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Sick of the restaurant bottled water ripoff. Finally, someone is doing something about it

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wasabica Jan 13, 2009 09:02 AM

I frequent high-end restaurants around town fairly often and while I have no problems with spending lots of money on food and wine, I find the whole bottled water thing quite infuriating. Even if I am spending over $100 on a bottle of wine, they somehow make me feel cheap if I say "tap water is fine."

Well, it looks like there is finally a restaurant that is hitting this issue head on, and I want to give it some attention so perhaps other ones will get the idea. If we customers just accept it then nothing will ever change.

The restaurant (chez melange) sent this out in their email newsletter, and I think they capture my thoughts well. Am I alone in this?

________

Chez Melange Invests in Reverse Osmosis Water Supply

If you are keeping up with these newsletters, you are probably aware of how I spend a lot of time checking out other restaurants. Sometimes, I see something I really like and adapt it as my own. And sometimes, well, it doesn’t go so well. One of the current trends that I really consider a form of exploitation is this hard sell of the bottled water. It seems like restaurant patrons are made to feel unsophisticated, inadequate, and perhaps even thrifty if they respond “tap water” to the infamous “still or sparkling” question. I recently dined at a hot new venue across town and was shocked to discover that our party of four was charged us $32 for water (4 bottles of Evian.) This is madness. Not only has the bottled water been marked up significantly, but I have a hard time believing this same water was used to make the ice in my drinks or the water used to boil the pasta. It is my belief that for the health of their customers and the good of the environment progressive restaurants really need to move towards a Reverse Osmosis (RO) system.

Because of our focus on quality, community, and sustainability, Chez Melange has invested a significant amount of money into a Reverse Osmosis system. Now the water we use for all cooking, drinking, and even ice will be of the highest quality at no additional cost to you.

For those of you not familiar with Reverse Osmosis, here are some important facts to consider

1. RO removes far more impurities versus filtered water, most notably fluoride, lead, chromium, radium, arsenic, and many more
2. Bottled water is not as safe as tap water because it is not regulated by the EPA. Bottled water is considered a food product and is regulated by the FDA. The regulations for bottled water are different from tap water. Tap water is analyzed much more frequently than bottled water. Also bottled water is mostly contained in plastic bottles which may leach harmful cancer causing contaminates, such as Bis-phenol A (BPA). Reverse Osmosis (RO) not only tastes better than tap water, but it is the safest water to drink because it uses our EPA regulated tap water, and sends it through additional filtration which removes minerals, aluminum, arsenic, barium, cadmium, chloride, chromium, copper, fluoride, magnesium, iron, lead, manganese, mercury, nitrate, selenium, silver, sulfate, and zinc. RO is also effective with asbestos, many taste, color and odor-producing chemicals, particulates, total dissolved solids, turbidity, and radium.
3. Since there are no bottles, our environmental footprint is minimized.
4. Restaurants that use bottled or filtered water have a hard time using this water for all their needs. Because of cost, capacity, or convenience they are likely to limit use of the “good” water for drinking and maybe some cooking. Our RO system will be on all of our plumbing so it will not only be the water you are drinking, but also the water used for ice, cooking, even cleaning.

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  1. wilafur RE: wasabica Jan 13, 2009 09:08 AM

    i hope chez melange puts the "waste" water to good use. for every 1 gallon of ro water made, it wastes between 3-4 gallons.

    33 Replies
    1. re: wilafur
      Ruth Lafler RE: wilafur Jan 13, 2009 09:21 AM

      Wow. I look it up, and that's true. In California, wasting 75 percent of the water that flows through your system is criminal! Don't they realize Los Angeles is a freakin' desert?

      It might not be so bad if they were just using it for water for human consumption, but for all their cleaning it's really irresponsonsible!

      1. re: Ruth Lafler
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        wasabica RE: Ruth Lafler Jan 13, 2009 09:43 AM

        That might be true for residential systems, it is not as bad for industrial use. Also, it it does not "waste" water, that implies they pour it out onto the street. It goes into the septic system and is recycled. I'll take that option over filling landfills with bottles, not to mention the fact that bottled water is not even as good for you versus RO. As for using it for cleaning, I have RO at home and I have noticed when I clean my wine glasses with it, it does not leave spots, so I don't have to rewash my stuff like I used to before I got it. Also, I don't see how it would be logistically possible to hook it up to be able to use it for cooking, food prep, and ice making and not use it for cleaning.

