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Selling Tap Water as Bottled Water.... [moved from Los Angeles board]

FYI... So the new trend in Los Angeles fine dining appears to be selling filtered tap water as spring water. Should this be legal... do restaurants have a moral responsibility to have a disclaimer.
Here is the link for the filter:


The bottles are meant to look exactly like VOSS, but come to the table unsealed. The restaurant usually charges the same price as San Pelligrino, Panna or Perrier, but obviously costs them a fraction of the price. Restaurants using this device include AOC, Enoteca Drago and Mozza.
I asked the manager at AOC about the charge for tap water and the charge was discretely removed from the bill.

I don't mind drinking filtered tap water, god knows I do at home, but the fact that these restaurants are going out of their way to make a buck on it, as well as to deceive their clientele is dishonest and reprehensible. Its bad enough we pay 8$ for a bottle of water, now we are being given tap water.

Attention Chowhounders: Buyer beware

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  1. I really think there's nothing wrong with this. Think about all the plastic and glass bottles that get thrown out every day at restaurants who sell sparkling and still water, and how much trash these systems cut down on. The restuarants pay for the Natura system, the filters, and the CO2 tanks that go in the system. There are one time costs, and then maintenance costs...yes, they're making a profit but it's benefiting you in the end too from an environmental perspective.

    FYI, I have a similar system at home for making sparkling water and I not only think the quality of the product is great -- it's freshly carbonated, and it hasn't been sitting in plastic bottles stored and transported in heat that might leech chemicals into the product -- but the amount of trash and recycling I've cut down on is significant. Yes, I also save money just like the restaurants, but that's just one minor benefit.

    Personally, I almost never buy bottled water at restaurants, and usually specify LA DWP or Tap when asked, to avoid confusion. If a restaurant offers you "filtered water" I recommend replying by saying you want tap water and you are unlikely to encounter a charge.

    For anybody interested in the Sodastream home carbonating machine, which I highly recommend, you can get your own by going to http://www.sodaclubusa.com/default.ht...

    1. As a restaurant bookkeeper with a few clients using the Natura system I know that
      it costs them almost $300 per month to lease the machine.
      So, naturally, they have to charge extra for the water.

      I do, however, think it's wrong for you to be brought bottled water (which you are charged
      for) when you merely order "water".

      Lastly, I feel the need to add that I have started out a meal with the Natura water and
      had the busser inadvertently refill my glass with tap water and, let me tell you ,
      the difference in taste in very noticeable.

      1. I know where you're coming from in your feelings and intent, but the vast majority of spring water that is on the market is processed in a very similar fashion - just on a larger scale.

        We have filtered water at home, and when we taste it side-by-side with various spring waters, we prefer it over most. Since the majority of the bottled waters come in plastic, one can often pick up on the faint odor. We obviously cannot duplicate the balance of minerals or feel it worth the trouble to monitor and alter the Ph.

        I think this is a mindset issue. A restaurant takes basic ingredients, elements, etc., and changes them in ways that make them more appealing to the diner. If they are able to achieve this with water that has gone through some sort of treatment to improve the quality and taste, and if they feel that they can offer it at a price, the market will eventually decide whether it's worth it. Just the same, I appreciate your heads-up on the matter.

        8 Replies
        1. re: bulavinaka

          Point of correction.

          This is a large carbon filter. Dasani and Aquafina used advanced RO technology.

          1. re: jfood

            I get it - my point is the issue of filtration. RO is typically used by such manufacturers to extract everything out of H2O to establish a baseline, then minerals are added back in to get a specific taste and Ph.

            1. re: bulavinaka

              yup both use the same process, then one adds back minerals.

              1. re: jfood

                And of course, RO is extremely wasteful. The amount of reject water is multiples of the end product. The only time I had and used an RO was when I kept a saltwater reef tank decades ago. Now that I've quit that hobby because of its impact on resources, etc., I'm perfectly happy with a three-stage filter for home use.

                1. re: bulavinaka

                  The RO's jfood worked on took sea water to turn into potable, no waste.

                  He is also luck to have really good well water at casa jfood.

                  1. re: jfood

                    Technology marches on - it used to be about 15 gallons of waste water for one gallon of pure... jfood deserves an extra treat!

                    1. re: bulavinaka

                      jfood hopes his pals out in socal get that desal project up and running so more water is available.

                      1. re: jfood

                        California tends to be forward-thinking but backwards-doing. Folks who live immediately along the coast tend to be very hostile toward projects like this as well - they'd rather die of thirst. Environmental groups have voiced their concerns on desal as well. And with a polarized legislature, fuggetaboutit. We'll just have to learn to drink smog until we get the next substantial snowmelt...

        2. While I agree that marketing it as "spring water" is a bunch of crap that should not be tolerated, onsite filtration is a positive trend that cuts down on plastic waste and transportation. It's unfortunate that some places are overcharging for it, but it's not always the case. Some restaurants don't charge for it and some charge less than they do/did for branded water.

          1. this is a giant carbon filter. that's probably a good thing.

            The UV aspect is total crap. It removes E-Coli? What the heck is e-coli doing in the water from the tap at a restaurant in the first place. What is LA bringing in water from Sub-Sahara?

