Yesterday I had lunch at popular Park Slope lunch spot and I wanted water. I have a cold and I was feeling dehydrated. So when the waiter brought the menu I asked for water and he said, “Sure.” A few minutes passed and no water came. Another waiter walked by me and as I was getting thirstier and thirstier I asked him if I could have some water. “No problem,” he said. Minutes passed. Then the first waiter came to take my order. I ordered my sandwich (ham, brie, apple and mustard: yum!) and asked again, as politely as I could, for water. A few minutes later it came, but only after he brought food out to another couple and took another table’s order.

I’ve had this happen in other restaurants too. Tap water earns the restaurant no money, it earns the waiter no greater tip. Sure, a server wants to make a good impression on the customer but somehow when a customer orders tap water there’s a always a sense of disappointment. I’ve had very aggressive servers in the past ask, repeatedly, if I was sure I didn’t want anything else to drink. Selling drinks accounts for a huge bulk of a server’s tip, so I understand the motivation, but at the same time if somebody only wants water you should bring them water. And usually that happens, but yesterday was the exception.

A good solution is the one that they use at Mary’s Fish Camp, right across the street from where I was yesterday. They bring a large glass bottle of tap water over to the table and two empty glasses so you have at least six glasses of water right there in front of you at the start of your meal. You don’t have to ask for it: the host or hostess just puts it on the table when you sit. More and more, I notice restaurants doing this and it’s a good idea. It saves the waiters time, it saves the customer the embarrassment of having to ask repeatedly for tap water.

In conclusion, many people are thirsty in this world and water helps to quench that thirst. If you own a restaurant, give your customers water. We’ll be very grateful and maybe we’ll even order dessert.

36 thoughts on “Water”

  1. I grew up in Wisconsin, and it’s pretty much a given there that you’ll be served water during your meal, sometimes even before you place your order.

  2. I have also noticed here in L.A. that restaurants are starting to serve tap water in large glass carafes like you mentioned. In particular, at Mozza (Batali’s pizza place) they ask if you’d like bottled or tap water. If you choose tap, they bring out a fancy glass carafe and glasses to serve it in. A good idea indeed.

  3. Scott Mohnkern

    Its true that serving water doesn’t increase a tip, but failing to do so can significantly decrease a tip.

    We’re in a society where a tip is “presumed” which given the wages of wait staff, it isn’t unreasonable. However, I tend to look at service as being things which can increase the tip, and items which can decrease the tip. Failing to serve water when asked definitely falls under the latter.

  4. At times I have experienced the same lousy service. However, people should refuse water that is automatically poured or brought to the table if they are not going to drink it (especially when waiters come around to refill). Too much water gets wasted at restaurants: http://sum.ptuo.us/roller/page/ks?anchor=water

    I also agree with the post above. If the service is great, whether I order water or not, my tip will definitely reflect it.

  5. I can beat that story. I once had to ask my waiter 6 times for a glass of water. I even asked the hostess who passed by. I finally got my water when I was halfway through my entreƩ.

  6. so true…I always brace myself for the evil stairs when I order water. As a serious runner, only on the weekends do I drink anything other then water in restaurants.

    I have taken to leaving a larger tip when the waiter is pleasant about the request so as to let them in on the fact that wanting water does not equal cheap.

    Sadly, in the chains that dot the landscape of America, the request of water does, more often then not signal just that…cheap bastards!

  7. I hate the trend towards having to buy water. I especially hate that it comes in plastic bottles. Oh, yes, and the lovely evil stare you get from a waiter who expects you to order bottled water. I’ve pointedly asked them, “What, is the tap water here not fit to drink? Do you use bottled water in the soup then?” Of course the opposite problem is when the staff constantly interrupts conversation at the table by filling the water glasses incessantly. It makes me feel like Sisyphus.

  8. Adam, have you tried Brooklyn Fish Camp, Mary’s outpost in Park Slope? Yummy. And good with the water. Also, I went to Enoteca at your recommendation last weekend and we drank tap water. The waiters there were awesome with the water.

  9. Have you ever had the opposite problem? The over-zealous water glass-refiller. Honestly, I do not want my water glass refilled after every sip. I want to feel like I am getting somewhere and it’s just awkward to have the water guy hovering around you.

  10. Hey, what was the place? Not because I want to expose rude water-denying waiters, but because my new job is in Park Slope and I need good places to eat…

  11. In one of the places I used to serve at, we would be reprimanded if we didn’t sell drinks other than water to a certain percentage of customers we served. It was so frustrating because I tried my hardest NOT to be the exact thing you’re complaining about.

    It’s just like Best Buy selling their insurance policies. “No, I do not want to buy a $250 insurance policy on a laptop that’s only costing me $500. I know your job sucks, but please stop bugging me about it.”

  12. Hi Adam,

    I’m actually a neuroscience student studying dehydration anorexia, and so I am familiar with the subject of thirst and fluid intake. There is actually a phenomenon where you become less hungry when you are dehydrated because taking in food would increase the concentration of your blood. Therefore, by waiters not bringing you water at a restaurant, they are decreasing the bill (and hence, their tip) by making you less hungry when you order.

  13. I find this very interesting, because where I live (Canberra, Australia), a bottle of water on the table is a given. Moreover, I’ve never once experienced being given bottled water (which you then must pay for) upon requesting water, as I’ve heard people talk about on blogs before. I wonder if it’s different elsewhere in Australia…

  14. Ordering water and not getting it is one of my common pet hates at restaurants too. I generally like to have a cold glass of water with my meal, even if I’m drinking wine or other drinks. Hence, I always ask for a glass of water at nearly ever restaurant I go to.

    The worse experience I’ve had was when I had to ask 5 times for water. In the end, we got so fed up that my friend actually walked to the bar and got the water herself. Needless to say that we have never gone back to that restaurant.