        1. re: wasabica
          Ruth Lafler RE: wasabica Jan 13, 2009 09:57 AM

          Yeah, but you don't have to flush it down your toilet, either. It's pretty easy to separate water lines. What's wrong with using regular filtered tap water? As the restaurant owner himself noted, tap water is tested regularly and is safe. The only reason to filter it is for taste, not health. And some of that stuff they're removing (like fluoride) you want in your water.

          1. re: Ruth Lafler
            ccbweb RE: Ruth Lafler Jan 13, 2009 01:43 PM

            I'm confused about how it's wasteful/irresponsible to run all of their water through the RO system. They're not using extra water because of it. They're just filtering/purifying all of the water in use in the restaurant. Or I'm missing something which is entirely possible.

            1. re: ccbweb
              wilafur RE: ccbweb Jan 13, 2009 03:31 PM

              if they are not reclaiming the "waste" water for non-potable uses, then it is irresponsible.

              the rejection rate of the standard RO membrane is roughly 70-80%, therefore, it takes 4-5g of tap water to make 1g of ro water. so yes, they are using extra water.

              1. re: wilafur
                ccbweb RE: wilafur Jan 13, 2009 05:30 PM

                This is one of those times where someone on the internet doesn't know what you know. Will you explain "rejection rate" please? I can make presumptions, but I'd rather not because I have no idea if I'm on target really. Where does the rejected water go? If all of the water that comes into their restaurant is treated, where would there be waste water? I'm honestly asking and I honestly just don't know how RO systems work to know where waste water is created.

                1. re: ccbweb
                  hannaone RE: ccbweb Jan 14, 2009 06:34 AM

                  In most RO systems, the treated drinkable water is directed out one nozzle while the "waste" water, a kind of brine with the impurities, is directed out another, usually into the drain where it mixes with other sewage and is treated in the municipal water treatment plant.

                  1. re: hannaone
                    Ruth Lafler RE: hannaone Jan 14, 2009 08:16 AM

                    In other words, perfectly good potable water is turned into sewage. Considering we're looking at water rationing in California this year, that's really inexcusable. Of course, Angelenos don't worry about wasting water -- they just use their political clout to steal more from other people.

                    1. re: Ruth Lafler
                      hannaone RE: Ruth Lafler Jan 14, 2009 08:45 AM

                      Yes and no. In commercial applications this waste stream could be redirected into a holding tank that would service the toilets, outside washing tasks, etc.

                      1. re: hannaone
                        Ruth Lafler RE: hannaone Jan 14, 2009 09:59 AM

                        Could be. But there's no indication that is happening in this case.

                        1. re: Ruth Lafler
                          m
                          melangeinc RE: Ruth Lafler Jan 14, 2009 10:11 AM

                          The system is a one to one ratio or 50% recovery, the water is going back cleaner then it came in and lessens the carbon foot print the sanitation district has to deal with. All water is reused not wasted unfortunately even the toilet water comes back to us as drinking water. You are not using a water softener wich throws salt down the drain and you are reducing phosphates going down drain by 50%, a much better alternative then any thing else. And yes there is an optional reclaim system simply reintroducing the discharge to irrigation or drain traps that run water constantly to reduce sewer gas the only problem is that water never gets back into the water district who dearly wants it.

                          1. re: melangeinc
                            ccbweb RE: melangeinc Jan 14, 2009 10:58 AM

                            Could you explain this part? I think I'm still missing something here:
                            "All water is reused not wasted unfortunately even the toilet water comes back to us as drinking water."

                            The water is reused by whom? The restaurant or just eventually as it goes back into the municipal water supply?

                            1. re: melangeinc
                              Ruth Lafler RE: melangeinc Jan 14, 2009 11:46 AM

                              Ever heard of conservation of matter? All the stuff that's being filtered out is going somewhere. Where?

