is in a drought (officially declared) and water rationing and/or mandatory reduced use in some counties has already begun.

                  Don't know what laws apply, legalities or what but it might add some context...or not.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: ML8000

                    I ws just in here recently for the first time. I think I gave the woman at the counter a bit of a sour look when she refused me water, and she explained that it was too expensive for them to pay for the cups of free water. This is their explanation for whatever it's worth

                    1. re: ML8000

                      Yes, I was thinking of drought, too. I remember around 1990 or so when California was in the midst of a drought. Homes and businesses (except for places like hospitals) were levied fines if they used more than a certain amount of water. People had to take shorter showers and let their lawns go brown. To the point of the original post, it was not uncommon for restaurants to charge for a simple glass of tap water in an effort to counter the inevitable fees.

                      I've been to Lee's on Larkin, and things are pretty darn cheap, so I would imagine that they are operating on a rather tight profit margin. Water isn't free, the soda machine isn't free, the power to run it isn't free, the cup itself isn't free (whether we're talking about the disposable kind, or the labor and power and water to wash a reusable one). So while I feel a simple glass of tapwater for free is a reasonable courtesy, I don't expect it.

                      1. re: weem

                        The margin profit margin factor is real. Any place serving sandwiches at that price point, including the $2 buck ones (although there's more), probably has the attitude that things are cheap enough.

                        My guess is Lee's is experiencing what every other place is experiencing -- higher costs due to gas, employee health care in SF -- but hasn't raised prices yet, but are getting jumpy.

                        Of course this is bad PR. They should just raise the prices like every other place and give the water away if asked.

                    2. Vote with your feet--there are much better Vietnamese sandwich places nearby (as well as American sandwich ones) who'll provide free water.

                      1. No restaurant is obligated to give you free water. Most do as a matter of course, but there is a major drought in CA. We had the same situation here on the east coast several years back, and several restaurants at the beach began charging for water because the cost to them had gone up sharply.

                          1. One more thought (maybe already mentioned) - try bringing your own empty water bottle in and asking them to fill it up.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: Concetta

                              I was thinking the same thing. I also wonder if the Lee's in Phoenix is doing the same thing. I usually order something though (iced coffee - yum) if eating in, so I guess I never noticed one way or the other.

                              1. re: Jen76

                                Well, Lee's here is still giving out water. In fact, they had a whole tray of filled water cups ready to go in case anyone asked. On the other hand, they still aren't serving tomatoes on the "Euro" sandwiches. Wish they had sliced pickles to go on or something. :)

                            2. I do not think a business has any legal obligation to give free water to a customer. Water, even tap water costs the business money, as well as the cup it is served in.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: swsidejim

                                I think the US is the only place left that gives out free water. I've heard from my globe trotting co-workers that free water is the one amenity they miss when dining abroad. I recall my last trip to Dublin (many years ago) where when we asked for water, we were presented with Evian. We asked about tap and were told it wasn't an option.

                                1. re: stolenchange

                                  In the UK, the licensing of pubs includes the requirement that they provide free water upon request. Technically, if a pub owner lives on the premises, he is required to provide water even when the pub is closed. This all goes back several hundred years, IIRC, and the statute is still on the books, but is likely never actually enforced.

                                  1. re: stolenchange

                                    I haven't had much troubles getting free water in European countries recently. The only places where I've found tap water not to be available are countries where the water is unsafe to drink.

                                2. The Quizno's by me ended giving out free water cups a while back. They've got a self-serve drink area located in a way that the employees can't see what's happening with the soda and iced tea dispensors, and they were having too many problems with patrons filling up their 'water' cups with Coke or tea instead.

                                  1. Might be time that .02 cents plain is brought back.

                                    1. The only thing I've seen is cup charges of around $.05-.25, which I think is reasonable. Forcing people to buy bottled water is another story.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: queencru

                                        I'm confused. Short of blackmail, how would anyone be forced to buy anything?

                                      2. Well, gosh, then I guess this recession we won't be drinking the Depression special, which was a Pine Float (glass of water and a toothpick). People would order this so they could sit indoors at a table.

                                        1. HA! Try getting free tap water at any given resto in Germany. Good luck with that one. Be prepared to argue with the waiter, even if you've ordered a glass of wine as well...

                                          9 Replies
                                          1. re: linguafood

                                            The two years I lived in Germany I never had any problems when asking for tap water.

                                            1. re: tmso

                                              Wow. Well, consider yourself lucky then, as it certainly can't be expected -- save the Italian-style caf├ęs where one gets water with espresso.

                                              1. re: linguafood

                                                No, I can't imagine I had two straight years of just luck. I wonder if it's a regional thing? The closest thing to trouble I got in Munich was the waiter making sure I knew that there would be no carbonation in the water (oy, yes, that was exactly the idea).

                                                1. re: tmso

                                                  I don't think it's just luck. In the past year I've lived in the UK, and visited various areas of France, Italy, Netherlands, Germany, Slovenia, Denmark, and Sweden and had very little problems ordering tap water. I did not typically go to any high-end restaurants.

