Ordering tap water instead of wine or soft drink is a great way to save money while eating out. However, it appears that at least one restaurant has introduced a "tap water fee" in a bid to squeeze a few more dollars out of patrons. Is this practice even legal? Sadly, in most cases the answer is yes.
Water picture from Shutterstock
Ironically, it was the website OzBargain that first brought this practice to our attention. The incident allegedly occurred at a Sushi Train restaurant in Grenfell, South Australia. Below is JLove's recap of the incident as it appears on the OzBargain website:
I went to Sushi Train the other day for lunch and after being seated, I was asked if I would like a drink. I hadn't decided what I felt like having so I just said a glass of water for now. The waitress then said I would be charged 50 cents for just a glass of tap water! I must say this is the first time Ive been told I would be charged for just a glass of water.
We contacted Sushi Train about the 'Watergate' incident and asked them whether they normally charge customers for tap water. The representative we spoke to claimed that this isn't one of their company policies but admitted that there were no guidelines in place either way.
In other words, the tap water fee seems to have been introduced by an individual store manager. We contacted the Grenfell store in question and are waiting for them to get back to us (we'll update the story with their response).
It's commonly believed that restaurants and other food establishments must provide water free of charge upon request. However, this only actually applies to licensed premises and falls under the various Liquor Licensing Acts. This means that any eatery that does not serve alcohol is perfectly within its rights to charge customers for tap water.
While this might seem outrageous on the surface, it's actually not hugely different to other service gratuities such as cakage and corkage fees. (In the case of tap water, you're actually using a service the establishment pays money for, so from that angle it makes a bit of sense.)
Still, we have to admit that we'd be pretty peeved if this ever happened to us. By requesting tap water, you're clearly proclaiming yourself to be a frugal patron -- just give us some free H2O dammit!
Have any readers ever been charged for water? Have you encountered any other unusual restaurant fees? Let us know in the comments section below.