                            2. re: Ruth Lafler
                              EWSflash RE: Ruth Lafler Apr 7, 2009 08:12 PM

                              I think you've hit on an important point. Really advanced RO systems use a lot of the waste water to backwash the membranes, but like you said, there's no promise or even evidence that this is being done, and I'm sure that those realy efficient commercial systems cost a lot. No telling what kind of system they use.

                          2. re: Ruth Lafler
                            l
                            Leonardo RE: Ruth Lafler Jan 14, 2009 10:52 AM

                            How true, speaking as an Oregonian, as they have set their sights on us.

                            Don't get me started on wasting water in LA : swimming pools, water features, lawns, and non-native plants.

                            1. re: Leonardo
                              ccbweb RE: Leonardo Jan 14, 2009 10:54 AM

                              Yes, please, don't get anyone started on that in this thread. The information about RO systems in restaurants is interesting, applicable and timely and I'd hate to see this move off topic into a political discussion.

                          3. re: hannaone
                            wilafur RE: hannaone Jan 14, 2009 08:41 AM

                            thank you for the concise answer.

                            1. re: wilafur
                              ccbweb RE: wilafur Jan 14, 2009 09:51 AM

                              Thanks both of you for some excellent information!

                        2. re: wilafur
                          alanbarnes RE: wilafur Jan 14, 2009 04:21 PM

                          I may be all wrong about this, but I think you've got it backwards. The yield of a standard RO membrane is about 75-80%. More with high-yield membranes.

                          Also, I've never heard "rejection rate" used to refer to the amount of water that fails to pass through the membrane. I've always heard it used to describe the percentage of any given contaminant that the filter catches.

                          1. re: alanbarnes
                            Ruth Lafler RE: alanbarnes Jan 14, 2009 06:02 PM

                            I looked it up -- twice. Here's one quote: "Though slower than a water filter, RO systems can typically purify more water per day than distillers. Also, they do not use electricity, but RO systems do waste water. Four or more gallons of concentrate wastewater are flushed down the drain for each gallon of filtered water produced." Although the piece goes on to say there are ways to increase the efficiency.

                            1. re: Ruth Lafler
                              ccbweb RE: Ruth Lafler Jan 14, 2009 07:25 PM

                              Ruth and alanbarnes, would you please provide links to the information you're reading? (Unless it's an actual book or journal - shocking!- in which case just a title and date, please.)

                              1. re: ccbweb
                                alanbarnes RE: ccbweb Jan 14, 2009 07:41 PM

                                Here's a page describing GE's High Efficiency RO system, which claims water recovery ratios of over 90%:

                                http://www.gewater.com/products/equip...

                                But it looks like a some systems do, have recovery ratios as low as 5%:

                                http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/h2oqual/w...

                                1. re: alanbarnes
                                  e
                                  embee RE: alanbarnes Jan 15, 2009 08:11 AM

                                  I live in Toronto, where the tap water is perfectly potable, but not particularly good tasting. Several times each month, they shock the system and water running from the tap smells/tastes faintly like a swimming pool. Also, I live an an old part of the city where many water mains and piping connections contain lead.

                                  I began filtering my drinking water about 25 years ago. I used an RO system for more than a decade, until I read about the associated waste. I then made the effort to collect the waste water. The result was really shocking. For every tank of RO water, the system sent about 5 tanks worth of water down the drain. Yes, that water was wasted. Almost 80% of the treated municipal water entering the system was going, unused, directly into the sanitary sewers.

                                  I'm sure better technology exists today, and I'm obviously not in a position to dispute GE's claims. Nevertheless, I now use small undersink filter systems for drinking water.

                                  The dual filter kitchen system has a filter membrane surrounding a carbon block followed by a ceramic cylinder. Although I replace the first filter yearly, it has never come close to clogging. The ceramic filter can be sanded to remove the impurities trapped on its surface. I'll need to replace this filter in a few months, the first replacement in six years. This system is both economical and effective.

                                  The bathroom has space issues, and I ended up using a two filter system that is much smaller than the kitchen unit. It is made by GE. It also filters water effectively, but it is much costlier to use. The first filter begins to clog very quickly and must be replaced at least four times each year (for only two people).

