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Foodie Rant - Water Pressure

By Anthony Todd in Food on Oct 28, 2009 3:40PM

Photo Credit: CarusoPhoto on flickr

After years of dining out, few things can throw me for a loop. Strange or inattentive service, exotic foodstuffs, unbearable dining rooms - all these just make for good stories later, once you’ve survived the experience. But I still remember the first time a waiter asked me if I wanted bottled water with my meal. It was slipped in so nonchalantly - as if anyone who dined at this august establishment wouldn’t dream of touching the simple common stock of hydrogen and oxygen molecules. People like us, the place seemed to silently scream, deserve something better. No other option was given to me, which conjured up the threat of dying a thirsty death if I didn’t agree to order the water.

I’ll admit it - I caved. I was on a date, I didn’t want to seem either unsophisticated or cheap, and so I ordered the water. I think it was Acqua Panna, a perfectly tasty and respectable brand of bottled water. When I got the bill, I almost gagged - the restaurant had charged me $8 for a single one-liter bottle.

Since then, this has become one of my biggest dining pet peeves. Let’s be clear - I have no problem with restaurants offering a stock of bottled water on their menus. My objection is to the quickly asked question, “Would you like bottled water this evening?” dropped by a waiter while patrons are still shrugging off their coats and checking out the d├ęcor. Lately, some restaurants have expanded the offering and now ask “Would you like bottled water or tap?” Depending on the waiter, this can either be a genuine question or an exercise in snobbery - the word “tap” dropped into the sentence like it is covered in slime. I refuse to take the bait - it’s tap water for me, every time. For $8, I can have a cocktail or a glass of wine, and the idea of spending that much on a bottle of water offends me. But not everyone dines out as much as I do, and I often worry that unsuspecting diners, eager to fit in, will end up spending thousands on water, downing bottle after gold-plated bottle.

One option that has popped up recently is Natura, the in-house water bottling system. I first encountered Natura at A Mano about 2 years ago. By that point, I had become so suspicious of anything that came in a bottle that when I saw a waiter approaching the table with two bottles in hand I tensed, ready for the inevitable. “No, no,” he gently informed me, “This water is free. Would you like still or sparkling?” Natura allows restaurants to filter their water and bottle it in reusable bottles, which can be distributed to tables. Most places charge nothing; a few charge $1 a bottle for carbonated water. The bottle can be reused many times before it has to be recycled, which gives the process an environmental advantage as well.

Until more restaurants move to this system, I will stand firm. No bottles for me, thanks, and I wish they’d turn off the pressure. Dining out, especially for those who aren’t used to it, can be stressful and expensive enough without worrying about the water.