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Jul 18, 2010 11:47 PM

Is it legal NOT to serve tap water in restaurants, only bottled(which you have to pay for of course) [moved from Boston board]

After an afternoon at the Mirabella Pool in the North End today, my friend and I who were with our kids decided to go to Cafe Pompeii for a quick dinner. This is was our first time there and went into the section that serves the pizza. When the waitstaff came to take our drinks order, and I looked at the list on the menu, I was quite surprised with the prices of the drinks(sodas $3, lemon iced tea $4). When it came time for my daughter's turn, she just wanted water and the waiter said, who was very pleasant said that they don't serve water(meaning tap), only bottled, and it's $3!!! and just for full context, the bottle he brought was the smallest size Poland Springs and the soda was in the can. My friend commented privately if it was even legal not to serve regular tap, thereby forcing you to essentially buy it. Just curious.

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  1. Not sure about the legality, but this definitely seems to be a North End thing. Il Panino refuses to serve tap water, and Strega's will serve tap water as long as you manage to catch the waiter before he starts pouring the bottled stuff. It was at Strega that i was the most annoyed since I don't always drink water with my meal. Before, I had a chance to say anything the waiter had poured the bottled water and left the bottle on the table. When the bill came there was a $5 charge, which I questioned and the waiter was very vague about. In their defense though they have always offered a complimentary strega at the end of the meal so it really doesn't make sense.

    379 Hanover Street, Boston, MA 02113

    Il Panino
    266 Hanover St, Boston, MA 02113

    2 Replies
    1. re: Pegmeister

      For some context, Il Panino is 1 rsetaurant owned by a man with a # of restaurants and food shops. The "no tap water" is only imposed on this 1 place.

      I have no idea of the legality of serving water or not but my solution is to take my business elsewhere. While I like the place and used to go fairly regularly, the policy annoys me enough that I choose to go other nearby restaurants who are more than happy to serve tap water.

      OT..another NE ripoff I've seen is giving the tourist diner the dinner menu at lunchtime. The place is a great bargain at lunch..fair priced at dinner. The practice isn't prevalent but it happens...fortunately not to me but the waiter told us about it.

      1. re: 9lives

        Yes, I knew that about the owner. It's just really odd. I still go because I like the rack of lamb and the eggplant parm app, but more often then not I go elsewhere. Not sure if Francesco is still working there, but he's great and always makes it a nice experience.

    2. have encountered this in Las Vegas but not in Boston

      1. Did you ever wonder how they make expresso? Where does that H2O come from...the tap. This is a game they're playing.

        7 Replies
        1. re: treb

          BTW, espresso is heated to well above temperatures that microorganisms can survive. But think about ice tea and water used in many mixes, or the ice cubes for that matter; or the water used to wash salad greens... It's not illegal to serve tap water anywhere in the US, that I am aware of. Just BS to get you to buy an expensive bottle of water, of which some well known brands are simply taken from the municipal water system where its bottled. .

          1. re: JRCann

            So are you saying that tap water is not fit to drink? I think that the basic question isn't it?

            1. re: treb

              the opposite in fact, don't know how you drew that conclusion.

          2. re: treb

            In Boston, these restaurant aren't saying "We don't have the plumbing to serve you tap water"; obviously, any commercial kitchen has abundant tap water. Neither are they saying, "It's unhygienic to serve you tap water": we clearly have safe (and in my mind, good-tasting) tap water.

            (Regarding the espresso comment: most commercial espresso machines do not use water from a tap; they have dedicated feeds.)

            This is simply, unequivocally a blatant bill-padding ploy, which is why people find it so objectionable. Diners have the further objection these days that bottled water isn't eco-friendly. It is telling that this mainly happens in Boston's North End, a neighborhood notorious for its overpriced tourist traps and occasional clip-joint practices (pushing specials with unspecified prices that turn out to be twice the average entree cost, check charges that don't match menu prices, charges for items that weren't ordered, etc.) Experienced diners know that Cafe Pompeii is one of these places.