                                  Drinking filtered water at home has made the off tastes of unfiltered tap water much more obvious. I have been surprised by the number of restaurants that do filter at least some of their tap water, if only for coffee. I've noticed that most fast food places have water filters, though they won't serve filtered water to a customer requesting tap. I've also noticed, though hardly from a statistically valid sample, that the restaurants most likely to pull a bottled water stunt have been the most likely to serve filtered tap water to the persistent.

                                  I have never been able to understand the bottled water craze, which has drastically reduced the space allotted to other beverages in stores. With few exceptions, the bottled water doesn't taste very good and also tastes of plastic. I don't understand the popularity of the Brita-type systems for the same reason. While these certainly remove chlorine, the water usually tastes of plastic and always tastes of the fridge.

                                  If you don't live in an area where tap water is noxious (Belleville ON and Rockford Ill (in the seventies) come to mind), bottled water doesn't make sense. One of the major bottled water producers takes much of their supply from the tap water of a Toronto suburb.

                                  1. re: embee
                                    alanbarnes RE: embee Jan 15, 2009 08:44 AM

                                    I'm with you on the periodic shocks. Most of the time our tap water is pretty good, but occasionally it's just disgusting.

                                    For drinking water, we just use the cartridge filter that's built into the ice maker / chilled water dispenser on the fridge. Since we're only going through a few gallons a day, it works pretty well. Probably not a good solution for larger-scale use, though.

                                    1. re: embee
                                      e
                                      Erdorou RE: embee Apr 1, 2009 07:54 AM

                                      While I agree that Belleville, Ontario municipal water isn't always the greatest tasting, I wonder on what you're basing your diagnosis of "toxic" ?

                                    2. re: alanbarnes
                                      ccbweb RE: alanbarnes Jan 15, 2009 08:22 AM

                                      Thanks very much. I'm going to have to keep researching this, I think. I'm quite curious now. The second link looks to be from 1992 and is about household systems. It does seem that there are different systems for home and commercial applications.

                                      The HERO system sure sounds far more efficient. Their list of "satisfied customers" are all high tech (I think manufacturing) companies. I wonder if the system is designed to provide drinking water or water for cooling or otherwise cleaning parts of chips and drives.

                                      wasabica: any chance you know the owner of the restaurant in your OP that you might ask what system they're using?

                                      1. re: ccbweb
                                        alanbarnes RE: ccbweb Jan 15, 2009 08:48 AM

                                        I doubt that the high-tech companies are using HERO for drinking water. Don't know how much it costs, but it seems likely to be prohibitive. But you can envision all the industrial and manufacturing applications that use water where mineral deposits could cause serious problems. For example, printed circuit board manufacturing uses a lot of water (http://www.emeraldinsight.com/Insight... ), and it's a fair bet you don't want water spots on those little guys.

                                        1. re: alanbarnes
                                          ccbweb RE: alanbarnes Jan 15, 2009 03:48 PM

                                          Yeah, I agree completely. That was my train of thought in musing on using the water for cooling or cleaning chips.

                                        2. re: ccbweb
                                          hannaone RE: ccbweb Jan 15, 2009 11:51 AM

                                          RO systems have come a long way from the early days, and some of the newer systems are no longer the "evil water wasters" they are reputed to be.
                                          Newer systems are implementing the concept of returning the "waste water" to the home or establishment water system through connections to holding tanks/piping that feed non drinking functions.
                                          As with anything, the user needs to research the system and make informed, responsible decisions.

                                          An example of "zero waste" system marketing - with no comment or evaluation of this particular system.

                                          http://www.wattspremier.com/sdwa/pou-...

                                        3. re: alanbarnes
                                          k
                                          ktb615 RE: alanbarnes Apr 7, 2009 08:00 AM

                                          http://www.remco.com/ro_quest.htm

                                          And another company that claims 92% recovery by running rejected water back through the system for a second recovery after an 84% initial recovery.

                                2. re: ccbweb
                                  meadandale RE: ccbweb Jan 15, 2009 08:30 AM

                                  I highly doubt that they are running the entire water system for the restaurant through the RO system. Likely, as he said, they have a special faucet and lines that are used to feed the ice machine and used for water and cooking water. Water in the bathrooms, handsinks and dishwasher area are guaranteed to be raw tap water.