    It’s strange that the waiters tend to remember everything else you ask for but always conveniently forget the water. It frustrates me so much that if I have to ask more than 2 times for water, that restaurant will not be getting a tip from me.

    I agree that the restaurants who put a big jug of water for you when you sit down are doing the right thing. It saves them time and also frustration of not getting water.

  15. Back in “the day,” it was pretty normal in mainstream U.S. restaurants to be served water soon after you sat down. (Much like the de facto free chips and salsa at Tex-Mex joints.)

    Then, in either the late 70s or early 80s (Carter? Reagan? Probably Carter), there was a strong initiative to conserve water by no longer serving it to everyone whether or not they wanted it. I was just a preteen, but I remember it being really weird the way water suddenly disappeared in restaurants and you had to specifically ask for it.

    That’s when I realized there’d been many meals where I never touched my water, and it probably *was* wasteful to just give it to everyone. Still, too bad These Kids Today don’t realize that not too long ago they would’ve had to serve water to everyone, keep it refilled, and upsell the soda and booze to pre-quenched customers, too.

  16. It would be a great public service for to “out” this restaurant – the “no water” treatment you received is inexcusable.

    The irony of your post is that March 22nd was World Water Day and participating restaurants in New York City invited patrons to donate $1 for the tap water they usually enjoy for free. All the money raised through the Tap Project will help UNICEF save lives by providing safe drinking water to children around the world.

  17. That’s so strange…down in the South (where I guess we’re pretty dehydrated from all the heat or just naturally thirsty)…you almost have to stand on your head to refuse water. If you’re not brought water at the beginning of your “restaurant experience,” it’s brought as soon as you place a drink order–and a glass of water may be brought alongside whatever drink you’ve ordered.

    Anyone who’s ever been a server knows that strict attention to making your guest’s experience a good one may–only may–enhance your tip, but the failure to do so will definitely decrease it. As a guest, I try to remember that there are three levels of service: inadequate, adequate, and superb. Inadequate and superb service will always affect the tip I leave, and the comments I give to the manager. Don’t forget to be as quick to speak to someone in management for superb service as you are for inadequate.

  18. It’s standard in any cafe in Australia that a carafe of water is brought with the menus. If it’s counter service there’s often a water cooler/filter with glasses on the counter. I remember thinking how civilised it was when I moved here from the UK many years ago. Perhaps it’s living in a warmer climate that makes people aware.

    Fortunately in Australia it’s not expected that you will tip. We have minimum wage rules so our wait staff aren’t as over-exploited as yours. Makes for a more pleasant experience all round!



  19. They serve water here in MN at most restaurants as they hand out menus. We have never been shirked for ordering just water.

  20. Though it does lose restaurants money (an estimated $20,000 a year for a small place), there’s an increasing trend in the San Francisco area towards tap water served in a carafe–and made sparkling with the use of a carbonator, should the customer desire. Chez Panisse jumped on the bandwagon last summer.

    The concern revolves around the amount of energy spent shipping thousands of cases of bottled mineral water from Italy, as well as the amount of bottles being added to landfill.

    It seems to be a growing trend–which I think is great. Hopefully, Adam, next time you’ll simply be asked if you want your water bubbly or still.

  21. I base my tip on service which includes how attentive the waiters are to my beverage, water included. But it also helps that in my state it is against the law to not serve water when asked (I live in a desert)…

  22. I’ve never had this problem, anywhere. I may have been snubbed for not ordering wine, but I wouldn’t know since I’m not sensitive. I tend to think this is a symptom of a busy restaurant as opposed to some vast underground conspiracy by the service industry.

  23. My husband actually filled me in on this little tidbit this week: Tip originally meant “to ensure service”. The tip would actually be left at the beginning of the meal and your service was based on that.

  24. I had dinner last week at StripHouse and knew that the meal was off to a good start when the waiter asked if we’d like tap water. I can’t remember the last time a restaurant gave me that as the main option – rather than making me specifically ask for it after they’ve offered bottled (or maybe included it as a third option after still and sparkling). They also did a great job of refilling the water glasses (and the steak was fabulous too!)

  25. I work at a restaurant in which guests must ask for water, while I feel it should be served right after the guest is sat, with the bread (bread and water, didn’t one get that even in old-timey prisons?).

    It’s unfortunate, because it creates a situation in which not only the waiters, but also the bussers and runners look at serving a table water as a drag on their time. My philosophy is that I’ll make my money no matter what, but making someone wait for water is bad policy, especially if it’s hot out.

    I’d say there is a noteworthy exception, however. When someone comes in and is so thirsty that they pound down several glasses of water and look perturbed that their glass can only be refilled six times, they must realize that the servers have other guests to accomodate, and they may be better off bucking up and getting a big bottle of Pelegrino or the like. They’d probably also digest their meals much easier if they understood that it’s only natural that between a guest who orders a $37 steak and an $80 bottle of wine, and another who orders a sandwich and some water, the former guest is always, always, always going to receive the superior attention. That’s an economic necessity for a server.

  26. Interesting, only today Alice Waters was on the telly talking about how she will only serve tap water from now on because bottled water generates huge amounts of garbage and wastes too much energy.

    Sounds like something the rest of the restaurant industry should follow up on!

  27. Was this at Press195? Because that happens to me there all the time (and that’s the exact sandwich I get from there, too).

  28. Doug Rosenbloom


    Hope this finds you well. I remember you from almost ten years ago (scary!) when we would cross paths at Emory’s Complex. Poor water refill service is definitely my number one restaurant pet peeve and the single most common factor that causes me to deviate from my 20% default tipping rule. Got any good Passover recipes?


    Doug Rosenbloom

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