            The question remains: is there a law in Boston or MA that requires restaurants to serve tap water? Some people think there is. I don't know the answer, but it is clearly customary. I don't object to restaurants not serving it unless the customer asks, but I do get angry at having no alternative to bottled water. A better compromise in my mind would be a modest fee to cover the restaurant's overhead: someone has to wash water glasses, pitchers, etc. If they added something like a buck to the check of every party that drank tap water, I wouldn't kick.


            1. re: MC Slim JB

              We used to get a "we'll serve you tap water, but it's not very good here" at a waterfront joint in Plymouth, MA. I did ask the "how do you make ice cubes" question, and never got a good answer. We started going elsewhere (for other reasons)

              1. re: MC Slim JB

                Slim, is there a difference between "tap water" and a "dedicated feed", both of which come from the muni water system....

                1. re: JRCann

                  It's the same water. I read treb's post as originally written as implying that an espresso machine must be fed from an open tap. This is true for home machines, but not most restaurant ones.


            2. Yes, it is legal, it is their establishment and they are allowed to serve whatever they like.

              22 Replies
              1. re: MattInNJ

                I'm not a lawyer or a judge but I'm pretty sure that's not quite how the law works...

                1. re: MattInNJ

                  MattInNJ, I'm guessing you're not an attorney in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. On what do you base this opinion?


                  1. re: MC Slim JB

                    I have been to plenty of places in California where they only provide straws and pre-bottled/canned beverages, no cups/glasses. The cutlery is plastic and the plates are paper or styrofoam.

                    It isn't a law to provide water. It is a courtesy.

                    1. re: Cathy

                      Compliance with health codes requires that businesses that "invite" the public have potable water accessible to the public. The "courtesy" aspect is not making restaurant patrons fetch their own water from a rest room. "Courtesy" and "earning one's tip" are congruent here. In Boston, where tap water is very high quality, if I had to fill a water glass in the mens room or else buy bottled water, I would leave zero tip on any size tab with a note stating why, and let the server take up his case with the management later. And he could make a compelling case about how ripping off customers is hurting tips when customers are becoming their own de facto servers.

                      1. re: Cathy

                        Cathy, are you referring to the "big house?"

                        1. re: JRCann

                          Actually, not, JR. {and since I am from the University of Michigan, it is The Big House :)}

                          A lot of taco shops, other walk ups (I am thinking of a hot dog and pastrami place, as well as food trucks) and a few pizza places do not have self serve beverage machines and don't have cups available for water. You get cans, bottles and straws. Even a few Jack in the Box and Del Taco restaurants have the machines, but no water option and you do have to ask for a cup of water and they fill it and hand it to you (because they have cups).

                          Veggo-'Potable water accessible to public' does not mean it *has* to be served, just as restrooms do not have be available to paying customers or the general public. If a restroom is available to paying customers, then it also has to be an ADA compliant restroom.

                          1. re: Cathy

                            If a restroom is available to paying customers, then it also has to be an ADA compliant restroom>>>>

                            WRONG, only if built or renovated after ADA went into effect. Old restaurants with small lavatories up or down a flight of stairs don't have to make them ADA compliant, unless they perform renovations.

                            Had this question on a Remedies Final on June 28th,

                            Bagelman01, only 7 credits left to finish for my JD...........

                            late in life career change.

                            1. re: Cathy


                              A slightly off topic splinter but since you mentioned the holy of holies (a.k.a. Michigan Stadium), beverage vendors at The Big House are required to provide free cups of water to fans. Many localities have laws regarding access to free drinking water at stadiums, auditoriums and other public entertainment venues. There was a recent case in which the University of Central Florida built a brand new stadium but did not include any drinking fountains. The local laws required them to provide one fountain for every 1000 seats. I'm not sure who is responsible for the law which covers U of M (e.g. city, county, state) but I believe it was in response to the stadium removing the few drinking fountains present.

                              Given that there clearly are laws which require provision of free water under some circumstances I don't think it's a stretch to believe that in some locales it is required that restaurants provide free water upon request.

                              Go Blue!!

                              1. re: kmcarr

                                *Serving* water - That was my point. Same as the OP's question.

                                Access to potable water is a different subject, which I did not make a blanket statement about.

