Tap water, off the menu

Free water has been suggested to be served for the last couple of years, but only now has it come into effect

I went to a bar and asked for a free glass of water and the controversy began. It’s been two weeks since hostelry services all over Spain have been legally obliged to give free water to their clients. This rule already existed in Andalucía, but only really in theory, and was accompanied by a gritting of teeth.

The offending article 18.3 of the waste disposal law 7/2022 obliges all hotel and catering businesses to provide free tap water, although they can continue selling bottled mineral water for those who are so inclined. Tap water is fine, and with a touch of chlorine to kill any germs or microbes, it hydrates just the same as bottled water. If a little pressure is applied, it can even be added to vermouth, or to remove the Saharan dust that still covers my city.

Some business owners have complained, as can only be expected, as they represent one of the most complaining sectors in the world, closely followed by opinion columnists. They say that handing out free water will reduce their sales. Personally, I’d be very surprised if lots of people suddenly swapped their usual order of a cold beer, a glass of wine or fresh fruit juice for a glass of tap water. No one drinks wine because they’re thirsty. People gather for drinks in bars for the pleasure of it. Euro-thirsty business owners can satisfy themselves by continuing to sell wine for five times its supermarket price.

Abroad, which is the place where everything happens, when you arrive at a restaurant, you are served a jug of water and glasses at will, as much as you like.

It is also common to charge for corkage – you can go to a restaurant with your finest bottle of ten-euro wine and only pay for the waiters to open it and for their service.

Hopefully Spain will follow suit. I remember a dismal time when it became fashionable to offer a ‘water menu’, with lots of different options, each one more expensive than the next. I was once even invited to a water tasting. I declined.

Another element of the controversial ruling also states that restaurants and bars have to allow anyone to use the toilets, customer or not. I recommend thinking optimistically. Anyone who walks into a bar to use the toilet is a potential customer, who might then seize the opportunity to order a beer. Going straight to the bathroom without ordering anything before asking for a free glass of water seems a bit cheeky to me, even if the law and consumer groups allow it.

The source of the outrage might just be that we have grown used to paying for everything, and are just so surprised not to have to. They say that he who pays breathes a sigh of relief. There are also places where they charge you to use the bathroom – mainly abroad. Nobody can get it completely right, but the least we can do is try to make services accessible to everyone.

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