What You Can Tell About A Restaurant's Hospitality By Its Water

"Water, water everywhere, nor a drop to drink." If you find yourself reciting these lines from "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" after a restaurant's waitstaff seats you and walks away without pouring you a glass of H2O, it may say something about the hospitality of the eatery and not your recall abilities. It might not be the best part of eating at an expensive restaurant, but water at the table is definitely expected.

Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsama concurs. In his column, he wrote, "...pouring gratis water is a marker of hospitality." Sietsama went on to encourage diners to find and patronize restaurants that offer free still and sparkling water served in a carafe because it can be reused and, therefore, is better for the environment than bottled water.

Offering water to patrons has other benefits beyond good manners. When diners are hydrated, they are apt to have a better dining experience and if they are drinking cocktails or expensive wine, they are more likely to pace themselves. Additionally, the water can cleanse the palate in between drinks so those who are imbibing adult beverages can enjoy and taste the flavors of those drinks more readily.

A long-running custom

Surprisingly, this practice is considered to be more common in the United States than in other countries. Some claim the custom of water being served to people became popular during the era of prohibition when alcohol was not freely flowing and water was the next best thing to whet your whistle. Meanwhile, others believe the practice has been around much longer. In fact, Dickie Cullimore, global brand ambassador for Bacardi Rum told the Independent, "It's one of the oldest acts of hospitality. If you go back even to the time of the Crusades, you had venues where pilgrims knew they could get free, clean water." 

While some argue that serving water before handing out menus and taking orders can add time to the dining out experience, the bottom line is serving water is an act of hospitality and graciousness.