Food News

The Hidden Cost of Restaurant Water

"What type of water would you like?" It's the first question a diner often hears when sitting down in a restaurant. Then comes, "Would you care for bottled still, sparkling, or tap?"

Strange, though, in the Miami area, restaurant prices for a one-liter bottle of water can vary from $5 to upward of $10 and are almost never printed on the menu. Sure, that might not seem like a lot of money to some, but for water, really? You can buy a few beers, maybe even a cocktail, for that price at many places. Factor in a second bottle of water, and now you're getting close to the cost of an entrée.

In New Times' survey of a dozen Miami restaurants, we found only one instance of a restaurant listing the price of bottled water on the menu. For the rest, water is a "verbal sell." Asked about the price of bottled water not being listed on its menu, Anibal Maeisa, general manager of Bourbon Steak, says, "Customers don't ask for the price." A representative from the Dutch who declined to give his name says the $7 Saratoga isn't listed because the stylish beach hangout "does not list any nonalcoholic drinks on the menu."

The answer is always a question away, but how many of us ever care to ask?

Among the area's most popular bottled waters are Pellegrino, Perrier, Aqua Panna, S. Bernardo, Voss, and Saratoga. All are foreign mineral water except Saratoga.

Many restaurants are turning to onsite filtration systems to help cut the high costs of traditional bottled water. Vero Water is a popular example. It's a five-step process that filters and bottles local water on premises. Vero allows restaurants to pour chilled flat, sparkling, and ambient water on demand. The filtration system is a fraction of the cost of traditional bottled water and helps the restaurant drastically decrease its carbon footprint.

Some restaurants offer Vero Water as "tap" water, while others may charge 50 cents a head or $1 to $2 a bottle. Bourbon Steak offers Vero Water complimentary in addition to bottled Voss for $7. "We don't feel like we should be charging for tap water," Maeisa says.

Here are a few examples of what you'll get and where:

Prime One Twelve — Aqua Panna and Pellegrino: $9.50
Quality Meats — Aqua Panna and Pellegrino: $9.50        
Scarpetta — Aqua Panna and Pellegrino: $9
Il Gabbiano — S. Bernardo: $8
Verde — Aqua Panna and Pellegrino: $7
The Dutch — Saratoga: $7
27 Restaurant — Aqua Panna and Perrier: $5
Bourbon Steak — Vero Water: free; Voss: $9
Mignonette and Blue Collar — Vero Water: free; Pellegrino: $5 (Prices are listed on the menu.)
Eating House — Vero Water: 50 cents per person
Fooq's — Vero Water: $1 
Makoto — Vero Water: $2

Chef and owner of Mignonette and Blue Collar, Danny Serfer, is particularly sensitive to the high cost of water. "There's no big revenue," Serfer says of water. Both of his restaurants offer filtered flat Vero Water free and charge $5 for Pellegrino. Serfer's restaurants are the only locations New Times surveyed that had bottled water prices printed on the menu. Serfer likes Vero Water so much he even has a filter at home.  

Maeisa then left us with a lasting thought: "Most people in the world don't drink out of the faucet, while most Americans are used to drinking tap water." That being said, maybe we shouldn't be so picky about our free, clean tap water?