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Water Service - am I naive?

We took a good friend and his spouse for dinner on Saturday night to celebrate a special occasion...a 70th birthday. It was a very upscale and beautiful Michael Mina restaurant where we had dined before, and which we knew was expensive. Upon being seated we were asked, and I quote "Would we like sparkling or still water for the table?". We replied "sparkling". I assumed, regrettably, that since we were not asked if we wanted bottled or tap water, that water service was an included part of the dinner service at this fine restaurant. It would have been awkward to ask in front of our guests whether this was the case.

I was shocked to see that on our bill we were charged $24 for 3 bottles of water...with tax and tip it was $30 for water that was untouched by 2 of the 4 of us. Was I unreasonably naive to assume that since the question was "sparkling or still" rather than "bottled or tap" that water was an included part of the dinner service? I was so "ticked" at our server that I almost (but didn't) deduct the $30 from his large tip (our bill was $500, and I tipped $100). I felt very "ripped off". Should I have, or was I simply stupidly naive? Would it have been reasonable to deduct the water charge from the waiter's tip...he indeed did lead us into this trap? Whatever, I've learned my lesson, nevertheless it would have been uncomfortable to ask if water was included in front of my guests.

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  1. you were naive, but that's ok, it happens to everyone , even the best of us; as for the price, 8$ per bottle is not excessive, but what surprise me is that you say that only 2 of you drank it; either you drink a lot, or something went really wrong?

    anyway, I normally ask for plain, tap water; unless I want "special" water.

    Max.

    19 Replies
    1. re: Maximilien

      It would have been nice if the waiter said something like "we are offering Brand X sparkling water for $8, Brand Y still water for $5 or tap water" but it (the selling of water) seems to be such a common practice, it is assume that people will understand there is a charge - just like coffee, dessert etc as in monavano's response.

      I am also curious about the bottles and the number of people drinking it. I would be upset if a waiter took the liberty of openning a bottle per couple and having it go to waste.

      1. re: cleobeach

        offering the prices like that, in an upscale restaurant (which MM restaurants solidly are) can come off by a large amount of people as the server thinking they are cheap. This is why (in my experience) unless it's a super luxury item, like a truffle supplement at $75/gram, the price isn't offered, unless prompted.

        1. re: plaidbowtie

          But surely you agree that before serving bottled water, the server should specifically ask if you would prefer bottled water (still or sparkling) or tap water. This question was not asked of us.

      2. re: Maximilien

        No, neither me nor the other "drinker" had more than a few sips of water. Can't imagine how 3 bottles of water were poured.

        Not that it excuses my naiveté, but I have indeed been to at least 2 or 3 restaurants where water service was included, and there the same question was asked "Would you prefer still or sparkling?"

        1. re: josephnl

          You also have to watch for waiters relentlessly topping off your glass. I tell them to bring it and leave it. Same for wine.
          They don't call it H2Oversell for nothing!!

          1. re: josephnl

            "No, neither me nor the other "drinker" had more than a few sips of water. Can't imagine how 3 bottles of water were poured."

            If this is indeed the case, why did you agree to pay for 3 bottles? You should have said something. Maybe it was a mistake. And if it wasn't a mistake, then even more reason to bring it to someone's attention. I really don't understand why you paid for something you did not drink.

            1. re: ttoommyy

              My guests were a bit uncomfortable that we had taken them to "such an extravagant" restaurant. To call any attention to cost would have been awkward for me.

              1. re: josephnl

                I can understand that and would be hesitant to ask what the water costs. My sense is that you would have asked if you weren't treating guests.

                1. re: monavano

                  I didn't suggest that the OP ask how much the water was. I suggested the OP asked for the bottles of water they did not drink to be removed from the bill. It could have been done away from the table in a discreet manner.

                  1. re: ttoommyy

                    How do you leave a table of four people discreetly and in such a way that it doesn't call attention to the fact that hey, there he is arguing with the staff?

                    1. re: Das Ubergeek

                      First, you excuse yourself. To the restroom, outside to use your cell, make up something. Then, you then see the manger and explain. No arguing involved. Unless the restaurant is the size of a studio apartment, it can be done discreetly. I
                      I've done it a few times when I've noticed something amiss on my bill.

                2. re: josephnl

                  "My guests were a bit uncomfortable that we had taken them to "such an extravagant" restaurant. To call any attention to cost would have been awkward for me."