                                                  1. re: queencru

                                                    Maybe they're more prone to give you tap water because they know Americans are used to it. I'm not saying I can NEVER get tap water at a restaurant, but one often gets a raised eyebrow along with it -- because they'd much rather SELL you water.

                                                    1. re: linguafood

                                                      Are you saying a business would rather sell you something than give you something for free? You might be on to something!

                                                      1. re: miss_bennet

                                                        I know, it's some crazy shit '-)

                                                2. re: linguafood

                                                  I've lived in Munich, Kiel, and Freiburg-im-Breisgau. Also traveled extensively throughout Germany. Never once had a problem getting tap water. May you should consider yourself UNlucky.

                                                  1. re: pikawicca

                                                    I'm not saying it's impossible. I am saying that more often than not, when asking for tap water, you get attitude along with it. It depends on the place, too. In Italian restos in Germany it is not unusual to get tap water without a comment, IF you order wine as well.

                                                    In comparison to the US, where ice water is -- more often than not --- brought to the table without even asking whether this is wanted or not, it's certainly not common in Germany.

                                            2. I'm sorry but any restaurant who refuses to give you a glass of tap water with your food doesn't deserve your business. It's not liked you just walked in off the street and weren't already spending money there.

                                              Personally, that would be my last visit to that sandwich shop, legalities aside.

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: meadandale

                                                giving water at a restaurant in a glass with ice is a cost of doing business IMO. It would be like a hairdresser charging for the shampoo, or your doctor charging you for sheets of paper for your chart.

                                                However I can see the deal for takeout places. Why should they be giving out free styrophone cups or paper cups even if you are buying a sandwich? I don't know it's one of those conundrums where the cost of paper goods has risen so much. I can see both sides of the argument.

                                                1. re: meadandale

                                                  >>any restaurant who refuses to give you a glass of tap water with your food doesn't deserve your business.

                                                  Exactly. The antithesis is unacceptable.

                                                  Lots of restaurants out there.

                                                  1. re: meadandale

                                                    I agree, its silly to upset a customer over a cup of water. The business you give them is worth MANY, MANY, MANY glasses of water. The problem is, sometimes restaurants don't realize this until its too late.

                                                  2. It is legal for them to refuse to "give" you water. They can charge you a nominal fee for it (to cover the costs associated with cups and such) but they don't have to give it away. Is it "smart" for them to start refusing to give away tap water? Yes; most definitely. No one, beyond a vocal minority, will care and they'll also see an upsurge in sales on their other drinks.

                                                    8 Replies
                                                    1. re: The Ranger

                                                      Do you think that would be the case in sit-down restaurants where there really isn't much cost to giving away water since the glasses are reused? I live in a hot area and it's easy to gulp down a glass or two of water, but you can't exactly do that when you order a bottle of wine. With the economy the way it is these days, people are trying to find little ways to save and I can easily see people switching restaurants if some start offering bottled water only.

                                                      1. re: queencru

                                                        It's a different business model... But if enough customers in a sit-down restaurant stop ordering soda/bottled drinks and increase tap water consumption, I could easily see them testing it.

                                                        Sort of like Lee with the "No free tap water" -- they'll watch the numbers and see if sales drop as a result. X% drop is acceptable; X-Y% quietly reintroduce free tap water."

                                                        1. re: The Ranger

                                                          Any business model depends on keeping your current customer base happy, even if they're less profitable than others. The hardest thing in any business is to attract new customers.

                                                          Let's say you serve 300 regular customers a day in an office building sandwich shop who order a $6 sandwich. 90% (270) of them normally order a soda to go with the sandwich, 10% (30) ask for a traditionally free cup of tap water.

                                                          Now that you're refusing to provide free tap water--of the 30 who routinely ask for water, 15 will suck it up and pay $1.50 for a bottle of Dasani, 15 will never return (either silently or after voicing displeasure with management).

                                                          The 15 customers who are now buying your bottled water are providing an extra $5,625 in revenue to your business per year (250 workdays * 15 customers * $1.50/bottle).

                                                          The 15 ticked-off customers are no longer buying your sandwiches represent an annual revenue loss of $22,500 (250 * 15 * $6/sandwich).

                                                          Replacing this revenue with new customers is all the more difficult since some of those incoming customers will be equally ticked off at the water policy on their first and only visit.

                                                          Unless we're talking about refusing water to deadbeats who have no intention of ever ordering anything from your business, refusing free tap or asking for anything more than a nominal cup charge is a pennywise, pound-foolish decision.

                                                            1. re: tubman

                                                              I think you're totally-torqued customers that won't return is too high: Of the original 15, ten will still pay for the sandwich, not ordering the bottled/canned drinks (they might even bring something along as a protest). Five will simply not return after the initial "No more free water for you" confrontation with four disappearing quietly and the fifth making a scene. I'd be surprised if the numbers were higher.