                                3. re: Ruth Lafler
                                  p
                                  phantomdoc RE: Ruth Lafler Apr 5, 2009 11:13 AM

                                  Whether you really want fluoride in your water is a very big other question. It can be deemed a scam perpetrated by the metal refiners to sell their harmful byproduct. It has been shown to attack the immune system.

                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                    b
                                    bulavinaka RE: Ruth Lafler Apr 7, 2009 12:23 PM

                                    At least for LA, this "waste" that you refer to is built into the the city's bureaucracy. We recently went through a complete home remodel, and in trying to build in as many environmentally responsible systems into our home, e.g., rainwater collection/storage, grey water reuse, passive and active solar use, etc., and we slammed into legislated roadblocks almost every time. Believe me - trying to be a responsible citizen in LA can be very difficult. And now that we are in the midst of mandatory water conservation, there's some hint of LA building codes modifying to encourage those very things that we were prevented from doing. Furthermore, for those of us who have been water-wise all along, it will be very difficult to cut further back. In essence, all residences and businesses should always be operating from the standpoint that we live in a semi-arid region. Sucking water from areas that have no geographic connection to us is asking for serious trouble in the long run.

                            2. c
                              Clyde RE: wasabica Jan 13, 2009 09:43 AM

                              All Angelo charged us $5 for filtered tap water. That still makes me mad...

                              1. sbritchky RE: wasabica Jan 13, 2009 11:03 AM

                                Don't forget what Evian spells backward.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: sbritchky
                                  w
                                  wasabica RE: sbritchky Jan 13, 2009 11:18 AM

                                  ok that's funny. never heard that before

                                  1. re: wasabica
                                    d
                                    dolores RE: wasabica Jan 13, 2009 12:23 PM

                                    >>It seems like restaurant patrons are made to feel unsophisticated, inadequate, and perhaps even thrifty if they respond “tap water” to the infamous “still or sparkling” question.

                                    >>they somehow make me feel cheap if I say "tap water is fine."

                                    Who is 'THEY'? Who ARE these people crawling into other people's heads and making them feel differently than they want to feel?

                                    Seriously? Sheesh.

                                2. LindaWhit RE: wasabica Jan 13, 2009 12:49 PM

                                  While I'm in agreement that restaurants shouldn't be using so much bottled water (and making you pay through the nose for it), this statement

                                  "Even if I am spending over $100 on a bottle of wine, they somehow make me feel cheap if I say "tap water is fine." "

                                  is entirely your issue. I have no issues with saying the very same thing in restaurants where I'm spending money - even when there's an expensive bottle of wine being poured for the table.

                                  1. ChefJune RE: wasabica Jan 13, 2009 12:58 PM

                                    Interesting that the newsletter somehow implies there is something inelegant about being "thrifty." These days I consider that a big plus!

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: ChefJune
                                      Seth Chadwick RE: ChefJune Jan 13, 2009 09:08 PM

                                      Additionally, almost everyone I know who is "old money" is thrifty. They clip coupons and shop sales, even if they have multi million dollar bank accounts.

                                      They enjoy life but know that spending like a drunk sailor on leave isn't wise.

                                    2. ccbweb RE: wasabica Jan 13, 2009 01:48 PM

                                      It's only a ripoff if you order bottled water. Getting over the idea of being made to feel cheap is something each person has to do on their own. They can only make you feel cheap if you're willing to feel it.

                                      Otherwise, offering filtered water is brilliant and I support it fully. It's something that will make me more likely to return to a restaurant especially if they remove bottled water from their menu entirely. A key to doing this is to install not only a filter or RO system but also a carbonator so they can serve sparkling water as well. Personally, I have no problem with a nominal charge for carbonated water ($1 a liter, say).

                                      This particular restaurant is overstating the advantages of RO versus tap in terms of health. The vast, vast majority of tap water in the United States is perfectly fine in terms of health. I prefer filtered for taste reasons.

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: ccbweb
                                        m
                                        melangeinc RE: ccbweb Jan 13, 2009 04:23 PM

                                        Damned if you do and damned if you don't

                                        1. re: melangeinc
                                          ccbweb RE: melangeinc Jan 13, 2009 05:30 PM

                                          How do you mean?