                  If they put a $24 appetizer that you did not order on the bill would you have let that slide? I really do not understand paying for something you did not drink. You could have excused yourself from the table and handled it discreetly.

            2. re: Maximilien

              As for some, the water IS a major profit center, I have seen glasses over-filled, just to allow for extra bottles to be added to the tab. Not unlike wine glasses being over-filled, in hopes that the host will buy another bottle. That is usually the point, where I pull the server aside, and explain things in precise details.

              I do not mind paying US $ 20 for a bottle of Voss, but not if we are looking at 9 filled-to-the-brim glasses, out of 10. Please do not try to "hook" me. I do not need an up-sale, and resent when that happens.

              Hunt

              1. re: Bill Hunt

                "I do not mind paying US $ 20 for a bottle of Voss..."

                Boy, I sure do. What a bloody ripoff.

                1. re: Das Ubergeek

                  Amazing what people pay for something you can get out of a tap.

                  1. re: monavano

                    I live in a city where the tap water is truly horrible. We have had to put a filter in even our shower head to avoid gummy hair.

                    1. re: sandylc

                      Even still, sandylc, I'm sure you don't pay $20 a litre for the stuff that comes out of your filter. A reasonable charge for a bottle of water is maybe $2... maybe $4 or $5 for truly fancy stuff. Anything more than that and frankly you're so wealthy that you shouldn't be judging pricing on anything, or so daft you shouldn't be allowed to eat in a restaurant without a financial advisor.

                      (Not you in particular, the general "you", of course.)

                      1. re: Das Ubergeek

                        You are right. I should also mention that we have to rent a water softener and a reverse osmosis filter to counteract our bad water. Almost enough reason to leave my city.

                        1. re: sandylc

                          I can sympathize—when I lived in the rural Midwest it was well water, and for some reason it stank of sulfur. I drank bottled water and because we had to run a softener, it took ten minutes to rinse a tiny dab of shampoo out of my hair. It was awful and completely unfit for drinking. Now I have Colorado River water and it tastes just fine.

            3. A waiter's job is to upsell you. You should be on guard. Dessert? Coffee? Water? All pads the bill and drives up their tip. Can't say I blame them, but yes, you are naive to have assumed that one bottle of water, let alone three would be free.
              Sparkling or still? is just a way to dupe you into thinking that those are your choices. There is a third option- tap.
              That's what I ask for when presented with this duplicitous question, and have never been denied.
              And you were not magnanimous for leaving a 20% tip. It's what you owed.
              Sorry to be blunt, but you need to take responsibility for your own actions and not blame the waiter for doing his job.
              ps...very nice of you to treat the other couple! That IS generous.

              46 Replies
              1. re: monavano

                Although I agree that the waiter's job is to sell, I don't see deception or "duping" as monavano calls it, as appropriate. Asking "sparkling or still", and not "bottled or tap" seems to me to be pushing the limits. Am I wrong?

                1. re: josephnl

                  Oh, it's deceptive alright, we definitely agree on that! There are many ways a restaurant upsells you, from the decor to the menu to the server making you think you can't choose free tap water. Caveat Emptor as Mike Brady said.

                  1. re: josephnl

                    I could understand your point more if you ordered still, thinking that still water = tap water. But in asking for sparkling...where did you think it was coming from?

                    1. re: LeoLioness

                      To be fair, the OP thought since "sparkling or still" were the ONLY options that they were included with the service. Also, many restaurants are carbonating their own water these days so if one orders "sparkling" it may very well be gratis at some of these restaurants.

                      1. re: ttoommyy

                        Then I guess I'm back at my original answer that yes, it's naive to assume anything but tap water would be free.

                        1. re: ttoommyy

                          You are correct, I have had sparkling water provided as part of an included water service at least 2 or 3 times, admittedly at high-end restaurants.

                    2. re: monavano

                      Folks, we removed a sub-thread that was purely focused on tipping, whether it's obligatory, etc. That's a topic that's been covered a great many times with a great deal of animosity in a variety of other threads. Since it's not the focus of this thread (which is on a different, but equally touchy topic), we'd prefer that people stick a little closer to the subject at hand.

                      1. re: monavano

                        I am very sorry, but I do not agree here.

                        A server's job is to serve, and to do that well. Up selling is for used car salesmen, in plaid suits. If it's not the case, then one needs to never darken their door again. Next thing they know, they will be working a call center, asking if the person on the other end of the line needs a new mortgage.