                                                              BTW: I would also think providing water to paying customers is a no-brainer but it seems to be how some sandwich shops work. To me, if it bothers them to "give something away for free" then charge for the cup and service. <shrug>

                                                              1. re: tubman

                                                                You have to consider margins, though. Let's assume that your numbers are made up, but that that $1.50 bottle of Dasani costs you $.25, while the $6 sandwich costs you $5. (Please note that none of these numbers has any basis in reality; they're for illustration only.)

                                                                So your gross sales for the year go down $16,875. But your gross profits are up $937.50. Under these facts, you've made a good business decision.

                                                                1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                  The $6 sandwich costs you $5 only when you apportion the cost of overhead (rent, utilities) that you'd be paying regardless of the customer volume. The marginal cost of providing that sandwich is two dollars worth of ingredients and wrapping paper, and a minute's worth of labor.

                                                                  1. re: tubman

                                                                    As I said, the numbers were just made up for purposes of illustration. The point is that you have to look at net profit, not just gross revenue, when evaluating a business decision. As Alan Dershowitz once said, "when you're losing two dollars a sandwich, you can't make up the loss on volume."

                                                        2. Come to Oregon, we have lots of great high quality good tasting water. In Eugene our water comes from undergound springs at the base of the three Sisters and goes into Clear Lake. At over 100' deep you can see all the way to the bottom. It then heads down the McKenzie River and is taken out upstream from the Metro area and treated. The PH is perfect and is excellent tasting. Very soft, doesn't spot cars or coat pipes. Nice tasty stuff, expecially with a little good whiskey. No shortage of the stuff, one of the largest snow falls this year up in the mountains, some hiking trails and roads are still not open.

                                                          No restaurant charges for water in Eugene. They would be laughed at. And there is no good reason to buy bottled water here, the stuff from the tap is better than the fancy stuff imported from who knows wherre.

                                                          2 Replies
                                                          1. re: duck833

                                                            I've lived in some places with seriously nasty drinking water (Iowa City, San Diego, Santa Barbara), and San Francisco's tap water is really quite good.

                                                            1. re: Atomica

                                                              Indeed, SF drinking water comes from the Sierra, down from the snow pack running into the Tuolumne River in Yosemite.

                                                          2. I had the experience today of walking into a small restaurant in a university area in NYS and being refused a glass of water with the lunch I bought. The owner said he had no cups. I said, you should get cups. He said, I don't have to.

                                                            I don't know the regulation in NYS. Does anyone know if he is required to provide tap water here. This has never happened to me before and we have no water shortage.

                                                            1. Hmm, this is an interesting question. I don't think there is a law regarding giving out free water (maybe in a marathon in hot water, it would be inhumane to not hand out water...)

                                                              But, in Europe (and South America - or at least Argentina!), they do not give you free water. You have to order and pay an arm and a leg for water. I love everything about these two continents except this. I'm a HUGE water drinker and drink tons of water with my meals. Paying for it almost seems inhumane, but these days with food prices and maybe the cost of the "cups"...I could see where restaurants need to go out of their ordinary means to make money.

                                                              I would however, consider it a luxury that here in America we can get free water in most places.

                                                              2 Replies
                                                              1. re: Chew on That

                                                                Europe does give free water. I've been to 9 countries just this year and can't say I really had any problems getting free water in any of those countries.

                                                                I think in other areas, the water may not be quite as potable and I'm not as perturbed by paying for bottled water.

                                                                1. re: queencru

                                                                  "Europe does give free water"

                                                                  Generally speaking, yes.

                                                                  Here in the UK, it is commonplace to ask for a jug of free tap water. Some bottom-end places - like the all-you-can-eat Chinese buffets - do not offer free but make this very clear so there's no surprises.

                                                                  I believe that, in France, it is a statutory requirement to offer free water. Usually comes in a carafe.

                                                                  I think the situation in Belgium,Spain, Ireland and Italy is similar to the UK but I tend to order sparkling water in restaurants so am uncertain.

                                                              2. Here in Canada we receive free water. And we are preparing ourselves for the eventual encroachment onto our territory due to our abundant supply of that precious resource.

                                                                1. As a take out restaurant owner inside of an airport I can tell you there are legitimate reasons for not giving out water cups. Keep in mind the overhead in an airport is obnoxious and most people dont believe what I pay in rent when told.

                                                                  4 Replies
                                                                  1. re: foodseller

                                                                    I have a hard time believing that little plastic water cups could be so detrimental to your bottom line that it wouldn 't be worth giving water to customers, who will no doubt appreciate it and have a more favorable oppinion of your place than if you refused them water. Being in an airport, most of your customers won't be repeaters, but it would still shock me that it is so costly to have some basic plastic cups.

