Customers unhappy with eateries who charge or don't serve water

SINGAPORE - They risk stirring up ill will among customers. Still, some restaurants here insist on charging for water or not serving tap water.

Reader Darren Ling e-mailed The New Paper this week about the poor service he got at the Thai Express West Coast Plaza outlet.

Mr Ling, 24, had not been feeling well on the day he visited the restaurant. He claims he had asked for a little warm water to take his medication.

He says the restaurant manager suggested he buy a 500ml bottle of mineral water instead and have it heated up.

When asked, Minor Food Group, which manages Thai Express, did not want to comment on the incident except to say that Thai Express has a policy not to provide tap water to customers - under any circumstances.

"What upsets me most is that Thai Express knew I was unwell, but did not treat me as an exception under their policy," says Mr Ling.

Thai Express is not alone. Many restaurants across Singapore have the same policy of not serving water. At least 25 outlets here don't serve tap water for free. But some of the restaurants' spokesmen say that they would make exceptions.

But why this policy in the first place?

At Tajimaya, a Japanese restaurant at Vivocity, customers pay $3.90 for a 720ml bottle of Evian mineral water and $3 for a refillable cup of iced or warm green tea.

Ms Bonnie Wong, 25, marketing manager of Creative Eateries, which manages Tajimaya, says that providing tap water is an expenditure for restaurants.

"To keep service standards high for a mid- to high-priced restaurant like ours, we need more staff to refill cups faster," she says.

"And labour cost is high in Singapore."

Wild Oats, a family-style restaurant at Punggol Park which serves Western and fusion food, sells only bottled water.

It is "because sometimes people get an upset stomach from tap water," claims assistant manager Patrick Wong, 44.

The drinking water policy at Ocean Restaurant by Cat Cora is harder to understand.

This expensive Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) restaurant provides warm water but not iced water.

An RWS spokesman explains that this is because warm water usually comes as a special request and demand for it is lower.

Madam Tan Heng Neo, 68, was part of a party of four, dining at the restaurant last month when their request for cold water was turned down.

"It was silly because we spent at least $350 on the meal and would have been happy to spend more on other beverages like wine if there wasn't this silly policy. It annoyed us so much," Madam Tan says. In the end, the restaurant served them warm water instead.

Diners The New Paper on Sunday spoke to, such as student Chow Keng Ji, 17, are mostly against the no-tap-water policy.

"Restaurants can get water from the tap. So it isn't just being cheapskate, it's deliberately making you buy a drink.

"We are already paying a service charge. The cost of providing water should be included," he says.

While most people TNPS spoke to found charging for water, especially at exorbitant prices, unreasonable, there is little they can do about it, except perhaps to avoid the restaurants that have such a policy.

There is no law against charging customers for a glass of water or serving bottled water only.

But Mr Seah Seng Choon, executive director of the Consumers Association of Singapore says offering free water when customers ask for it is basic courtesy and good business practice.

"We encourage restaurants not to charge for plain water," he says.

The most infamous case of a water face-off happened in 2011 when actress Joanne Peh tweeted about being charged for hot water at Nando's restaurant, which is popular for its chicken.

Nandos now serves tap water for free, after a policy change last year.

Says Juleana Ng, 29, senior brand manager at the chain. "Since Nando's restaurant is a global chain, operations-wise we do not have a global policy to serve tap water because it is unsafe for consumption in (some) other countries...

"But over the years, we have received much feedback from customers who requested we provide tap water.

"In Singapore, with a different culture and expectations, and where tap water is almost free, clean and safe to drink, free tap water has been available since early last year."

What would you do if a restaurant refuses to serve you water?

Vow never to return? No big deal?

The New Paper on Sunday polled 50 customers (76 per cent of whom have been asked to pay for water) to find out.

8 per cent said they will leave the restaurant immediately.

But if they were at the restaurant for a special occasion and walking out was not an option: 78 per cent of respondents would order another beverage or buy bottled water

12 per cent would not order any drinks at all

weejl@sph.com.sg


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