Tap Water in Restaurants: The Great Debate
Last week the Local Government Association (as reported by the BBC) said that families should be offered tap water in restaurants as a matter of course, in a bid to decrease the impact of sugary drinks on children’s health.
To many restaurateurs it may feel like old ground being re-covered, but here are some of the common questions the debate raises, and my point of view on them:
Why serve tap water?
We are a licensed premises so it is a condition of our license that we offer tap water to guests, but we always offered it before we were licensed too. It is a reality that guests will ask so in many ways it can be considered a cost of doing business.
It’s free so what’s all the fuss about?
Let’s not kid ourselves; supplying tap water in restaurants is not free. You have to pay for the water, you pay the member of staff to serve it, if you provide ice you have to buy that or maintain a machine that makes it, once the glass is finished with you clear it, someone washes it and then replaces the glass.
Yeah, but it’s minimal cost though right?
That depends. We looked at the number of glasses of tap water we served (in just the café) last August and it was over 2000. This doesn’t take into account the tap waters that people ask for once they have ordered, or the refills. It doesn’t include the glass of tap water that is requested in the middle of a busy Saturday as chefs deliver food at the table, who have another 15 checks waiting to be prepped, and have to speak with the front of house team to make sure the tap water reaches the table. Put this all together and it is both a cost and a time sink that potentially makes the rest of your operation less efficient.
What difference does it make?
Supplying tap water in restaurants is likely to negatively impact cold drink sales (and this is precisely why the LGA are asking for it to be supplied) which can be an important element for many businesses especially those who use post mix syrups because the margin on these products is very attractive. I can’t imagine offering tap water at somewhere like McDonalds would do anything positive for their drink sales (I am aware bottled water is available by choice).
At Baltzersen’s and Norse we are on-board with the idea of offering water. In fact we took the step of introducing a chilled and filtered water station to the café in January that offers still and sparkling water and is free of charge to guests.
We were supported in this purchase by a cash award we received from Harrogate Borough Council via a business competition we won in December 2015. The system was installed by Luke Spoelstra from London based First Class Water.
What’s in it for us?
The new water station frees up our team so they can focus their time on preparing orders and providing better hospitality to our guests.
The station offers chilled water so we don’t have to use ice.
The station offers sparkling water, because we wanted that option for the restaurant, and because it’s added value we give to our guests.
[Cynical Restaurateur Alert!] We installed a custom-made beer tap style font (from Tapped Beer in the US) because it fits with our décor and because I wanted kids to pester their parents to visit Baltzersen’s because they wanted to pour their own water!!
Water provides health benefits for guests and the filtration means the water tastes fantastic.
It’s really nice for our team to have this option available to them at all times – we all use it.
We located the station in the centre of the restaurant right by the Kitchen, it means the Kitchen Porter just has to open the door and can replace glasses very quickly.
Why aren’t we concerned about cold drink sales?
Our bottled water sales have always been pretty negligible and sales of drinks aimed at kids aren’t exactly something we have built our business on. I believe the decision to install the water station, and offer an exceptional glass of water for nothing, is one more reason that guests have to come back and visit us. I think the positive feeling it engenders with our guests, and repeat visits over a customer lifetime, will outweigh those lost sales. More than anything else it felt like the right thing to do – and that’s important to us.
I’m a dad and I’m married to a dietitian. Our son is just less than two years old so we aren’t at the point where he is making too many choices for himself yet, but when he reaches it I know it’s something that will be on our minds.
The requirement to provide tap water in restaurants is a fact of industry life so we should all accept that.
The requirement for more healthy options for kids and to steer them away from poorer choices should be a partnership between the restaurant and the parents. We create the choice, parents oversee it. We offer lots of treats, it’s why many people come to us, so offering water is one way to help provide balance.
We’ve always thought of a visit to Baltzersen’s and Norse as being about providing an overall experience rather than being about getting a caffeine hit or purely sating your hunger. The water tap supports our ‘why’ and the feedback we’ve had so far suggests that resonates with our customers.