                                KM- Haven't been to the stadium when a game was happening in decades. It had water fountains (and wasn't called The Big House) back in the day. I have been to Bowl games when UM played...back when they were invited to Bowl games :( Allof those stadiums have water fountains....seems wasteful to have to hand out cups- both environmentally and long term cost versus maintaining water fountains...

                                1. re: Cathy

                                  >>"Access to potable water is a different subject, which I did not make a blanket statement about. "<<

                                  Really? Was it your evil twin who started this whole subthread by saying, and I quote, "It isn't a law to provide water. It is a courtesy."

                                  1. re: alanbarnes

                                    I misspoke. I did not mean to say provide, I meant serve and to quote the OP and title and purpose of the thread.

                                    I am sorry.

                                    1. re: Cathy

                                      May I assume you also misspoke in your comment to me above ..."just as restrooms do not have to be available to paying customers..."? That would clean up the last of the inaccuracies in this thread.

                          2. re: Cathy

                            >>"It isn't a law to provide water. It is a courtesy."<<

                            Well, maybe in some jurisdictions. Others require places of public accommodation to make drinking water available to their customers.

                            Of course, you should feel free to draft a memo summarizing all state, county, and municipal statutes and ordinances in the US (oh, hell, let's include Canada and the EU while we're at it) regarding water service. But until you do, you might want to be a little more cautious about your assertions regarding what the law is and isn't.

                            1. re: alanbarnes

                              Could you cite ONE jurisdiction where it IS the law that *every* restaurant *must serve* tap water?

                              1. re: Cathy

                                Laws requiring access to potable water are fairly common in the southwest US, but the first one that popped up with a search was in Saskatchewan:

                                "Subject to The Water Regulations, 2002 and subsection (2), an owner or operator of a public accommodation shall ensure that clients have convenient access to a supply of potable water that meets with the local authority’s approval."


                                1. re: alanbarnes

                                  If you want to get nitpicky, then 'shall have...convenient access' does not mean the same thing as 'serve' tap water, which is the OP's question.

                                  'Shall' is not at all the same as 'should'.

                                  1. re: Cathy

                                    You're the one who said that "[i]t isn't a law to provide water." Fact is, many jurisdictions require that potable water be made available to customers or even random passers-by.

                                    Does that require that places *must serve* tap water? Probably not. A drinking fountain would do. Hell, a restaurant could satisfy its legal obligations by offering complimentary Pellegrino to random passers-by. But the fact is that the place has to provide potable water.

                                    Finesse the vocabulary all you want, but it doesn't change the facts.

                              2. re: alanbarnes

                                this was moved from the BOSTON board and only Mass General Laws come into play for the OP......................
                                A Westlaw search has shown me any Mass. Law requiring restaurants to serve free tap water to patrons. I haven't searched the Boston/Suffolk county Health department codes-I'm not that interested, I'm in Mass 1/2 my week, but haven't ventured into Boston in 10 years.

                                1. re: bagelman01

                                  >>"this was moved from the BOSTON board and only Mass General Laws come into play for the OP"<<

                                  Well, not quite. You've also got local ordinances and regulations, too. But that's beside the point - Cathy apparently believed that no restaurant **in any jurisdiction** is required to provide water to its customers. Whether Boston or any of the surrounding communities require it is a question I'll leave up to others, but the simple fact of the matter is that such laws are fairly common.

                                  1. re: alanbarnes

                                    The Uniform Building Code has been adopted in some form by almost every jurisdiction in North America, and it would not be possible for a restaurant to obtain a necessary Certificate of Occupancy without tap water being available to diners. So it is the law of the land, but it's enforcement is done initially by building code officials and then periodically by health and/or code inspectors, rather than by police with badges and lights and sirens. Health and code officials are empowered to close a public place that is non-compliant and request "show cause" hearings which in extreme cases can lead to business closures and prosecutions. Most violations are corrected quickly.

                                    1. re: Veggo

                                      So are they required to have free tap water available?

                                      1. re: iluvtennis

                                        Yes, it must be available. The principal question of the thread is whether servers are required to bring it to you on demand, and the answer is no.

                        2. I think that's the point you just get up and leave. Even with the kids. Really. It's abusive of customers, and customers can only be abused if we let them.