Geoffrey Kent, the chairman of luxury safari travel company Abercrombie & Kent, said his father always teased him by saying "Geoffrey, you’re going to all the places where you can’t drink the water.”
It's an unfortunate coincidence that most of the really interesting places you could travel to are not the places you would be able to drink the local water. When I was a child, drinking tap water in India was such a big no-no anyone would think it would lead to instant death. It was a simple formula: boiled and filtered water at home, the ubiquitous "Bisleri" bottled water anywhere else - so ubiquitous that the brand was actually a synonym for bottled water back in the day.
We were religiously taught to shun the often finger-flavored local water that would be plonked on the table at most restaurants, for the unquestionably superior (and more importantly, non-dysentry-producing) frosty bottle of mineral water, whose plastic seal you would make sure to "open before your eyes" at the table.
But not being able to drink the local water because it isn't potable isn't the issue I find myself having today. It's the fact that I'm not able to drink local water because some fancy-shmanzy crystal juice distilled from the fairy lakes of Narnia is constantly being shoved under my nose every where I go.
Yes, I'm going to say it. I resent having to pay 35 dirhams for a bottle of water to go with my 45-dirham starter. I resent it more when the serving staff top up my half-full (yes, I'm generally a positive person) glass with another bottle of 35-dirham fairy juice the second they drain the last drop from the first bottle! A second bottle, let me add, they opened and poured out without me ordering it.
Having had water poured down my throat - ok, not literally, but close enough to the fact - twice in the span of a week, I have decided, it's time to let the annoyance boil over.
And yes, I'm going to name and shame. Thiptara, I am looking at you for asking me at least five times in the span of half an hour if I would like some still or sparkling water with my drinks - on a couple of occasions right before the delivery of the punch line to a story I will flatter myself in thinking was fairly amusing. I was thirsty, but you know what? I decided to skip the extra hydration that night (and save myself 100 dirhams in the bargain).
Cafe Belge, I am very specifically looking at you. I'll admit, you didn't ruin my punch lines by asking me whether I would like some water. You just assumed that at +30 dirhams a pop, you could take the liberty of pouring out several bottles without my consent.
Now, I might be petty, but do you serve drinks that haven't been ordered? Dessert maybe? A coffee, or five? No. Because most customers would notice and object to being plied with food and drinks they haven't ordered when it isn't gratis. It's just that water is so much a background noise that most people don't notice - or, more often, fear appearing cheap while restaurant staff rip them off before their very eyes!
I'll add to this rant the numerous brunches that offer all-inclusive prices with free flowing booze, juices, hey - sometimes even tea and coffee - but fail to mention that the extra attention lavished on your excluded H2O isn't due to the fact that they are worried you may need to water down all those included alcoholic drinks, but more because it makes a pretty hefty addition to the bill.
I salute the free tap water law in the UK. I understand if the UAE can't serve its desalinated water for possible health reasons (I'm not saying it isn't potable - to be honest I don't know - but I'm giving restaurants here the benefit of the doubt) but there's an alternative - offer local bottled water. You know what, mark it up a tiny bit if you want to - you shouldn't, but we know it's a tough world out there with squeezed profit margins. But don't force your customers to buy a bottle of overpriced Arctic/ Nordic/Gaelic water.
And if you are among the considerate few who do offer a choice, ask your diner which they would prefer before whipping out the more expensive one. I'd go so far as assuming when someone says "I'd like a bottle of water" - or more likely succumbs to the ever-eager "still or sparkling" prompts, they probably don't care if the water came from the springs of Southern France or Masafi. The ones who do care about mouth feel and youth-enhancing silica levels will usually, very specifically, ask for a "bottle of Evian" or a "bottle of Fiji Water".
For the rest of us mortals, local water will almost always do.
If you feel like I do, that it should be compulsory for restaurants in Dubai to offer local bottled water on their menus, please do share this article. And I'd be very interested in hearing any thoughts - supportive or contradictory on the topic. I found this article on The National from 2011 that says consumers do have the right to complain and report on hotels and restaurants charging ridiculous amounts for water. Restaurants charges for water "wrong and illegal". I suggest we all get dialing.
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