Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Sign in to follow this  
Gifted Gourmet

Sparkling or still water? What happened to tap?

Recommended Posts

From The Independent UK ....

My favourite experience of restaurant water dates back a few years to lunch at London's Pont de la Tour. I sat down after my companion, who had arrived first. The waiter came and asked me what I would like to drink, and I asked for a glass of water. The waiter asked: "Still or sparkling?" I said that tap water would do just fine. He stiffened perceptibly, and replied: "We serve still mineral water or sparkling mineral water." Wow! Was I ever impressed. Here I was in a great European capital, whose drinking water is not only safe but delicious, and this besuited gent was suggesting that I had no choice but to pay for the house brand.

In my native USA, it has long been customary to supply glasses of iced tap water as a matter of course. Now, however, it's increasingly common (especially in fancier places) to offer the choice of tap or bottle. There are two views of this modus operandi. One sees the practice as a simple offering of choice. The other sees it as a subtle way of pressing the customer to order a bottle, which in fancy American restaurants can cost $15 (£8). To hell with the critics. I'd rather be offered the choice. In the UK, giving the option of tap would look like a charitable act.

The reason I found this most interesting is because just last week, a friend and I went to a lovely restaurant and, when asked "sparkling or still?" by our waiter, we asked for Panna (a subsidiary of San Pellegrino). When the waiter began to pour the bottled water over ice cubes made of plain tap water, my friend asked that the ice cubes be removed first. He seemed surprised but complied without question ... is this happening with greater frequency nowadays? Do you ever opt for plain water, but feel embarrassed?

Has this type of thing happened to you? Are more and more restaurants offering you a choice of water, with plain tap water not being even mentioned? :rolleyes:

What can be done? Well, to begin with you can ask the cost of a bottle of water before ordering: most restaurants don't give the price even on drinks lists. Second: be courageous. If you like to drink still water, start off by trying the tap - and then stick with it if you like the taste. And if you're on a budget, there's really no choice. You can pay £3-plus for something you won't even notice, or you can pay nothing. I know what the restaurant wants you to do. You decide what you want to do.

Melissa Goodman aka "Gifted Gourmet"

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Saw an old "Leave It To Beaver" re-run recently. The Cleaver neighborhood's water main is shut off for maintenence. Wally's out mowing the lawn and he's thirsty. Beaver finds a need, thinkerg.gif and decides to "fill it!" :biggrin: He gets water from another locale and offers it up from his little red wagon with a dipper....and a PRICE! He offers some to a thirsty, lawn-mowin' Wally and Wally says "Awww...cut it out, Beave! :hmmm: No one's gonna be stupid enough to BUY water!" True story! :laugh:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Lately I have seen more instances of a request for water automatically answered with a pricey bottle.

I am not a water purist. In all except the most extreme circumstances tap water is just fine, thank you. I have now learned to specify that I just want plain tap water. However, it does kind of p*** me off that I even have to ask for water.

I am not at all sure about this but I think there is a law here in Texas that, if you request water, it has to be provided at no charge.


Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I remember when I was in Europe in '97 that it was considered cheap to ask for tap water. (at least in France) Evian or Perrier seemed to be what we were given most often...depending if we wanted still or sparkling. In the States, at most places you still get a glass of tap water. I wish more sit down restaurants in my local area had bottled water because the tap water here is horrible. I have noticed that most fast food places are selling bottled water and get huffy if you ask for a cup of water with your order. Again, I get tired of all the chlorine in water. I'd rather have bottled.


it just makes me want to sit down and eat a bag of sugar chased down by a bag of flour.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well in Italy bottled water is cheap unlike the USA where it costs more than gasoline - try to explain that to an Italian paying $6 a gallon for gas. There is no way to justify the prices charged for bottled water in the USA. One question I would have is why there are not more domestic products? The USA is a big place and there must be some good springs somewhere. Why do Americans have to drink imported bottled water?

In Italy, 1.5 liter bottles of water run from $.18 US to about $.60 for expensive famous brands. There is very much a health aspect to bottled water here where various waters are considered to have various health benefits. Of course taste is an issue. Once you become accustomed to the taste of pure mineral water the tap water takes on a chemical component.

One think I have noticed about having an abundant and cheap supply of bottled water around the house is that I drink much more water. I easily drink a 1.5 liter a bottle a day by myself.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

In the US, bottled water is being promoted to restaurants as a "ticket builder", pure and simple. It's an easy way to add $15 to a four top.

Think bottled water isn't profitable? One bottled water company even has a "secret shopper" promotion. If a server recommends the company's water to the SS, he gets a check for $50, and is entered in a drawing for an all expense paid trip to Italy.

One of the things I got a kick out of when dining in Italy was when the server asked if we wanted our water "con gas, or sensa gas".