                                                                    1. re: observor

                                                                      observor, Most customers judge business on the quality of the food, value, and level of service, in that order. If the most important quality if a restaurant is whether or not they give away free water cups then we need to reevaluate( I think thats misspelled) how we judge. 1 little plastic cup does not cost much, but 50,000 do. Not counting the soda stolen by the deadbeats. Not counting the drink not purchased by that person who no longer is thirsty because they quenched their thirst with free water. Its not about witholding a drink of water from someone on the street who cant afford a bottle beverage, but of giving away product to someone that can afford it, but doesn't want to spend it. Nobody at the airport is broke. you need money to fly. Thats why the city charges thru the nose for rent because they know that the building is full of people with a couple bucks in their pocket. The non customer that walks up and asks for hot sauce or ranch dressing are told there is a 50 cent charge, which they normally balk at. The non customer that walks up and asks for same items and offers to pay always gets said item and is told to keep their money and please keep us in mind next time hungry. Manners and decency go a long way.

                                                                    2. re: foodseller

                                                                      This is the second time you've posted this (once on another thread as well).

                                                                      Please list the various reasons, as I am quite keen to know more. Thanks!

                                                                      1. re: a213b

                                                                        I suppose in an airport he doesn't have to offer free water because he won't get many repeaters, people are limited in their options anyway, and there are water fountains about. Might as well refuse water and hope the person buys a beverage.

                                                                    3. 1st, When I moved into my space we and the other restaurants in our food court purchased a $5600 stainless steel filtered drinking water fountain located 20 feet from our counter. My share was $1800. I gave out free water cups for the first 5 years in operation, on average 30 a day. Half to customers buying food, half to people that didnt want to spend anything. 30 a day x 365 days x 5 years. Cost of the cup is 12 cents, not counting lids and straws. NOT ONCE did any of the people asking for the free cup offer even a dime or quarter for the cost of product, or throw some change into the tip jar, NEVER! 2nd, At least a third of the people would get soda instead of water . I know this because I watched this happen time after time, all day long. 3rd, drinks make up about 20% of my sales. My prices are very reasonable, especially for an airport. $1.99 for a 700ml name brand water, $1.99 for 20oz coke and pepsi bottles, $3.49 for naked juice and so on. I actually kept a written log of the water cup people for a month, how many asked, what they did when turned down, if they then purchased a drink, and their responses. About 90% of the non customers gave a sarcastic remark or negative attitude, which is funny since they are not spending anything yet feel they should get whatever they ask for free of charge. I only wish I had changed my policy earlier since these freeloaders water cups would have paid for a real nice vaction in Hawaii. About 80% of the food buying customers wound up buying a beverage. That adds up to alot of money . Just tonite I had a pilot order food, asked if Diet Coke was available in the fountain, I said yes, then asks me for a water cup, I say no water cups, then he purchases a fountain soda cup. Odd he didnt buy a bottle water since he wanted a water cup, dont ya think? So not only did I not give away the cost of the water cup but I was actually able to make a couple bucks on the soda, which leads me to my 4th and final point. I run a business. I am in business to make money. I am not running a charity. My out of pocket costs to start my business was almost $400,000. I pay about $13,000 per month for 950 sq feet, an obnoxious amount of overhead for that amount of space. Not included is the $6,000 a week in labor and $ 2,000 a week in insurance and utilities. I need to sell product in order to have a job. If you dont want to spend money, bring a empty water bottle from home. Take responsibility for yourself. It is not my obligation to hydrate you. The people crying are the ones that dont want to carry a bottle around or dont think to bring one which means they are either lazy or stupid and I dont want them near my restaurant since those are the type of people that always find something to complain about. Bring me a bottle and be pleasant and I will be more than happy to fill with tap water. Unless your name is on the lease and on the hook for the rent you shouldnt tell me how my business should be run. Walk a day in my shoes then see if you have the same attitude about a little water cup.

                                                                      29 Replies
                                                                      1. re: foodseller

                                                                        No one thinks you should give cups to non-customers, and I found 7 oz. plastic cups for 2 cents each, plus you could put pitchers of water on the counter to make sure they don't take any soda (that sucks a pilot would try to screw you).

                                                                        1. re: foodseller

                                                                          I, for one, appreciate learning about your side of the story. I guess I should only expect a free cup of water from a non-profit like place. I'm sincere about this!! It would take my breath away to have that much overhead every month.

                                                                          1. re: foodseller

                                                                            Wow, that is frightening.

                                                                            First, kudos for placing in the filtered system. Not sure with a 400K investment that would have made the jfood list, sorta like funding the competition, but jfood is probably preaching to the choir.

                                                                            Second, the idea that people expect you to give them a cup without buying and then taking free water is bad, then they take soda is reprehensible and borderline thievery.

                                                                            You should get together with the other generous shopkeepers and come to an agreement on a plan to sell the cups (which by the way sounds way overpriced, you need a new vendor) plus a sign over the fountain stating the water cups are only for water.

                                                                            1. re: foodseller

                                                                              "If you dont want to spend money, bring a empty water bottle from home."

                                                                              Um, have you flown anywhere recently? You cannot bring water through security checkpoints, and after the checkpoints is where all the restaurants are.