                                          1. re: ccbweb
                                            hannaone RE: ccbweb Jan 14, 2009 10:01 AM

                                            Probably meant -
                                            Get slammed for serving bottled water, or get slammed for doing something else.
                                            Probably in reply to the general thread, but your post was on the bottom.

                                            1. re: hannaone
                                              Whosyerkitty RE: hannaone Jan 14, 2009 11:06 AM

                                              I live in a place where water is plentiful, cheap and tap water is fine. I do not buy bottled water anymore, except for that rare occasion on the road. The reason? Water bottles and the waste they create are currently one of the biggest environmental threats. Since I have set this standard for myself and my family, I will be damned if I'd let some resto intimidate me into BUYING water from them, and I will be happy to tell them why, particularly if I have spent on a meal and wine there. They can be as pretentious as they want, I don't have to go there.

                                      2. c
                                        cyberroo RE: wasabica Jan 14, 2009 02:09 PM

                                        I actually checked the date on your post, because in Northern California, I think the tide has turned and while you're still offered a choice of bottled or tap in most restaurants, it's now more frowned upon to get bottled water because of the environmental implications of the bottles.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: cyberroo
                                          ccbweb RE: cyberroo Jan 14, 2009 02:55 PM

                                          Yeah, this isn't a new thing in San Francisco at least. Many places have various kinds of filtering systems and have for some time now. The information about reverse osmosis, though, is new to me.

                                        2. alanbarnes RE: wasabica Jan 14, 2009 04:16 PM

                                          Chez Panisse has been doing this for years. They don't sell bottled water, but offer carafes of filtered tap water - you get to choose between still and sparkling. I'm all for it.

                                          1. Caralien RE: wasabica Jan 15, 2009 06:50 AM

                                            Everywhere I've lived (though not all of the places I've visited), the tap water has been fine, and I have no problem having it instead of bottled water in restaurants.

                                            If the waiter has a stick up his a** and is simply trying to inflate the check, that's his (or her) problem, not mine.

                                            1. Steve Green RE: wasabica Apr 5, 2009 10:24 AM

                                              Interesting thread. We were at a fancy restaurant in Vegas recently and were given the "choice" of bottled or tap water. Mind you, the tap water in Vegas tastes so bad it's pretty much undrinkable. So we weren't too surprised when we selected tap water and it was awful. We ordered soft drinks instead, and they tasted fine (they were clearly made with filtered water). Plain but filtered water would have been a nice option in this instance, but I guess there's no profit in that!

                                              1. c
                                                cabbageking RE: wasabica Apr 5, 2009 12:31 PM

                                                My mother had her Orwellian moments. When I was a boy back in the '60's, she'd punctuate her high-cost-of-everything-beefs with a prophecy that, one day, we'd have to hand over hard-earned dollars just to buy water.
                                                "They'll tell us it's somehow better to get us to buy it," she predicted. If you can hear me, mom: Here's to you (raising my liter of Fiji). For the record, you were right about lots of things.

                                                1. Paulustrious RE: wasabica Apr 6, 2009 03:11 PM

                                                  The waste water (typically 85% for standard RO membranes) is not a lot - it just sounds a lot. So if you drink 2 litres per day then 8 litres goes down the drain. It is fairly easy to modify the system so that the waste water (known as brine for some reason) feeds either the back yard (better than the municipal drains) or it is fed back into the sink. It is perfectly good for washing dishes etc. Your waste water represents represents about

                                                  1/10000 of the average swimming pool fill (ie 30 years drinking)
                                                  1/4 of a divebomb into the swimming pool
                                                  2 flushes of an 'average' toilet
                                                  1 minute in a shower
                                                  A tiny fraction of a bath
                                                  20-50 seconds with a hose or your sprinklers
                                                  A 1/10 of a full laundry load.

                                                  The maths may not be exact, but you get the drift.

                                                  On the other side of the fence, it takes (I believe) much, much more water than this to produce one water bottle from mining, fabrication through to transport, storage and sale. RO membrane systems work out to cost between 1 and 2 cents per litre including cartridge replacement for a 5 stage filter. Incidentally, multi stage filters cost lest in cartridge replacement than two stage filters.

                                                  Using filtered water for washing up is a waste of resources. It was probably done that way because it would have required a major refit of the plumbing. The restaurant spin doctor was set to work.

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