                        In the hospitality industry, the server is in the business of serving - period!

                        Hunt

                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                          Naive, my friend.
                          Up selling in restaurants happens.
                          All
                          The
                          Time

                          Would you like to start with a salad?
                          Can I get you started with an appetizer?
                          Would you like to see the dessert menu?
                          Would you like a refill on your wine?
                          Would you like coffee? Espresso?

                          Any time you see "specials"?
                          Up sell.

                          I'd nary eat out if I never would darken a door that up sold.

                          1. re: monavano

                            Up selling, or good service? Where does one leave off and the other begin. Servers get no relief in discussions like this one unless they have 20/20 ESP.

                            1. re: Servorg

                              Both, really.
                              They're doing their job, both in serving and encouraging the customer to consume, which is to say, spend ;-)

                              1. re: monavano

                                To me it's like going to the rental car counter and having the clerk offer you their insurance. I know my credit card company and my insurance policy at home covers me for any possible damage, so I decline it. No one can make me "buy" the up sell items, unless I want them. I'm very careful about water offers. But if it comes to the table and it has a label on it I am very prone to say "Is that water gratis, or is there a charge for it?"

                                1. re: Servorg

                                  Rental cars and blackjack- decline the insurance offer on both!

                                2. re: monavano

                                  The customer does not need encouragement to consume. The server should be attentive, ready to serve, and quiet, until asked.

                                  Hunt

                                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                                    Bill Hunt- servers encourage all the time. The next time you go to a restaurant, keep track of whether you drive every single purchase without ANY prompting whatsoever.
                                    I don't know why you see encouraging as a bad thing.
                                    Just like any other business, they have to pay their bills.
                                    That's how the world goes round and round.
                                    ps...if you've never been tempted by a server's suggestion, then you've got will power of steel.

                                    1. re: monavano

                                      Rather than encouraging (selling), I'd rather that they outline any specials, then honestly (from recent experience) answer any of my guests' questions.

                                      Maybe it's just the restaurants that I frequent, but I do not recall any server selling anything.

                                      As I mentioned, a favorite PHX restaurant offers several levels of water, but the servers tell about the "double-filtered" tap, at no charge.

                                      Just did two upper-middle to upper-end restaurants in San Francisco, and the offer for water was similar. In each case, we were offered still, or sparkling bottled, and also "filtered" tap. In both cases, the servers mentioned how good the filtered tap water was. We went with it once, but wanted sparkling in the other case, so went bottled.

                                      Now, over the decades, I HAVE encountered servers, and sommeliers, who felt compelled to up-sell. I rather resent that.

                                      I encounter similar in some steakhouses, with regards to sides. When doing two for a table of eight, I have had them tell me that each diner should have a side. Bogus! In every case, 2:8 is good, and more is a waste of food, and $. I rather resent that, and take copious notes.

                                      Hunt

                                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                                        This is the whole point. "Levels" of water don't exist, or shouldn't. It's water. It's hard for me to conceive of the idea that someone has had bottles of Acqua Panna shipped, in those heavy glass bottles, halfway round the world, where they sell it at a ridiculous markup (it's 1€ a bottle in any cafe in Italy) simply because of the cachet.

                                        Upsells happen all the time. When they're done with an eye toward actually enhancing my meal (as opposed to simply enhancing the restaurant's bottom line), I don't mind... and when it's done classlessly or clumsily, I become extraordinarily unwilling to do ANY upgrades, simply out of spite.

                                        Yep... still human.

                              2. re: monavano

                                I totally disagree.

                                A server should take my order, after answering any questions, get it all correct, make sure that my wines arrive on time, and are served properly, and then not bother me, unless I need them. PERIOD!

                                We are not talking selling aluminum siding here.

                                Hunt

                                1. re: Bill Hunt

                                  I dislike upselling as much as the next guy...and obviously have been a victim of it (I am the op). Nevertheless, I must agree with monavano that it's part of the game and pretty much omnipresent in all restaurants, albeit sometimes more subtile.

                                  1. re: josephnl

                                    As mentioned above (or maybe below?), I do not see that much, and resent it, when I do. One gets a constant barrage of tele-marketers, people trying to sell windshield repair, when they just need to wash their auto, from kids selling magazines (usually arrive via a large van), and from their financial advisers, They do not need such, when they just wish to enjoy an evening of fine dining.