                                                                              Nobody told you to open a restaurant in an airport; you could have done so elsewhere with lower costs. For that matter, nobody TOLD you to open a restaurant, period. Little by little, the word does get out, people ARE repeat travelers, and they DO make recommendations to friends and family flying places, and they WILL frequent your place less because you are perceived as a skinflint for not giving out water cups. It's these small, wrong decisions that can spell the end of your business and a waste of your investment.

                                                                              As was pointed out, there are likely cheaper cups you can buy. You could raise the price one penny of everything on your menu and customers wouldn't notice, and you'd probably make up the difference (and then some) of your water "costs." If you don't want people stealing sodapop, take out the fountain and sell cans/bottles. Your business' holes (such as people getting a water cup and then filling it up with pop, which costs you what, 1/16th of a cent?) are not the public's problem, but your refusal to respond to customer's desires to have a free cup of water will be your problem when people stop patronizing your establishment.

                                                                              1. re: rockandroller1

                                                                                If the water bottle is empty, I think it can go through security? But I may be wrong on this point.

                                                                                1. re: bdachow

                                                                                  You can. I bring through empty bottles all the time.

                                                                                2. re: rockandroller1

                                                                                  Jfood travels every week and the liquid cannot go through but the bottle can. Many have posted here that they bring empty Nalgenes through security and fill in the bathroom and the water fountain. Jfood sees them all the time attached to knapsacks. And as a repeat traveller and one who buys dinner to bring on the plane every week, jfood does not want to pay for the mooch-factor.

                                                                                  The idea that one needs to teach ethics to the travelling public is frightening. So you are saying that jfood can bring his Nalgene up to the fountain and fill it with diet coke? Is there no self-repect left in the world? If you want free water then go to the water fountain or into the bathroom and cup your hand under the faucet, or wait until you get on the plane. This person is providing a service and should be respected and compensated.

                                                                                  This entrepreneur was also kind enough to spend a portion of $18,000 to provide his CUSTOMERS with the option of filtered water.

                                                                                  Another addition to the no good deed goes unpunished list.

                                                                                  1. re: jfood

                                                                                    jfood; very few are the seasoned traveler you are. And very few research or even think of what they can or can't do with empty bottles but do know they have a budget to stick to. I hope very, very few (preferably none but thats not reality) are the type that ripoff others by taking soda or other things they have not paid for. All that blah, blah being said it would be nice if water were available in cup form at no or nominal cost. The last town I lived in is a transient mecca during the spring/summer/fall and the fast food restaurants had the same problems as Foodseller with people stealing soda. What they came up with is use of a neon colored cup for water. If you ordered food you could get a cup for free, if you did not the cup is 25 cents. According to an intereview with the owners/managers most people are put off by the color enough to buy a regular drink. Those who do receive/purchase cups generally get water (in a fountain situation the water button is next to the clear soda) as they don't want to be seen as stealing. It seemed to the owners but no proof was available that the transients more often dug cups out of the trash than previously but overall soda theft was less.

                                                                                    Just for clarification foodseller stated he had contributed $1,800 to the $5,600 drinking fountain. I'm sure his investment though not acknowledged by the public has paid for itself with the commiserating grumbles of the other business owners if nothing else. While he is obviously in no way responsible to anyone but himself and his bank for his business choices he can find ways to foster good will amongst his patrons while keeping the bottom line clearly in sight and still attracting the repeat business of repeat travelers such as yourself or just helping out some freaked out mother with littles on her way to a funeral like me (long ago, but I remember) this is not his job but what goes around comes around as my mother always said.

                                                                                    1. re: just_M

                                                                                      jfood understands ll the arguments about goodwill and repeat customers and as a seasoned (broiled, basted, charred, diced and sliced as well) traveller he understands that the repeat customer is probably not a business model that drives airport fast food restaurants. Let's start with good is an acceptable standard for food. Now there are some places that jfood would just not eat at and others that are his first choice, but you are looking at the difference between Sbarros pizza, Wok & Roll, BK, McD's, etc. See the point, it is tummy fillers vs haute.

                                                                                      Now given the customer needs to fill its own glass, jfood will assume it is of the fast food versus the sit-down Puck type places. High turonover, people go because they know the name, thin margins, fly by buyers.

                                                                                      But why is it only the owner that has the "what goes around comes around", in this case it could be the customer as well. And the owner has done a nice job quantifying the cost of the freebies, and he has experienced the change from the free-water to customer phenomenom. So he is working from good data.

                                                                                      Would it be nice yes, but as you can see from many threads on these boards, there are lots of people who feel so entitled that it is free this and free that. As jfood was taught in B-School, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Would it hurt the customer to buy something from the restaurant?

