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Elisir : Water Surcharge -- seriously

"""Please note, though, that there will be a 29-cent surcharge on water since Elisir is only serving the filtered kind.""

Seriously? The tasting menus are $75 and $95 and they are adding a surcharge of 29 cents for filtered water? Who thought of this brilliant idea?


Is this for real, or a publicity stunt?

Is this a trend for DC? Do other places here add a surcharge for "filtered" water? If so, what does that say to you about the restaurant owner's concept of customer relations? Surely this will generate a bit of a bad taste, no?

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  1. Is that 29 cents per glass? Or 29 cents for as much as you can drink? Or do they just add 29 cents to every bill whether you ask for water or not?

    Earlier this year I posted about the growing disappearance of free water at McDonald's and got zero compassion from Chowhounds who chastised Moi for expecting something for nothing. Someone posted in that thread that a McD's in Las Vegas was now charging 27 cents for a water cup.

    I guess the trend is growing, but 29 cents extra on a $100 dinner does seem a bit silly, as does watching the chef on television during dinner. What will they think of next? Special Thanksgiving dinner menu with a surcharge for stuffing?

    1 Reply
    1. re: MikeR

      "There will be a 47-cent surcharge on air since we are using only the conditioned kind."

    2. 29 cents seems minimal. If it bothers you, don't go. I prefer paying 29 cents for filtered water than $6-$10 for bottled water.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Worldwide Diner

        Ya see? See? They just don't have any sympathy with this. By the way, I tend to gravitate to Chinese restaurants that don't charge for tea, too. And if they charge for tea, I drink water. If they charged for water, I'd go elsewhere.

        There are some things that I just expect from a restaurant, and free water is one. Maybe I'm just not worthy.

        1. re: MikeR

          I have sympathy. It's extreme. While I understand that they've paid for a filter and have to wash the glasses after, it's part of the restaurant experience and should be considered part of their overhead.

      2. Anybody who is willing to spend $75-100 pp for a meal, before wine, has no right to complain about a 29 cent surcharge for the water.

        3 Replies
        1. re: dinwiddie

          I disagree. I think they have every right to complain, or at least be upset. If the restaurant is getting $100 for the mean, they can darn well give me a glass of water as part of the service.,

          Give 'em a little leeway and next thing you know they'll be charging for forks and knives.

          1. re: MikeR

            Agreed. Because customers are paying $75-100 pp is precisely the reason to complain. To be nickel-and-dimed for filtered water after spending significant money there is ludicrous and a slap in the face.

            This is a PR disaster and obvious boneheaded move. The response from the restaurant solidified how obnoxious this move is. It sometimes shocks me how detached some restaurants and managers are to their customers.

            1. re: MikeR

              right they could put one less bit of cress or parsley or slice of tomato or lemon on the plate to make up the difference!

          2. i find it amazing that some folks think it is fine and acceptable to them for a restaurant to tack on a paltry charge after the somewhat disparate audacity (whether merited or not, but obviously disproportionate in the max) of their $75-95 tasting menu! i can't quite comprehend that.

            but i love it!

            hey mike, there are many who will never comment on this thread for various reasons. don't give up hope, bro!

            common sense is still is ALIVE!!!!

            and i'm still waiting -- actually -- for someone who knows whether this is a trend in d.c., rather than the "if you don't want to go there" folks. yeah, i got that. thanks for the heads up.

            5 Replies
            1. re: alkapal

              I think the $.29 surcharge is not worth the negative commentary that the listed menu addition is bound to produce; just raise the menu charges by $1.00 and say we only serve filtered water for your enjoyment.

              1. re: alkapal

                Places like this usually have complimentary bread/butter service or serve a complimentary amuse bouche. Surely those cost more than .29! Seems like a silly charge to me.

                1. re: sherriberry

                  I'm with the original poster. There are some items that should be included in overhead. Next, I suppose, is your choice of a 3 cent surcharge for a paper cup, or a 20 cent surcharge for glassware washing services.

                  1. re: shortorder2

                    If your margins are set to your plan and you are achieving a positive variance, you can give away whatever you think will build gross sales. water, amuse bouche, foot massages, etc. it does not matter as long as the above conditions are met or exceeded.

                    1. re: ospreycove

                      The meaningn of the .29 charge is they have an oversized self-image and wish to send a passive-aggressive nasty message to their customers. They are telling us they don't want us, don't need us and wish we would not think of them as service providers in a desperate attempt to appear valuable. The .29 message is F... ...

              2. I expect to pay 29c for clean water.

                Just like I expect to rent a menu for 15c, and pay 25c for a napkin. While you're at it, waiter, can I rent a chair, and maybe a fork?

                7 Replies
                1. re: wayne keyser

                  don't forget to keep quarters for the elevator - 5c/person/floor.

                  1. re: hill food

                    And also don't forget to tip your waitress, and your runner, and your busperson, and your wine steward, and the bartender. Pretty soon that $100 meal gets to be sounding like the cheapest part of a dinner out.

