Restaurants soak up a 1,000 per cent profit on water sales

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Restaurants are making up to 1,000 per cent profit by selling customers bottles of filtered tap water. Restaurateurs have discovered a new water filter system called Classic Crystal and are using it to treat tap water - which is then bottled and sold to customers at hugely inflated prices.

Classic Crystal, which costs between 10p and 20p a bottle to produce, is on sale at restaurants for anything up to pounds 2.80.

Well-known restaurants selling the water include the People's Palace at the Royal Festival Hall, in London, and other outlets ranging from Groucho Club, London, to The Rock hotel restaurant in Gibraltar.

The Egon Ronay Guide says that the practice is a disgrace, although not illegal, and states that all restaurants should provide fresh tap water for free as a matter of course.

Bottled mineral water is also being sold at exaggerated prices, sometimes as much as pounds 7.50 a bottle, an investigation by the BBC has found.

Egon Ronay described this practice as "highway robbery".

He added: "This water pricing is a logical consequence of the warped wine pricing policy that exists in Britain - which is totally idiotic and counter- productive.

"The percentage mark-up on wine is so high that customers are prevented from buying good wine. But London water is poor quality to taste. It is important to have good water with one's food." .

A spokesman for the Restaurateurs' Association said last night that in some circumstances the high prices restaurants charged for water are justified. "The margin that we place on mineral water often has to be higher than on other products," he said.

The spokesman added: "People are drinking less alcohol than they did four or five years ago - especially at lunchtime - and we have to make an additional profit in order to cover our costs."

The row over the water is featured tonight on BBC2's Food and Drink programme.

However, John Shirley- Bevan, the managing director of Classic Crystal Sparkling Water which is based in Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire, said he was dubious about claims of a 1,000 per cent mark up on tap water.

"I don't know where they get that figure from," he said. "The other thing is that we do not dictate what our product should be sold for.

"It depends on the restaurant - whether they are a high turnover place with lots of covers in a night, or a one-cover evening with waiters in bow ties."