                                    Just my limited opinion,

                                    Hunt

                                  2. re: Bill Hunt

                                    Oh, Bill. You must be a real joy to wait on!

                                2. re: Bill Hunt

                                  "A server's job is to serve, and to do that well. Up selling is for used car salesmen, in plaid suits."

                                  Have you ever owned a food business, Bill Hunt? I seriously doubt it by the above statement. The sole purpose for a restaurant to exist, whether it is a diner or a Michelin star establishment, is to make $$$. Restaurants are not in business because the owners like to bust their buts making people happy. Yes, that is a fringe benefit of working in the business, but the bottom line is $$$ and a restaurant will never show a good profit unless it upsells and gets its customers to order a lot of peripheral items. Upselling happens all the time. All. The. Time.

                                  1. re: ttoommyy

                                    Sometimes subtly, but they all do. I think Bill's enjoying himself too much to notice, but this is Marketing 101.

                                    1. re: monavano

                                      Right. At Applebee's it's in your face; at an upscale restaurant it's very subtle, but it happens. A restaurant could not exist for a long time unless they sold marked-up extras to a high percentage of their tables. Maybe not everyone on any given night will buy into it, but a good portion of the tables will. Like you said, it's basic marketing.

                                      1. re: ttoommyy

                                        Guess that most of it has just been too subtle for me to pick up on. However, as I come from an advertising and PR background, I am not exactly a "babe in the woods." If they are so very good, that I do not notice, then I tip my hat to them.

                                        Hunt

                                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                                          "Guess that most of it has just been too subtle for me to pick up on. "

                                          Have you ever ordered a special in a restaurant? "If so, you've been upsold!" :)

                                          1. re: ttoommyy

                                            no - that is not upselling. upselling is when you say i want the chicken piccata, and they say - if you like that you're going to love our (more expensive) special tonight of chicken ala king. merely stating items that are available but not on the menu is NOT upselling. it is informing the customer of their choices.

                                            1. re: thew

                                              "merely stating items that are available but not on the menu is NOT upselling. it is informing the customer of their choices."

                                              Sorry, but it is indeed upselling.These items are not on the menu and they usually cost more than other items in their category on the menu. It raises the price of the average bill, which is the goal of the restaurant. I have worked in restaurants and owned my own food business at one time. It's not the most over-the-top form of upselling, but it is definitely upselling without a doubt.

                                              1. re: thew

                                                We had a local place once tell us that they were trying out a new dessert that wasn't on the menu, and that if we tried it they would comp us a dessert of our choice the next time we came in. I call that upselling and good service. How about if they told you that someone had opened a bottle of wine that is normally not sold by the glass, but it was still available? Is that both? A lot of upselling is inextricably intertwined with service. What about them letting me know that their usual prawn appetizer can be substituted with some live Santa Barbara spot prawns they got in that morning? Upselling yes, but something I want to know about.

                                                1. re: Servorg

                                                  i'm not against upselling. but equating having specials with upselling is absurd.

                                                  1. re: thew

                                                    "i'm not against upselling. but equating having specials with upselling is absurd."

                                                    But didn't you just say that if the fictional restaurant in your example above were to say "If you like that (the piccata you ordered in your example) you're going to love our (more expensive) special tonight of chicken ala king."? Wasn't that a recitation of an off menu special by the restaurant?

                                                    1. re: Servorg

                                                      no, that was suggesting a more expensive item AFTER one had been selected. reading a list of items is neutral - suggesting a more expensive one is upselling.

                                                      having specials is not synonymous with pushing specials

                                                      when, how, and context all matter

                                                      1. re: thew

                                                        It's a lot like Google suggesting ad's to you depending on your search terms. Even if the special is more expensive the wait staff is zeroing in on something I've already shown a preference for and simply making me aware of something that is similar, but that I might like better. I really don't get what the big deal is with this whole subject. I'm in charge of what I order and how much I'm willing to pay for it. More information is normally never a bad thing (if I have time to consider it).

                                                        1. re: Servorg

                                                          i agree - as i said i don't mind upselling, no one can make me order something i dont want, and if i decide the more expensive item, it was my choice. i wasn't making a big deal but i was pointing out that reciting a special is not an upsell -that's all.

