This drives a friend of mine mad: "Why should I feel guilty about ordering tap water? Not everyone can afford bottled water, after all."
I asked a local restaurateur, Urban Table's Alan Gaylin, where he stood on the water issue. His new restaurant sells bottled waters but also offers large glass jars of free iced water — some of them flavored with fresh lemon or cucumber — at the counter for customers.
"Water is water," Gaylin says.
"If people want bottled water," Gaylin adds, "they'll buy bottled water. Some people prefer bottled water — as many as 50 percent during our lunch business. But a lot of customers just want a glass of water."
Waiter, blogger and author David Hayden has been on both sides of this issue: "When I worked on the Country Club Plaza, the restaurant that employed me had just started pushing bottled waters. A year later, they did away with the program because it irritated some customers. The people who want a bottle of still or sparkling water are going to ask for it. They don't need to be reminded that we carry it. And the people that don't want it don't have to feel awkward asking for tap water."
"There are better ways to offer a variety of waters," Hayden says, "than to put a negative spin on tap water. That's not a particularly effective sales pitch. A better way to approach it is to describe the available waters and then to say, 'Or is tap water OK?' or 'Would you prefer tap water?' I tried every possible technique to make it less awkward for the customer. But honestly, I never suggested bottled water to a single table where it actually encouraged a customer to buy one."
Hayden says he doesn't often order bottled water himself, unless he's in a city where he knows the tap water isn't very tasty. "The water in Gladstone is foul," he says. "And it's not very good in Neosho or Columbia, either."