                                                                                      1. re: just_M

                                                                                        just_M, 1st, Personally I like the idea about neon cups but the main problem with that is it comes back to hoping the person has some shame. If not then it does nothing and I can probably guess correctly that neon cups are more expensive than plain cups and then its just more of the same. 2nd, I cant jump over the counter and confront people 20 times a day. I just dont have the time to police a soda machine. It all comes back to a few ruining it for everyone else. Believe me when I say I understand both sides of the argument. I ALWAYS order a glass of water with lemon with my meal so I dont have to spend an extra $3 . I am that cheap. I would also understand if the business did not offer it. They want to make money. If money is short I eat at home. PS, I always go the extra mile with customer service when a parent with small children, folks in wheelchairs, seniors, and the like are at my counter. Usually involves free bottle water, cookies or fresh fruit for the kids put in the bag without mentioning it to the parent. 5 nights a week I drop off the extra unserved food at homeless shelter on the way home. I use common sense and judge each situation fairly. After serving 400 customers a day x 365 days x 5 years you get a feel for people and whats going on in their mind. Body language, how they speak, tone, attitude, volume, type of questions. You learn to read people and know what the deal is. I pray that what goes around comes around cuz Ive got alot of good credit built up. Thx

                                                                                        1. re: foodseller

                                                                                          Just one question. If it's a "water fountain" why does anyone need a cup?

                                                                                          1. re: Servorg

                                                                                            Some people need it to take medicine. It's really hard to swallow pills from a fountain. I find that they often get stuck in my throat because of the angle the water enters when you are at a fountain vs. from a cup/bottle.

                                                                                            1. re: queencru

                                                                                              Well, I do it all the time without a problem. But leaving that semi excuse (normally I take my medicine at home or in the hotel room if I'm on the road) aside for the moment, how many of the total number of people asking for cups could that encompass?

                                                                                              1. re: Servorg

                                                                                                This travel season that's quite a few people as it seems more grandparents are flying out rather than children coming home, but still just a small amount of those who want cups.
                                                                                                At our shops we give out small 3 ounce sample cups for those wanting to take medicine.
                                                                                                Others who actually fill the cups at the water fountain take the cups to their seats in the waiting area, then onto the plane. Still others attempt to get the "free refill" at the fast food place across the court from us (doesn't work - our cups are now deliberately different from theirs).

                                                                                              2. re: queencru

                                                                                                maybe food seller will let us know about the type of fountain, but if jfood needed to take some medicine and needed a cup and there was one avaialble for a few cents, yeah, he'd probably buy it.

                                                                                                Likewise jfood bets if he showed up at foodseller holding some pills, foodseller may give him a cup, that sorta fits in the good karma bucket.

                                                                                                1. re: jfood

                                                                                                  jfood, Definatly. I have never turned down in that situation. Might happen once a month at most.

                                                                                              3. re: Servorg

                                                                                                Servorg, They ask for a cup because that allows them to carry a drink around without having to purchase a drink. The fountain is good for people that really need a drink of water. Our water fountain is placed right in the middle of the seating area for easy access. Rarely( and I do watch just to see if im right) does the water cup mooch get a drink from the water fountain after being turned down for the cup. If i was someone on meds and knew I would be taking them away from home and they were that important I would carry a small paper cup envelope in my wallet or luggage, the kind that comes with the Aleve or Tylenol package at the airport. Those that fail to plan plan to fail. Unfortunatly it all comes back to not wanting to part with a couple bucks for a drink.

                                                                                                1. re: foodseller

                                                                                                  So, given that what would be wrong with your business telling non food purchasers that "There is a drinking fountain right over there" and point to the fountain, and perhaps adding, "We offer cups for 10 cents if you need one"?

                                                                                                  As far as the cup people getting soda from your machine, most places seem to have cups for water that are different from their soda cups. If people are stealing soda then that is something you should address with airport or food court management - or take action yourself if they won't assist you.

                                                                                                  1. re: Servorg

                                                                                                    Servorg, I agree and in theory sounds good but 99% of the tap water connoisseurs refuse to pay anything for a cup. I point to the fountain every time asked. When I tried selling cups the conversation normally went like this. Mooch " can I get a water cup( or courtesy or kids cup)? Me" We sell those size cups for 25 cents". Mooch" No, I just want a cup for water". Me " We are not selling you the water, we sell the cup". Mooch" You charge for water?? Isnt that against the law? Im not paying for water!" Me" I sell the cup, not the water. there is a clean filtered water fountain right over there". Mooch" Whatever". Usually with a roll of the eyes or some other sarcastic remark. Just that exchange alone repeated a few thousand times makes you not want to give out a cup, even if they paid a quarter and didnt steal soda. For some reason the water cup mooch feels I owe them something for nothing, I guess its their birthright. In regards to the soda thief, what can you really do? I would LOVE to confront every thief and have a few times but is unpractical for many reasons, liability, time, labor, lost sales while no one is watching the register while im jumping over the counter. You risk a physical altercation everytime you confront someone, no telling what nut job is out there. Also, every cup you hand out is one less beverage customer. Ive got to do $90,000 a month to break even. Only so much food you can sell. When we discussed this with the landlord(the city) they told us to stop giving out water cups. An interesting note though when I and the other shop owners stopped the water cups the first month our soda syrup usage went down 31%. Like right out of Xfiles or sumthing

                                                                                                    1. re: foodseller

                                                                                                      foodseller, if the customers that you refused a cup for water to, went somewhere they give out cups, would your business be in trouble? Sure some people might sneak some soda in that cup, but surely, that would be a very small percentage.

