31 August 2008

Constant Dripping Wears Away the Stone

Although apparently a small matter, I think this story about restaurants refusing to provide tap water for free could have quite wide ramifications.

At one level, it's about restaurateurs being reasonable: if I spend tens of pounds on their food, it's not too much to ask for some water to go with it, given that it costs them fractions of a penny to provide it. If they refuse, it's sheer, bloody-minded greediness - and a good reason (a) never to eat there again and (b) to name and shame them so that others can do the same.

Moreover, as ever, this is not a question of a threat, but of an opportunity for restaurants, which can differentiate themselves through the quality of the tap water they offer - filtered, presented with ice, lemons whatever. Again, the costs of doing so are minimal, but the potential gains in terms of improved customer satisfation great.

But obviously, there's a much bigger issue here too:

Earlier this year, environment minister Phil Woolas condemned the bottled water industry as "morally unacceptable". Mineral water suppliers on average use two litres of water for every litre put into a bottle. Much is transported from overseas, from as far away as New Zealand and Fiji. Four out of five bottles are plastic, most of which end up in landfill despite recycling initiatives, where it can take four centuries to decompose.

Consumer campaigners Which? estimate that the number of plastic bottles sent to landfill each year would fill Wembley Stadium twice over. Which? describes bottled mineral water as an unnecessary drink that costs us £1.68bn a year. The good news is that sales fell by 9% last year, and in the credit crunch sales are expected to fall further. "Our reasons for buying bottled water are drying up," according to Which?

If we all start asking for tap water in restaurants - as I've recently started doing - we will be able to make a direct, if small contribution to reducing the ridiculous environmental costs of bottled water, perhaps start sensitising retaurateurs to the implications of how they choose to run their businesses and, more profoundly, change attitudes to the unthinking privatisation of vital commons like water.

4 comments:

Ciara said...

A very good idea. I'd like to offer one small amendment - when the water does arrive at the restaurant table, it should be in a smallish glass. How often, even when I've been thirsty, I've left one-half to two-thirds of the glass behind when I left.

glyn moody said...

Excellent point: in other words, specify "n" glasses, according to the number of people there, rather than a generic "bucket of tap water, please".....

zaine_ridling said...

A very good idea, indeed. I live in a small mountain town and bottled water starts at $2 here. Over and over the health department shows how water from our tap is cleaner than bottled water. And the plastic alone would extend civilization. It's a bad idea that should no longer be accepted, much like we frown on smoking these days.

glyn moody said...

Yes, that's the deep irony: we pay outrageous sums for water that is actually *less* clean....