Would You Pay Money For A Glass Of Tap Water?

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!

See also: Would You Pay Shops For The Privilege Of Browsing?

Have any readers ever been charged for water? Have you encountered any other unusual restaurant fees? Let us know in the comments section below.


Comments

    One of my favourite Adelaide restaurants charges for tap water. They justify it by saying it costs money to wash the glasses.
    It works on an honour system though - you can just go and fill a glass (there's a sign saying it costs money) and then you let them know when you pay if you've had any tap water.
    I don't mind - the restaurant is great and it's only a few cents for the water.

    From my understanding its illegal for them to charge for tap water- and in my opinion it think if they do its pretty poor form

      The article indicates otherwise. Do you have evidence with which we can rebut the claims of the article?

    Of course your should pay for a glass of tap water. But you are not paying for the water are you, You are just thinking from a self righteous and flawed point of view.

    Why should an establishment pay staff to provide you with a clean glass of water. The glass of course then has to be cleaned again, assuming you don't break it or it is otherwise not broken during this use cycle.

    If you are seriously such a tight *ss, just drink your water before you go, that way you would actually be doing the right thing by everyone concerned.

    Why should you not is more the question here, as it is not free for them to provide the service to you.

      Because they serve alcohol and have a liquor license. The law dictates that they must provide drinking tap water free of charge if they want to sell alcohol. Do you not know or just don't care about your rights and safety?

    Would I pay for a glass of tap water? It depends on how much I wanted the water I suppose.

    I don't think there is a huge scandal in this but there are two considerations; cross subsidisation, and cultural expectation.

    In the situation where the tap water is 'free' to the end user, the business still incurs a cost (whatever that cost is) and must find remuneration for that cost. As such the cost of these incidentals that are not directly charged are built into the prices of every item just as rental etc is. This is just the simple facts of microeconomics.

    Assuming the cost for the tap water was justifiable (aka basically equaling normal profit and not economic profit), this would be a fairer distribution of costs upon customers as those who are not using tap water do not have to pay for it.

    However we have cultural expectations about such things. People expect free tap water without thinking through how the costs are distributed. A similar example is free sauce with your pie. You have to take that into consideration when making business decisions.

    I don't think this is a huge issue (and i certainly don't think it should be the case that non licensed venues should be compelled by law to supply tap water for free), but customers will react accordingly and the business must accept this fact.

    I guess Sushi Train is about to find out whether this works for their long term goal (which is profit maximisation and not fairness in distribution of tap water costs).

    For all three comments above: As hinted at in the article (but not explained) the liquor licencing laws in Australia require any place that serves alcohol to provide water free on request.

    The only reason Sushi Train doesn't have to is because they don't serve alcohol.

      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.

      That seems pretty spelled out to me?

        Yep! I was actually going to comment, assuming the restaurant was licenced, that it was illegal but they're not so it's not a problem. I've done lots of liquor licensing training and, yes, if you serve alcohol you must provide "free potable drinking water."
        They're charging for a service which is fair, but I'd prefer 50c per carafe.!

          They have a liquor licence and serve alcohol.

        Grenfell st Sushi Train is a licensed venue.

        That seems pretty spelled out to me.

      from comments in the OzBargain thread it seems to indicate that they are a licensed premises.

      Please see this link http://www.sushitrain.com.au/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=18&Itemid=22

      "“Just wondering which restaurant serves alcohol beverages.”
      Sushi Train Cairns Central(QLD), Broadbeach(QLD), Neutral Bay(NSW), Oxford(NSW) and Grenfell(SA) serve alcohol beverages."

      So from that, yes they legally have to because they do serve alcohol.

    My memory of this is very vague, and I could well be totally wrong, however it was my understanding that clean drinking water is a basic human right under international treaties. (Which Australia is a signatory, therefore has stated it has laws to this effect.)

    Which means that _should_ be illegal for _anyone_ to refuse to supply tap water to someone that asks - that includes private residences and businesses not selling food.

      Shelter is a basic human right under those same treaties but that doesn't mean I have to let anyone stay in my house.

      International Law is a tricky beast at the best of times but to the extent that those treaties have any power, it is more in the sense that it gives governments basic and vague welfare and policy requirements.

      According to the guidelines on the human right to clean drinking water, restaurants charging for tap water is perfectly fine. If you don't like it, you always have the option of leaving the restaurant and accessing clean drinking water elsewhere. These "basic human rights" exist for those people who can't access clean water anywhere, not for people in first world countries who feel miffed at paying for tap water when indulging in the luxury of eating out.

      Physically accessible. Everyone has the right to a water and sanitation service that is physically accessible within, or in the immediate vicinity of the household, educational institution, workplace or health institution. According to WHO, the water source has to be within 1,000 metres of the home and collection time should not exceed 30 minutes.
      Affordable. Water, and water facilities and services, must be affordable for all. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) suggests that water costs should not exceed 3 per cent of household income.

      http://www.un.org/waterforlifedecade/human_right_to_water.shtml

    I don't know about other states but in NSW, any place that sells alcohol must have access to free water, so it can be illegal...

    Not to throw a spanner in the works, I'm trying to remember if Sushi Train Grenfell is licensed or not. I'm pretty certain that ST Central Market is licensed, but the smaller Grenfell St station might not be. I no longer live in Adelaide though, a local may need to confirm.

    If they are licensed, previous notes apply. If not, carry on.

      Grenfell st is licensed, see their FAQ page http://www.sushitrain.com.au/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=18&Itemid=22

      “Just wondering which restaurant serves alcohol beverages.”
      Sushi Train Cairns Central(QLD), Broadbeach(QLD), Neutral Bay(NSW), Oxford(NSW) and Grenfell(SA) serve alcohol beverages.

    50 cents will cover the cost of a cleaner cleaning up my turd from their sink.

    This article is misleading. Grenfel street sushi train is a licenced premises, the article should be updated to confirm this and also state that what they are doing is indeed illegal. Any questions put to sushi train should ask them whether they are aware of their obligations under the act.

    Grendfell sushi train staffs are very friendly and good are extreamlly fresh and delicious. Who told u they serve tap water. That's spring water okay ! Can't u taste the difference ?

    Sourdough Hornsby, $4.00 for tap water !

    this is true but you have left out one important stipulation:

    in a licensed premise you are only required to give free water to a patron to whom you have served alcohol, simply by just being in a licensed premise does not automatically give you the right to free tap water!

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