                                                                                                      1. re: Craig L

                                                                                                        Craig L, If the water cup person used that qualifier to make their discision on where to eat I am better off without them since the free water cup species does not like to spend money. If they are that cheap with a dime or quarter how are they gonna pull $6 out of their vise, I mean wallet, for food? I am speaking from daily experience, not just what I would like to believe. 2nd, most customers actually are willing to pay for what they recieve. Even if the cup mooch went extinct from my neck of the woods that percentage of traffic is so small it wouldnt be noticed in a negative way. Unfortunatly the percentage of people who steal soda is higher than you think. I really wouldnt have this much passion for the subject if the thieves were a small minority.

                                                                                                        1. re: foodseller

                                                                                                          "An interesting note though when I and the other shop owners stopped the water cups the first month our soda syrup usage went down 31%. Like right out of Xfiles or sumthing"

                                                                                                          31% says it all buddy. Big freakin' number.

                                                                                                          So one out of every 3-4 people who are taking soda might be doing it with a free cup. Frightening data. Jfood feels like buying the cup and a bottle of water away the next time he gets his cheesesteak at MSP and throwing the cup away.

                                                                                                          1. re: foodseller

                                                                                                            I'm getting off topic here, it seems as though foodseller has a business in an airport. Therefore repeat customers are not as likely as in a neighbourhood establishment. Like in many other "tourist" spots, customers are treated poorly, because the are often one time only customers. Foodseller, I think your situation (being in an airport) is different.

                                                                                          2. re: rockandroller1

                                                                                            I now work in an Airport and in our coffee shops we are able to get somewhat cheaper base price on cups, but the "delivered" price (delivery fee, fuel surcharge, etc) adds a couple cents per cup.
                                                                                            We also put a halt to the free water/cups which put a stop to those who would get empty cups and fill them with coffee from our urns. Another result was a significant (roughly 13%) drop in the number of creamers, sweeteners, spoons, straws, etc that we went through on a daily basis.

                                                                                            1. re: hannaone

                                                                                              hannaone, Do you notice a difference in general public versus airline employees? Spending habits, attitude, expectations?

                                                                                              1. re: foodseller

                                                                                                Employees generally spend less than the general public in a single purchase, opting for the lower priced/free refill options, but they come to the shops several times a day. They generally are more laid back, polite, and patient versus the impatient, in a rush, and often downright rude traveler.
                                                                                                They (employees) do tend to have higher expectations for personalized service and "regular benefits", like our associates remembering their(employee's) drink preferences, and the occasional "free" extra.

                                                                                                The traveling public is in general speed oriented. Service has to be fast paced, no delays, little or no personal interaction. (Remember those credit card advertisements with the steady robotic flow?)
                                                                                                They want to get their order, pay, and leave. Quality of the product falls far below speed and pricing in most cases.
                                                                                                We carry local made pastries and sandwiches that are really good but higher priced, as well as nationally distributed, long halflife, shelf stable stuff at lower prices. The lower priced stuff is mostly purchased by the mass market while the good stuff is purchased mostly by employees.
                                                                                                I won't talk about general attitude - it's that dismal.

                                                                                                The airport world is a far different animal than what I experienced in the 13 years I spent in my former restaurant.

                                                                                                1. re: hannaone

                                                                                                  Jfood has also found that it is airport specific as well depending on the region. Without getting into specifics because it would get blasted by people in that particular region, there are striking differences between the various parts of the US.

                                                                                                  1. re: jfood

                                                                                                    There are a lot of sub sets to the "general Public".
                                                                                                    People from different areas view things, well, differently. They expect things to be either the same as "home" or are condescending about our "This isn't the big city" location.
                                                                                                    There is also a huge difference between Chowhounds (a very small minority) versus the masses. People who post on these boards actually care about quality first, which seems to be vanishing in our mass market world.

