Water? Water Fuss!

How long would you like the extended warranty to be for?

Like all attempted con tricks, this one was delivered with flair, with a smile and, of course, with absolute confidence (hence the name). If, on the first of June this year, you part with some of your hard earned for a five year warranty on an appliance, you can almost guarantee that it will pack in on 2 June 2029. It is reckoned that a very large percentage of the profits of electrical retailers comes from this source.

You may be pondering the relevance of this truism to a food column. Well, cast your mind back to the last few times you ate out. Once you were seated, what were the waiter's opening words?

Would you like some still or sparkling water for the table? Or, more directly-

Still or sparkling?

In other words, can I add an extra fiver to our turnover? If I'm dining sans booze (yes, a rarity I know, but it does happen on occasion) I quite like some fizzy water, but I don't see the point in paying for bottled still water in an area where the local tap water is acceptable. That too begs a lot of questions. I'm by no means a raging socialist but why we privatised debt free companies only now to find that their balance sheets are as s*** as their river discharges I do not know. End of rant.

Our standard response to either question is, tap, please. That's never a problem in this country. I know of some proprietors who would like to be difficult about it but by law they can't. The licensing legislation provides that tap water fit for drinking must be provided free of charge on request.*

The reason for this dates back to the rave scene in the 80s and 90s. Often fuelled by the drug ecstasy or other stimulants, youngsters would dance all the hours but they weren't interested in alcohol. Obviously, however, they did develop a raging thirst. In desperation, struggling night club owners started to charge for glasses of water or home made ice lollies, and jacked up the prices of soft drinks. The latter is now outlawed as well, it being a requirement that soft drinks must be available at a reasonable price, whatever that means.

What brought this to mind was our recent trip to Italy in unseasonably hot weather. Now we weren't wandering in off the streets just for water, but generally were looking for a glass on the side. As this is a nation where you are often brought water along with a coffee, the occasional downright refusal was puzzling. Neither L nor I reacts well to pressure to buy.

The first time we encountered this phenomenon was in Bologna. It's very easy to get to from Rome. Follow our example. Buy tickets to Orvieto, then get on the wrong train. Never mind, Bologna is a delight. Its ancient university is held in the highest esteem, it was the home to left wing Italian politics and it's known as the food capital of Italy. For those reasons it earned the description of being dotta, rotta e grassa (learned, red and fat).

A glass of water? Sorry, we don't serve that. We were fairly astonished and protested. The lady serving us pointed out, reasonably enough, that it wasn't her bar and she didn't make the rules. Fancying a second glass of vino I sought out the owner. In my smoothest Italian, I congratulated him on his city and its beauty. He seemed pleased. In quite a carrying voice I told him I had heard of its famous soubriquet, dotta, rotta, grassa e senz'aqua. He had the grace to look embarrassed. With the second round he grudgingly sent out a couple of small glasses of H₂O. They weren't much bigger than the complimentary limoncello you often get at the end of a meal, but it was a victory of sorts.

Back in Rome, a different and more direct approach was required. Possibly the best meal we ate was at a wee place in Trastevere, slightly outside the zoo which that quarter turns into most nights. The waiter was crystal clear. We don't provide tap water - do you want still or sparkling? NO! we exclaimed as one. I gave the man my finest sneer. What turned it, however, was a bravura performance from L. Any teacher worth his or her salt develops A LOOK, one that can quieten an unruly group of children at a hundred paces. Even a decade or more of retirement hasn't dimmed her powers. She gave the man A LOOK. Two large glasses were on the table in seconds.

And you thought this restaurant reviewing malarkey was easy?


*Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 Schedule 3, paragraph 9(2), in case you were wondering.


  1. Carolyn Taylor on 17th April 2024 at 7:31 pm

    Totally agree with the water problem! We always request “TAP” and it is usually provided in this country. Totally object to pay for the “stuff” for restauranteur’s profits. We don’t seem to have any shortage of the wet stuff here. However maybe abroad as some of the water is best to avoid? As for the L “look” we do recognise that and know not to cross it ! 🤣

    • Tom Johnston on 17th April 2024 at 7:54 pm

      Tee hee!

  2. Janet Hood on 14th May 2024 at 8:17 am

    I always ask for fizzy or still water as I recognise that the current climate is v v challenging for the hospitality industry – so please consider this – hospitality has to pay high water rates, staff to serve the “tap”, electricity, for light, cooking and heating , back room staff, 20% VAT , in Scotland very high rates and huge administrative and compliance costs – water is NOT free

    • Tom Johnston on 14th May 2024 at 9:29 am

      Very commendable; however, I’m usually doing my bit buying lots of wine at a 300% markup.

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