            1. We drank tap at Osteria Mozza three weeks ago and were not charged for it. Can't speak for the other restaurants.

              1. Mario Battali has a new joint where you get filtered carbonated water at the table. Water is carbonated on the premises
                This is sheer genius and what I would do if I owned a restaurant. We filter our own h2o at home

                4 Replies
                1. re: gafferx

                  Grace will serve you filtered still or filtered carbonated water - probably also carbonated on the premises - for no charge.

                  AK in Venice serves Natura water - also for no charge.


                  1. re: burumun

                    Fizzy water helps your digestion especially if some lemon or lime is in it. This is why I hail in house filtered and carbonated water that is complimentary. It can give a restaurant a leg up in these tough times. In my imaginary restaurant customers could get unlimited refills of such with lemon and lime slices

                    1. re: gafferx

                      What happened to the 2 cent plain :?

                      1. re: monku

                        God, that's given me flashbacks to Russia -- "Give me for twenty kopecks with raspberry."

                2. Many times restaurants have both Natura and regular bottled water. The price difference is usually half - approximately $3.50 for Natura, and approximately $6.50 for San Pellegrino and the like. I think the restaurant should specifiy the difference (bottled water versus house-filtered water, versus tap water) and the diner should be clear in what they are requesting. Not too long ago a "soda" meant "soda water", now it can mean any type of soda, so one must clarify (coke, pepsi, etc). Personally, I think Natura water is great, and I prefer it to tap water and bottled water. Not to mention the many environmental positives.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: parmamom

                    I think that "soda" vs. "pop" is a regional difference. Some parts of the country (like here in Hawaii and on the West Coast) refer to Coke, 7-Up, etc. as "soda" while in other parts of the country (Minnesota) it's called "pop." I learned this as a small kid when I asked my auntie in Minnesota for a "soda" and she gave me a glass of soda water/club soda. Talk about shock! I finally learned the difference in nomenclature (my parents explained it to me) and the rest of the vacation went without incident. :-)

                    In Japan they always sold bottled water at restaurants, discos, bars, and the like. They refused to serve tap water since it was considered undrinkable because it was chlorinated. We learned that they were refilling bottles with tap water and then charging an arm and a leg. We were all young, relatively broke, recent college graduates so took to refilling our bottles in the bathroom then bringing them back out to the table. After all, we were mixing with Scotch so who cared?

                  2. Thanks for posting this.
                    I've been noticing this issue a long way back, always the suspect VOSS showing up without the seal.
                    I always ask the busboys, they unfailingly confirm the in-house filtered procedence.
                    With which I would have no problem whatsoever, even costwise, if the restaurant would openly acknowledge the true facts.
                    What I do hate though is asking for a bottle of VOSS and getting the unsealed stuff.
                    That's plain fraud.

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: RicRios

                      I can see your point. I think they should put it in plain bottles as opposed to brand name bottles like Voss. It is misrepresentation.

                      I've got no problem if they have to charge for the filtered water. But to charge it at the same price as the bottled? I think that's a bit too high. Are you (the OP) telling me that you've seen filtered water selling for eight dollars a bottle?

                      1. re: Miss Needle

                        They do NOT put the Natura water in Voss bottles. They have special bottles that clearly state "Natura" on the side, either "Still" or "Sparkling."

                        1. re: olivethegreat

                          Yes... but look at the design of the bottle. If you think they are not meant to look like VOSS, you are being naive.

                          1. re: lambrusche

                            They are actually pretty different - the Natura bottles are much wider/stout than the Voss bottles. And the Natura bottles are in etched glass rather than clear glass. At any rate, IF a restaurant is trying to pass it off as something it's not, then that is a shame. However, I would be happy if this economy saw the end (or at least curtailing) of bottled water sales. It's a waste of our resources, including the carbon spent sending the bottles from Europe, on a boat, to other parts of the world. Natura (or any other brand) is such a great alternative that I think we should embrace this change.

                            1. re: parmamom

                              Again... do you really believe that the bottles are made not to look like VOSS bottles? There is a difference between drinking filtered water and spring water... If you taste one against the other huge difference...
                              If we are worried about the shipping and reducing our carbon footprint, the same restaurants should serve only local wine... or maybe Nancy Pelosi and Al Gore should stop traveling via private jet...

                              1. re: lambrusche

                                I don't think the bottles look much like Voss at all. They are fatter and shorter compared to Voss. They have a different neck and a different cap. Some restaurants have them branded in house. Some use the company name. I don't see the similarity.

                                1. re: lambrusche

                                  There are only so many bottle designs that say "water."

                                  I don't think it looks anything like Voss.

                            2. re: olivethegreat

                              Some restaurants do, some don't.
                              LOTS of places around town ( LA ) that definitely fake it.

                        2. Why are they serving this filtered tap water in a bottle instead of in a glass. Bottles are very hard to clean thoroughly and rinse thoroughly and dry thoroughly. I think i would rather have L.A. tap water in a glass than Filtered Water served in a bottle.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: jillso

                            xlnt point, though i've got to think that restaurants engaging in this practice have autoclaves or similar - otherwise people would be getting sick at unusual frequency.