                                                                                            2. re: rockandroller1

                                                                                              Rockandroller1, 1st, you are exactly the type of non customer I was speaking about when I gave my little speech. You are attacking my quote yet did not pay attention to the details. I said bring an EMPTY BOTTLE with you to solve YOUR problem. I go thru airport security 3 times a day. There is not a TSA that will not allow an EMPTY BOTTLE. 2nd, My food is tasty enough to stand on its own that if a person chooses not to eat here because THEY were to shortsighted to bring an EMPTY BOTTLE with them then they can go hungry. Why dont YOU buy those cheaper cups you spoke of and hand them out to the masses? Why is that my responsibility? What in this world cost only 1/16th of a cent? Take out the soda machine I share with 3 other restaurants and put where? Ive got 900 sq feet! So now instead of 4 restaurants sharing a $10,000 machine each restaurant has to spend $10,000 per for their own machine? Because people cant police themselves? Raise the prices for everyone else because you dont want to pay for a beverage? I sell bottled drinks. I make money on bottled drinks. If you give out a free cup you are giving that person a reason to not purchase a drink. I pay a premium ( 10 times normal rent) because you are a captive audience. I have to recoup that. That is business.I have nothing to apologize for. My prices are more than fair and I bust my ass 50-60 hours a week to provide good customer service and product. While you are watching tv and opening gifts Xmas day I will by working the register 5am till 9pm so one less employee has to be away from his/her family that day. But to you the definition of good customer service means only that you get what you want regardless of whether its fair to the business. Ill bet money when you drop and break something in the grocery store parking lot you expect the store to replace it free of charge, right? They will probably do it once. Think theyll do it 30 times a day? If you knew anything about the restaurant business you would know that it is a nickel dime business. Nickels and dimes add up to dollars.

                                                                                          3. That is terrible to refuse to give a customer any water...in a *glass*. It would have to be great food for me to return there.

                                                                                            13 Replies
                                                                                            1. re: observor

                                                                                              I guess you didnt read anything i said.

                                                                                              1. re: foodseller

                                                                                                Of course I did but we're not talking about disposable cups here, this would be a *glass*.

                                                                                                1. re: observor

                                                                                                  so you would give a glass glass to someone who walks up to your counter in an airport knowing that the odds are real good that the glass will have its own frequent flyer number when they start boarding from the back of the plane? C'mon O. Ur kidding...right?

                                                                                                  1. re: observor

                                                                                                    Right, a *glass.* They're kept right next to the *bone china bowls* and the *mother of pearl spoons* for the customers who order *caviar.*

                                                                                                    C'mon, this is a FOOD COURT. At an AIRPORT. You really think they're set up to wash china, cutlery, and glassware?

                                                                                                    1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                                                      How about having a look at the OP, kthnx.

                                                                                                      1. re: observor

                                                                                                        Oops, point well taken. I incorrectly attributed your post to the airport vendor subthread. Sorry.

                                                                                                        That said, the OP was discussing Lee's Sandwiches on Larkin Street in San Francisco's Little Saigon. Same principles apply. Since I avoid the place (prefer Saigon Sandwich across the street, with a current banh mi focus on the smaller shops in the area), my recollection may be incorrect. But AFAIK there's no cutlery or glassware at Lee's, either.

                                                                                                  2. re: foodseller

                                                                                                    All I can tell you is that any company that wouldn't provide me water with my food - nominal cup charge allowable - would not only not have me purchase a drink but I would also tell other people not to be a purchaser there as well. There's something called basic human service.

                                                                                                    1. re: observor

                                                                                                      Observor, What is so wrong about paying for what you get?

                                                                                                      1. re: foodseller

                                                                                                        Yes, I am saying that charging for water cups is fine, but any place that outright refuses water to customers is wrong.

                                                                                                        1. re: observor

                                                                                                          Observor, I agree with you!! I am not refusing to give you water, even out of my tap I pay for monthly. I will give you all the water you want on my dime. I spent $1800 so that you, a human being that Ive never met and might never buy anything from me, could have clean filtered drinking water. So the $1800 I gave you means nothing because I wont throw in another 25 cents? Huh? I caught more verbal abuse when asking for 25 cents for the cup than when just saying "sorry, no water cups". The water cup people dont feel they should pay anything, period. Been there done that.

                                                                                                      2. re: observor

                                                                                                        observor, Did you not read my post that stated how much I spent out of pocket to provide clean filtered water to the public free of charge? Why is that not mentioned in your arguement? What is wrong with the fountain? I guess its a what have you done for me lately world.

                                                                                                        1. re: foodseller

                                                                                                          I don't really understand what the fountain is, or why it was put in, but I'm assuming its a drinking foutain? When people eat, they want to have a beverage with them...so why not charge them for the cup and tell them where to fill it. Or, as said, put pitchers of water on the counter for when they ask for a water cup if they are stealing soda.

                                                                                                          Anyway, this whole argument is affected by the fact that you are in an airport...whole different story, I believe.

                                                                                                          1. re: observor

                                                                                                            observor, It was put in so the public would have good clean drinking water FREE OF CHARGE. Health dept wont allow pitchers on the counter. Besides would take up what little counter space I have to put out goods I need to sell.

                                                                                                  3. If I were a paying customer at a restaurant, airport or otherwise, I would expect to receive a free cup for water. If I were not a paying customer, I would never expect a restaurant to give me a cup free of charge. This seems pretty basic to me. Why would anyone expect a business to give them something for free that the business had paid for? Makes no sense.

                                                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                                                    1. re: pikawicca

                                                                                                      Sense? This is Not About Food.

                                                                                                    2. Since it seems that everything there is to say about this topic has already been said, and replies are getting increasingly personal, we're going to lock this thread.