                    Hey, you know, somebody has to CHANGE that water filter now and then. Gotta pay your share for that service, too.

                    1. re: MikeR

                      The beauty of this great Country is ,(for now), you are not being forced to patronize any establishment that does not appeal to you ...whatever the reason. In a free Capitalist marketplace; there will always be someone/company to replace the business that does not satisfy the consumer!

                      1. re: ospreycove

                        Motherhood and Apple Pie!

                        Of course we're not forced to patronize any establishment that doesn't appeal to us, but we are also not forced to keep our observations about the absolutely stupid foibles of establishments who presumably want to attract patrons.

                        I doubt that this restaurant will fail because nobody will go there because they charge 29 cents for water. Heck, some people don't even care about water and may not notice. And, at $75-$100 for a meal, I wouldn't go there even if they paid me 29 cents or even five dollars to drink their "filtered" water.

                        Still, I think this is a silly policy. For a restaurant to suggest that they're running so close to margin that even at their dinner prices, they feel need to charge a paltry amount for what's usually free tells me that either they're appealing to a more snobbish clientele who would be proud to light their cigars with a $20 bill, or that they need a better business plan.

                        1. re: MikeR

                          Ahh, yes In this Great Country,(for now), the First amendment is still alive and well;although recently, a little battered.

                      2. re: MikeR

                        And, by the way, you have the table for exactly 90 minutes. Prepare to eat and move along.

                    2. re: wayne keyser

                      It's like the restaurants are taking a page out of the airlines' book!

                    3. I wouldn't mind paying extra for filtered water, but frankly, I don't want to see it listed as as surcharge. I'd rather the cost of filtered water be invisibly incorporated into the cost of doing business there. It's one of those things that would make me feel like the place was less special, as if it needed to nickle and dime me for every last bit in order to stay afloat, or that its focus was less on excellent food and service and more on the bottom line. I know, I know, dining out is a business transaction, but the illusion of being a guest is still a plus, especially at the pricier places.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Cachetes

                        I think that's the crux of the issue, the owner should just fold it into the overhead and not bother the consumer with that detail, It does come off as being cheap-skatey.

                        1. re: hill food

                          Let's see what we can add to the bill - it might be accepted as "full disclosure":

                          Cheese that hasn't been dropped on the floor - Extra 25c
                          Fish - menu price only
                          Fish that's the kind of fish listed on the menu - Extra $5
                          Fish that doesn't look like when Gordon Ramsay looks in the walk-in in every episode of KITCHEN NIGHTMARES - Extra $6
                          Burger, choice of toppings (E. Coli, Floor Sweepings, Guacamole [don't ask]) - Extra $1

                          It's called "The Hospitality Industry" for a reason, and these charges don't make me feel welcomed. Sure, I'm free to walk out ... it's not easy to do the first time I discover the charge, but it will be easy to go where I feel more appreciated the next time, even if the next place simply rolls the upcharges into the menu price.

                        2. There are two separate discussions going on here: the first is whether there a trend of adding surcharges at restaurants; the second is whether charging for drinking water will generate bad will.

                          I have begun to see more charges for things like bread, that were heretofore rolled into the meal price. This is not a new trend for those hailing from places like Italy, but comes as a rude shock for those in DC. Then again, back in the day, your typical American restaurant included a side salad, bread basket and a side dish or two with the meal. Some restaurants still do but many don't. If you want a baked potato with your steak there is an additional charge, and if you want sour cream with your baked potato, that's an additional charge. Sweet potato fries instead of regular fries - same thing. We've all gotten used to that, as well as the charge for corkage and plate sharing without getting all huffy about it, so maybe filtered water charges are just a question of adjusting the mind set. Then again, maybe not. Water - some kind of water - should be free. Tacking on a surcharge is needlessly antagonistic.

                          Finally, if you think that tacking on a surcharge for water at a fine dining establishment is idiotic, how about the place in Briton that is charging 3 quid to bring your babe-in-arms with you? http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/blog/...

                          3 Replies
                            1. re: crackers

                              Restaurants have always had a la carte menus, and some don't have "full dinner" menus. The fancy steak houses often don't include salad, potato, or vegetable with the steak. Cheap steak houses usually do. Chipotle charges a buck or so for guacamole on your burrito. They also charge for chips, while Baja Fresh does not.

                              I eat bread when it's brought to me, I'm probably better off when they don't bring it to me. Some restaurants have memorable bread, others, it's just there. I recall a restaurant that had "standard" bread and for an extra dollar or three you got a half a loaf of a nice sourdough bread, so at least there was a choice. It was a menu item.

                              But WATER? Come on! Even "filtered" water? You get that from the office water cooler. When I posted my outrage that a McDonald's I stopped in on the road told me that they only served bottled water, I didn't complain about the cost of a bottle of water there, it was cheaper than most restaurants serving the same non-fancy brand. But these days restaurants usually have some kind of fancy water at prices somewhere between soft drinks and a glass of wine for those who want it. And for some reason, there are patrons who feel uncomfortable drinking anything that doesn't come from a sealed bottle. But they typically, because they sell bottled water, refuse to serve "plain" water at no charge.