                                                          1. re: thew

                                                            Then, dammit, we're in agreement...I hate when that happens! ;-D>

                                                    2. re: thew

                                                      "i'm not against upselling. but equating having specials with upselling is absurd."

                                                      Well, then you should be at a pre-meal meeting in a restaurant and hear the captain telling his wait staff to upsell by suggesting the specials. You can tell captains all across America that they are absurd, because they most definitely consider this upselling. I've said it before and I will say it again: specials raise the $$ amount of the average check. This is upselling in its purest form.

                                                2. re: ttoommyy

                                                  I disagree! When specials are priced similarly to other items on the menu, they are not upselling...they may just represent what the chef was able to get fresh at the market that day. I had a wonderful wild mushroom ragout special at a restaurant in Portland, OR a few years back, and it was the least expensive starter on the menu. When I inquired why this was so, the chef came out and told me that he had picked the mushrooms himself in the woods that morning, and since his product cost was zero, he was practically giving them away? Was that special "upselling"? I think not!

                                            2. re: ttoommyy

                                              No. I have never owned a food business, but have spend plenty of time and money at many.

                                              I am speaking from the position of a patron - only.

                                              I do not want up-selling. I want good service and better food. Then, I am pleased and will likely return.

                                              Hunt

                                              1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                "I do not want up-selling. I want good service and better food. Then, I am pleased and will likely return."

                                                No, you don't want it, but the restaurant will engage in some form of upselling so it can make $$$. If it depended on just the menu items to make a profit, it would probably not exist for long. Restaurants depend on all the marked up extras we buy as the night progresses. Maybe not every table buys into this, but a lot do and this is how the restaurant stays in business and shows a profit.

                                          2. re: monavano

                                            "And you were not magnanimous for leaving a 20% tip. It's what you owed"

                                            I SO disagree with this statement!!!!!! A tip is NEVER "owed"!

                                            The OP is 3 bottles of water smarter now. The waiter took advantage of the festivity of the occasion and slipped one past them; the OP chose not to make a fuss and put a damper on the evening. Even had the OP "slipped away" to challenge the bill, the rhythm of the evening may have been interrupted. Hindsight is always 20/20.

                                            1. re: sandylc

                                              Wow, all the exclamation points and screaming caps, how do you really feel?

                                          3. It would have been nice that they would have told you that your bottles of water were to be charged.

                                            With the exception of Guy Savoy in Paris (where charging for bottled water is beneath them), I assume that any bottled water will be showing up with an extensive mark-up on my bill.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: wattacetti

                                              Oh, in many restaurants, there WILL be a charge for most water (though not quite so often nowadays), but the issue seems to be an inordinate number of bottles, for what was consumed. Maybe I missed something. When I am faced with "still, or sparkling," I expect to be charged - but only what is consumed.

                                              Hunt

                                            2. i actually mentioned this on another thread about being charged for things that some people assume are free. the discussion is getting pretty long & unwieldy, but in case you're interested:
                                              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/778295

                                              as Maxmilien said, it happens to everyone...well, unless they've read discussion like this one here on CH ;

                                              )

                                              lesson learned. now you know in the future to request tap even when it's not offered, and to *never* assume bottled is free. heck, most places don't even offer free refills on cheap fountain drinks!

                                              4 Replies
                                              1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                                I've found that generally, the cheaper and less formal the restaurant, the more likely they are to refill for free. It's the fancy, expensive ones that nickel and dime you!

                                                1. re: monavano

                                                  the one exception to that rule here in LA is The Ivy. i always end up having to lay something over my iced tea glass to keep the refill guys away! sure, the base price for it is steep - i think it's $5 or $6 at this point - but you get a ton of fresh mint leaves with it, and those refills just keep coming.

                                                  1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                                    One of our favorite places is a bbq joint called Dixie Bones. Free refills galore and they will refill you going out the door! They also give plenty of bbq sauce for leftovers.

                                                    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                                      At US $ 6 for an iced tea refill, that had better be a great iced tea!

                                                      Hunt

                                                2. I don't think I have ever had bottled water included for free except a couple times recently when it was "house-bottled" - and in those cases, the waiter has been very clear that it was complimentary. And I think it's the norm to be asked, "Sparkling or still?". My typical response to that question is, "Tap."

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: aching

                                                    The "house bottled," or "double-filtered tap" seems to be becoming the norm. Some restaurants are bucking the trend to soak the patron, at every turn, and should be commended for such a stance.

                                                    Hunt