In the U.S., receiving a glass of tap water with your meal at a restaurant is about as normal as receiving a fork, knife and spoon with which to eat your food. Restaurants in drought areas don’t bring it automatically, but if you ask for a glass of water, they will bring you one without hesitation. But if you ever want to feel like a subversive, just try ordering a glass of tap water in a Dutch restaurant.
A while ago I met my friend Colleen for lunch at Brocante Brasserie in Pijnnacker. At 11:45 on a Friday, this cozy restaurant was half full. We started with a cup of tea as we caught up with each other, then placed our lunch order. Before they brought lunch, we were feeling a bit thirsty.
“I wonder if they’ll serve us tap water here,” she asked.
If you’re from the States, that might sound like a strange question. But in The Netherlands, many restaurants refuse to serve tap water, and it has nothing to do with water quality. Dutch tap water is very high-quality and even tastes good. So safety has nothing to do with it. It’s all about money.
If you want water in a restaurant, you have to buy bottled water, which can range from 1,50 to 6 euros, depending on the size and brand. But the reason we were being so anarchist in our thoughts this particular afternoon was that we had both heard talk of a new law that restaurants can not deny you a glass of tap water.
So, we ordered tap water and the waitress launched into a monologue about how they don’t serve tap water. We mentioned the new law and she still refused. When we shared our concerns, she said she would get the manager. He repeated the same speel as she did. No, they do not serve tap water. He would be happy to serve us a bottled water, but there would be no tap water. He was young, rude and unwavering in his stance.
If I wasn’t looking forward to our lunch together, I might have been tempted to walk out. Water is as necessary to our survival as breathing and no one should deny you access to something as basic as municipal water–which we all financially contribute to maintain through taxes here in the Netherlands. Further, with all the manufacturing costs, transport and associated environmental pollution, bottled water is a crime against the environment.
My friend and I weren’t alone in our thoughts on this. In fact, a petition called “overall kraanwater graag” (tap water everywhere please), has gathered 107,075 signatures and counting to make tap water available everywhere and stop restaurants from denying us this basic need. To be fair, I wouldn’t mind paying a nominal fee for tap water, considering the waiter has to serve the water, the glasses need to be washed, etc. But denying me tap water all together seems just plain old wrong.
So I signed the petition. If you live in the Netherlands, feel free to sign it too.
Since that fateful lunch, I’ve been asking for tap water every time I go to a restaurant and have not been denied since my Brocante Brasserie Pijnnacker experience. In fact, my friend and I decided to go to another restaurant for dessert that same day and guess what? They served us tap water without batting an eye. Wish I’d remembered the name of that restaurant for the tap water map.
The what? Well, let me explain. I received an email at the beginning of June with the following call to action: This summer, dare to ask for tap water at your favorite festival, bar, restaurant or beach tent ( a seasonal restaurant set up on the beach). If they give you tap water, then take a “tap water selfie” and place it on the tap water map, which can be found at kraanwaterkaart.nl.
How cool is that? In addition to giving attention to a restaurant that gets this basic concept, you have a chance of having a ‘kraanwater locatie’ named after you.
Interesting articles related to the bottled water debate:
The Telegraaf: Horeca moet gratis kaanwater schenken, March 23, 2013
Refinery 29.com article, December 7, 2015
12 thoughts on “A Glass of Tap Water Please?”
you should’ve walked out of the restaurant in Pijnacker. That is the only way to put pressure on stubborn waitresses and restaurant owners. Hit them in their wallets, and the smart ones will change their ways, the not so smart will go bankrupt. Consumers have power, and the Tap Water Map is a great way to endorse that power. Cheers!
Wow. What does it take to get some ice in that? And how about a slice of lemon? Signed, Spoiled American
Thank you for this article. I totally agree that serving (on demand) tap water is good for environment. I see no reason to not serve tap water, specially if you placed an order. To be fair giving water to thirsty is just decant human behavioral.
Recently I was with children in HEMA and next to my order (lunch and some drinks) they refused to give me tap water. They say that since they sell bottled water (in plastic bottles for 1.5Euro) they refuse to give me a full glass of tap water. After they started laughing at me, I walked out with my children.
Thanks for your comments. Good job for taking a stand against Hema. I hope it will soon become a law in The Netherlands to provide tap water if asked. Better for us all.
I am amused after this behavior in restaurant in Eindhoven. It just happened few minutes back, I was really thirsty. I asked for water and waiter refused. I am from India and refusing water to someone is big deal. I can not accept this as tap water here is drinkable. I came here as student of environmental management and I just feel it is height of hypocrisy from western world. I can’t be diplomatic or polite now. Fucking Europe , so called developed world should not suck the corporate dicks and enforce this bizarre law .
Hi Kristin….are you still battling this! Its been bugging me for 10 years. One restaurant winds me up immensely and they will soon get a big, fat one star review on every social media platform possible. Is there a law saying that tap water can not be refused come in since your article, do you know, or do I need to base my complaint wholy on unacceptable customer service?
I am sitting in a restaurant as I write this. I recently moved to The Netherlands and new that restaurants don’t offer tap water. Guess what, I was just told drinking your own water is also not allowed. This is really strange for an Indian sitting in an Indian restaurant in The Netherlands. This is just ridiculous.
24.04.23 Het Konings Huys Delft refused to supply tap water “We are not allowed to serve it”. Only after big fuss and threatening to walk out did they bring a small carafe. That was after we had refused to accept the opened bottle of water (screw top missing) which they had attempted to make us buy. Bottle filled up from tap? Draw your own conclusion!
Two other Delft restaurants, Monastere and Spijshuis de Dis, placed carafes of water on the table without being asked.
Thank you for sharing. It’s great to get the word out about restaurants that understand water is a basic right.