                            1. re: jillso

                              Both automated dishwashers as well as the mechanized bottle and glass brushes/washers that many restaurants/bars use are incredibly effective at cleaning and sanitizing. Whether or not most or all places with this filtration system are doing so is another question.

                            2. This has been going on for decades. Back in the early '90s in Denver, some quick thinking dudes sold a product named H²0. It was Denver tap water in a bottle and priced at a "premium" level. People loved it and bought it. Marketing is the thing.


                              1. I love the Natura system and love restaurants that use it. The majority of the sales are in fizzy water. The system eliminates the waste of bottles and gas costs.

                                It isn't a scam. The systems are very expensive to install and the restaurants who are doing so are reducing their carbon footprint. I call it responsible.

                                I've been to many restaurants using the system and not once have I have been charged $8. The average charge has been $4-6 and that is ONE charge, even when I have received more than one bottle. I have never been told that it was "spring" water and god knows most "spring" water isn't.

                                1. I can't vouch for all restaurants, but I felt scammed a couple of weeks ago. I never heard of Natura until I finished a recent dinner at Ciudad in downtown L.A. I ordered a cocktail but never asked for water. The busser did, however, give me a glass of water which was poured out of a plain glass bottle/carafe. At the end of the meal, I noticed a charge of 50 cents for "Natura." I asked my waitress what that was, and she explained that the restaurant switched to this filtered water system and they charge everyone 50 cents for unlimited water. I thought, what's next--20 cents for salt and pepper? I drink tap water all the time at restaurants. If they want to serve filtered water and need to pass on the cost of the product, then raise their prices rather than surprising me with extra charges at the end of the meal.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: brandygirl

                                    Have not seen/heard of this. One local higher-end restaurant in PHX, offers several "levels" of water, but explains that their "free" water is double-filtered. Though PHX does not have the best tap-water in the US, I have to admit that their "free" water is quite nice. Since we're winos, it's also nice that they do not place lemon (love lemon, but not with wine) in it.

                                    Did get "nicked" for Fiji (which I do enjoy) at a diner recently to the tune of US$20/bottle. OK, now I know what to look out for.


                                  2. Sometimes, I think, we forget how lucky we are in the USA.

                                    Out tap water (unfiltered, thank you) is quite safe and healthy and acceptable tasting.

                                    And yet we have such a bottled water and filtered water obsession.

                                    Having lived in the former Soviet Union and in parts of Africa where it is unsafe to drink the tap water, I appreciate all the more the true luxury it is to have safe tap water, and I'll happily take natural tap water (not "Natura" tap water), thank you very much.


                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: dmurphy04

                                      In most cases, you are absolutely correct. Had a brush with giardia in a ski-area's water source. For most in our party, it was severe GI distress. For me, nothing. For my poor wife, who had just had a case of giardia from camping near Aspen, it was the ER. She still demands bottled (and we travel with it), unless we're in a major metro-area restaurant. The town's comment was, "well, we knew that our water was contaminated, but we didn't want to scare the tourist." It nearly killed my wife, and made everyone, but me, quite ill. All water in the US is not that safe, and sometimes the municipalites know about the problem, but choose to ignore it.


                                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                                        Giardia raised its ugly head about 30 years ago in California. Since then, I haven't chanced ingesting untreated water in its natural environment. I guess a place like Aspen feels comfortable enough to leave their water as-is from the mountain to the spigot, regardless of the potential consequences. Man, that's scary. So a system like Natura might have saved your wife from severe GI distress...?

                                        1. re: bulavinaka

                                          After the first bout, we added a special filter for all water, when camping, plus boiling. However, we did not see the other source coming. The tap water was used in morning OJ, and no one thought about it, until later. Yes, "beaver fever" can be very bad, especially if one has recently been compromised.


                                    2. The majority of restaurants down here that I know of filter their tap water because there's a decided off taste to it. (It's perfectly safe to drink, just slightly odd.) Granted, they aren't paying $300/month for some brand name filtration system, but none of them would think of charging for said filtered tap water.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: beachmouse

                                        I think $300 a month for a busy restaurant's water filtration system is a bargain, especially when one considers the quantity of water that goes to the patrons. I don't know if these restaurants are using this water for their cooking/preparing as well, but the amount of water usage in restaurants can be staggering. If the $300 lease includes full service and replacements, it's a bargain IMHO.

                                        1. re: bulavinaka

                                          whats worst is a bar I was in that was recycling the bottled water BOTTLES! The original still water bottles were retrieved from the trash containers and refilled form the tap and re-sold to the unsuspecting customers. The bartenders were very adept at "opening" the supposedly, but not, sealed water bottle for you! Not illegal, probably, but downright disgusting.

                                          1. re: Danybear

                                            I think that would be illegal, and I am sure the local health department would have some serious issues of not only pulling those out of the trash, but also refilling them. Setting aside the issue of misrepresentation, the hurdles that bottling companies typically go through to ensure a safe and pure end-product goes far beyond someone's grubby hands holding a soiled bottle (who knows whose lips have touched those things) under a tap and filling it up with water of a vague source.