                              "how about the place in Briton that is charging 3 quid to bring your babe-in-arms with you?"

                              Now, that's something I'd support. I've often wished for a "no babies" section of a restaurant.

                              1. re: crackers

                                I actually 'get' the baby charge. I can't tell you how many parents feed their kids off of their buffet plates. The baby charge says 2 things to me - don't bring your baby, and if you bring your baby and he's fed from the buffet, our cost is covered. Plus, often the table and floor around the baby is disgusting. Extra work to prep that table for the next customer.

                              2. Interesting thread. I actually thought, in the UK anyway, that there was some kind of law which said restaurants had to provide free tap water. I know this thread is talking about a US restaurant but anyone confirm if this is true?

                                1. Sounds like they took a page out of the Bank of America playbook! If the profit margin is so thin, they'd do better for their pr to raise the price of dinner to $100.29, and put on the menu, "filtered water service included".

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: CookieLee

                                    I remember about 30 years ago finding a $1 charge on a hotel bill for "Phone." I told them that I didn't use the phone, and they said that the charge goes on every bill because there's a phone in the room.

                                    I thought that the next time I stayed there, when I checked in I'd ask them to remove the phone from the room so I could avoid the charge, but I just stayed elsewhere when I went to that area on other trips. I guess if they only made a dollar on me, they didn't really miss my future visits.

                                    But this water charge, too, will pass, I predict. There was a "well, every other hotel is doing it" charge for making a toll free phone call from hotel phones for a few years, but it seems to have faded into the sunset.

                                    1. re: MikeR

                                      Reminds me of a comic strip I read a long time ago where the car salesman negotiated the price and in the final block, he said, "Oh, you wanted the engine option!"

                                  2. I live in a place where the drinking water, though perfectly safe and potable, has an unpleasant taste to it that's noticeable enough that even the Taco Bells and Burger Kings in the area have to filter the drinking water before it goes into the soda machine. It's just the price of doing business down here and you factor it in even when you're selling low margin-high volume food.

                                    So yeah, I'd find it annoying to go to what's a high dollar restaurant for me and be asked to pay even that little as an add-on when the Waffle House at the corner just folds filtered water into the cost of doing business.

                                    1. Border Grill at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas is now charging a $0.50/person "water fee". This charge is not disclosed on the menu.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: Johnny Pastrami

                                        that may be a Nevada legal thing, despite the water features the state is really efficient in their usage and regulate it highly.

                                        1. re: Johnny Pastrami

                                          The Border Grill in Santa Monica has a water offering for filtered water, either still or bubbly. Maybe like $2? Or something like that. I thought it was OK, I like bubbly water, and they served it in a carafe that was left on the table. I believe you could still get tap water for free, though. This was maybe 2 years ago?

                                        2. Ah, so this is where the tread went. I ran across a web page that quoted the manager about this charge. The gist of it, and something not explained in the original article that prompted this thread, is that what they serve is bottled still or sparkling water, unlimited refills, for the 29 cents. They don't feel that the DC tap water is good enough for their patrons.

                                          That's a pretty good deal for sure, but why call it a surcharge and put it on everyone's bill. Why not put it on the beverage list. "Still or sparkling water, bottomless bottle . . $1.00" would be clear, welcome by some, and could be passed over by those who don't care to drink water. Honestly, I'd probably ask first if they served plain water for free, but if not, I'd take the deal.

                                          This is such a great idea that I think they should comp me a few of those $95 dinners when they open. ;)

                                          5 Replies
                                          1. re: MikeR

                                            Boy, that just raises more questions for me. What are they serving, exactly? DC water, carbonated onsite? Or is it bottled water from somewhere else (another municipal water system) shipped in? For 29 cents, probably not pricey water from europe. What is the carbon foot print of my beverage?

                                            Bottom line, I expect regular water to be covered by the overhead.

                                            1. re: MikeR

                                              what is the source for that informaion, mike?

                                              seems highly unlikely to me that anyone is selling BOTTLED water for 29 cents -- esp. unlimited amounts.

                                              i'm curious to see WHEN your source of information was quoted. maybe there was blowback and things got "amended" -- or maybe not.

                                              just curious.

                                              1. re: alkapal

                                                Probably just a central filter on site. Whole Foods uses one that is serviced every 6 months, at best. More hype than substance I believe.

                                                1. re: ospreycove

                                                  Probably. I've been to a couple restaurants where they "bottle" on site their own sparkling and still water.

                                                2. re: alkapal

                                                  I don't know about DC but here in Canada there is a system that is promoted to restaurants
                                                  and a lot of them use it, even in Calgary where the tap water is fine. I haven't ever been charged for it but I never ask for water in restaurants, I'm sure some places do.

                                              2. What the hell are they cooking with? Bad tasting water doesn't become palatable by boiling it....

                                                It tells me as a customer that they are cooking with bad water, so the menu ain't worth it.