And Craig is right, it was cheap there.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It's a simple matter for restaurants to filter their drinking water. Except in the worst locales, filtered tap water is quite acceptable. In New York, where the underlying water is from a spring you could easily use as a bottled-water source, I prefer it to most of the restaurant-popular brands of bottled water such as Evian. And I almost always prefer filtered tap water to any bottled water that comes in plastic bottles. Despite advances in plastics technology, I can taste the packaging.

But of course restaurants -- most of them, at least -- don't want to filter their tap water because they want to sell bottled water. It's a great little profit center, with probably the highest markup (easily in excess of 600% and sometimes closer to 1,200%) of any product in the establishment. And Americans, at least, drink a lot of water. A single bottle of water seems to be plenty for a table of 2 Europeans, whereas I could easily drink 3 liters myself in the course of an extended meal.

You should never be afraid to ask for tap water, and if you experience the slightest bit of resistance you should take that complaint to the management immediately. There's nothing wrong with trying to sell bottled water or anything else, but once the customer's decision is made that should be the end of the matter. The example from the Independent is interesting, because it was in London that I too experienced my first-ever (and still only) instance of being flat-out refused tap water in a restaurant, and it wasn't even a fancy restaurant. I still can't believe it happened.

It certainly is amazing how expensive bottled water is in the US, both in stores and in restaurants. Then again, in most of the US you get free refills on your coffee and soft drinks. I guess it's mostly a matter of what the market will bear.

I applaud Charlie Trotter's in Chicago for its water policy. When I visited, there was no charge for bottled water; it was simply served as a matter of course. You're already paying a hundred and whatever dollars for the menu, so why should you be nickled-and-dimed for water?


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I can imagine a situation where, if the local tap water isn't very palatable, where a chef or owner would feel the tap water might affext the taste of the food. I'm not sure how effective water filters are though - never had one.

I know I never used to buy bottled water, until I moved to my current place where the water is extremely hard, and has a very distinctive, and none too pleasant taste.


I love animals.

They are delicious.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm often asked what kind of water I'd like. I almost invariably ask for "tap water" or "ice water"; never felt embarrassed, and never been given any attitude.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

How odd. When asked what I would like to drink, if it is water, I simply say 'water'. It always come out in a pitcher and I am not charged for it, so I must assume I always get tap. If my request for 'water' came back with a bottle I would be quite upset unless it were free.


He don't mix meat and dairy,

He don't eat humble pie,

So sing a miserere

And hang the bastard high!

- Richard Wilbur and John LaTouche from Candide

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

i asked for 2 glasses of sparkling wine at Sparks and was told they didn't have sparkling wine. the server then brought 2 small bottles of sparkling water (which i was going to order anyway). embarrassed? for the server, yes, as he seemed to have no idea what i meant by "sparkling wine". but that's another story.


Edited by tommy (log)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Well in Italy bottled water is cheap unlike the USA where it costs more than gasoline - try to explain that to an Italian paying $6 a gallon for gas. There is no way to justify the prices charged for bottled water in the USA. One question I would have is why there are not more domestic products? The USA is a big place and there must be some good springs somewhere. Why do Americans have to drink imported bottled water?

We have springs in Florida - and one large brand - Zephyrhills (which I think is a subsidiary of Nestle) - comes from those springs. So we have domestic water.

I have a simple rule about bottled water. I never drink it at restaurants in the US (except a few - mostly rural places - with disgusting tap water). And I always drink it in Europe - simply because that's the way they do things there. When in Rome - etc. Robyn

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I read an article now that some restaurants have water sommeliers. They interviewed one, and this guy looks down at people who drink Evian and Perrier. He prefers this Norwegian brand (forgot the name) and Fiji. I dunno, but is that necessary? Couldn't they just train the waitstaff to know the difference if they are serving different brands of bottled water?

A restaurant I frequent has special holders for the square shape of the Fiji water bottle.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I read an article now that some restaurants have water sommeliers. They interviewed one, and this guy looks down at people who drink Evian and Perrier. He prefers this Norwegian brand (forgot the name) and Fiji. I dunno, but is that necessary? Couldn't they just train the waitstaff to know the difference if they are serving different brands of bottled water?

A restaurant I frequent has special holders for the square shape of the Fiji water bottle.

I knew it was big business but a water sommelier?? Cool! and square bottle holders?? Amazing!! :shock:

Any special year one ought to order? A certain bouquet to taste? :rolleyes:

and which might be the sign of the truest pretension to order? Oh yes, that Norwegian water .... :laugh: ..Voss!

You can't sell on quality, although everyone tries. Even those who are dubious about the quality of the stuff coming out of our taps have not shown much interest in the precise origins and mineral content of their bottled waters.

"People aren't motivated by the source story," says Martin Prebble, marketing manager for Frucor, the energy drink company behind H2Go. "They don't really care if it's spring water or filtered water. To the consumer, it's all just plain water."

No, bottled water is all about the brand. And beverage companies are waking up to the fact that it has to be sold with all the sizzle they once devoted to fizzy drinks.

