Are restaurants abusing the water shortage by forcing patrons to drink bottled water?


It was disappointing to experience yet another restaurant pushing bottled water, when I requested a glass of tap water at Willoughby’s last night, it not being the only restaurant in Cape Town  at which I have experienced this practice. 

The situation appears to have got so out of hand that the Cape branch of the restaurant and hotel Fedhasa association has issued a statement, reminding its members that it is illegal for licensed establishments to withhold tap water from their patrons, and that it is to be provided free of charge, according to section 4.7 of the Liquor Act. Jeff Rosenberg, Chairman of Fedhasa Cape, said: ‘Nothing has changed really and I think that a lot needs to be done to save water in the current situation – but this is not one of them’. He added that there are many other ways in which restaurants can save water,  including removing table cloths and napkins that require washing, and not filling ice buckets to the brim. 

It was refreshing to see the water policy of Woolworths-owned W Café in its menu yesterday,
which openly offers its patrons tap water. This is a turn-around when for a few days its patrons were refused tap water, a misguided decision made in the corporation, and very quickly reversed when customers were up in arms about it. 

The waiters who have refused to serve me tap water have insinuated the health risk of drinking tap water, a sales strategy no doubt frightening and impacting tourists visiting our city in the main. When I get this line from waiters, it annoys me, it being downright untruthful and opportunistic, designed to inflate the restaurant bill, and thus enhance their tip. Last night the Willoughby’s waitress did not even use this line. She just told me outright that they only serve bottled water! When I told her that it is illegal to refuse my request, I was served a glass of tap water. 

I make a point of drinking up my glass of tap water. I am speaking to local restaurateurs, and I am impressed with their strategies to save water in their restaurants, including offering waterless hand-sanitisers, requesting patrons to minimize water usage in bathrooms, installing water-collection tanks on their premises, reducing the glass size for water requests, using left-over water from ice buckets for watering plants and mopping floors, and evaluating their menus for more water-efficient cooking methods. The Test Kitchen may be using the water crisis for some restaurant PR, but one must give them credit for being one of the first restaurant groups to do so! 

Chef Luke Dale-Roberts’ waterless ‘Drought Kitchen’ to pop-up inside The Test Kitchen

The water usage of leading restaurant groups has already declined dramatically, many of them coming to the party in reducing their water usage, through staff training and management, and through communication with their customers. 

Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: Chris von Ulmenstein Instagram: @Chris_Ulmenstein


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