Until very recently, all the buzz about bottled water was concentrated at the boutique end of the market. We laughed at anecdotes about pampered celebrities demanding Voss, a Norwegian water bottled in what looks like a Calvin Klein cologne flask, or Ty Nant, a Welsh water in a blue vase. But now water bottle design has been democratised and plasticised.


Edited by Gifted Gourmet (log)

Melissa Goodman aka "Gifted Gourmet"

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Water Sommelier!

In a country that spends $6.5 billion on bottled water each year, it was only a matter of time before a profession was born to help us choose between Perrier and S. Pellegrino, Evian and Ty Nant. Water sommeliers have popped up in elegant eateries and resorts around the country, including the Ritz-Carlton in Manhattan. And in the Valley, an area rich with water aficionados, the Eurasia Bistro in the Scottsdale Athletic Club said a water sommelier isn't a gimmick but a service customers crave.

"People appreciate water like wine," Longobardi said, delicately sipping the house water, filtered, of course, and served in a wine glass, garnished with a lemon slice.

Yet one popular culture expert says the trend is almost laughable.

"There's a certain pretension here," said Bob Thompson, professor of media and pop culture at Syracuse University. "One can understand the notion of wine and picture someone tasting and swirling it around. The idea that one would do this with water is pretty funny."


Melissa Goodman aka "Gifted Gourmet"

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
"People appreciate water like wine," Longobardi said,

no they don't. this man is an idiot. people want water that contains not much more than hydrogen and oxygen. sometimes bubbles.


Edited by tommy (log)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

i always get tap-water.

my biggest water related problem is in korean restaurants that serve only "brown" water--i like it in its own right but dammit i want my regular water.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
"People appreciate water like wine," Longobardi said,

The Slow Food group here did a "water tasting" a couple months back for its monthly get together. Even for Vancouver, that's kinda wierd. :blink:

Pretense exists where it is created ... like the line-up at the night club that makes you want to be part of the "in" crowd ... and it serves only to increase price & profit.

DA

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Has anyone watch the Penn & Teller show on Showtime called Bullshit? They did a segment on all the bottled waters. The best part was when they filled up assorted bottles with tap water (all from the same source) and then proceeded to offer the "waters" to guests in a restaurant. The power of suggestion was amazing. The water sommelier would describe each water as having different characteristics, and then the person would sample. The patrons would then taste and give their opinions. According to them, each water tasted different. Although they all really came from the identical source.


"Some people see a sheet of seaweed and want to be wrapped in it. I want to see it around a piece of fish."-- William Grimes

"People are bastard-coated bastards, with bastard filling." - Dr. Cox on Scrubs

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Has anyone watch the Penn & Teller show on Showtime called Bullshit?  They did a segment on all the bottled waters.  The best part was when they filled up assorted bottles with tap water (all from the same source) and then proceeded to offer the "waters" to guests in a restaurant.  The power of suggestion was amazing.  The water sommelier would describe each water as having different characteristics, and then the person would sample.  The patrons would then taste and give their opinions.  According to them, each water tasted different.  Although they all really came from the identical source.

This is hysterical, bloviatrix!! :laugh:

Looks as if getting my degree as a "Water Sommelier" ain't gonna be quite as challenging and complex as I thought after all! :hmmm:

(above links for the aspects of this job)


Melissa Goodman aka "Gifted Gourmet"

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
The water sommelier would describe each water as having different characteristics, and then the person would sample. The patrons would then taste and give their opinions. According to them, each water tasted different. Although they all really came from the identical source.

excellent show.

i think this says more about the power of suggestion than people's preferences in water or their ability to detect off-flavors in tap water.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I learned the hard way once to specify tap water. Ouch, that was pricey!

I actually can taste the difference between various still waters. Evian always has a gross, plastic taste to me and I still mourn the loss of a particularly clean bottled water that hasn't been around for years. However, most bottled water tastes close enough so that it's really, really stupid to pay for the "privilege" of one over the other. Especially given a huge restaurant markup.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Evian always has a gross, plastic taste to me

I'm glad to know that I'm not the only one who has a problem with Evian. It tastes awful.

In NY I'm a tap water girl (Aqua Guiliani, Mayim Bloomberg -- the name changes according to mayor). When travelling in Europe it really depends on how I feel about the locale's water.


"Some people see a sheet of seaweed and want to be wrapped in it. I want to see it around a piece of fish."-- William Grimes

"People are bastard-coated bastards, with bastard filling." - Dr. Cox on Scrubs

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

We get Arrowhead delivered to our office, and I think it taste fine. The tap water here taste like shit.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

So how much should one pay for bottled water in Europe? From the article, they mention £2 - £3 but is that only for the UK? Is it cheaper in restaurants in France or Italy?

I would still rather pay $0 for tap.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Sign in to follow this  

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...