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Bar owner says people ordering tap water putting her out of business

'This is happening across the industry'

Olivia Petter
Monday 27 May 2019 18:21 BST
Bar owner says people ordering tap water putting her out of business

A bar owner in Bristol has urged customers to stop ordering free tap water because it “really affects [her] business”.

Sam Espensen, co-founder of Bristol Spirit in Redfield, tweeted a statement on Wednesday – which has since been deleted – explaining that her business model “cannot survive” purely on money from customers ordering food.

“This is because we have food pop-ups,” the statement continued, “so the majority of the money from the food goes to them – and rightly so.

“We are a bar not a restaurant. If you don’t want to drink alcohol, we have an excellent range of low sugar mocktails and non-alcoholic alternatives”.

The tweet swiftly prompted a backlash, with many arguing that Bristol Spirit is legally obliged to provide customers with tap water, while others encouraged Espensen to change her business model.

Speaking to BristolLive on Thursday, Espensen defended her comment and explained that at least 14 people ordered tap water as opposed to priced drinks at her bar last week.

“This is happening across the industry,” she said. “This is partly down to people wanting to drink healthier or non alcoholic drinks (which is great), but as we offer around 50 different options for those not wanting to drink alcohol it certainly can’t account for all of them.

“So I wanted to highlight to those people that them drinking tap water means we are unlikely to meet the average spend from their visit required to break even or turn a profit."

Espensen went on to explain that the number of people opting for tap water as opposed to drinks from the menu is taking away a “sizeable chunk of income”.

“And the person who is sitting and not drinking anything, is also taking up a space of someone who would like to drink,” Espensen said, pointing out that bar and restaurant margins “are already cut to the bone” thanks to food price surges, sugar tax and utility bills.

“I don’t have the answer on how to address this problem,” she added, “I just want to have a conversation about it so that people know that the issue exists.”

All premises in England and Wales that serve alcohol are legally obliged to provide free tap water to customers if they request it.

While these places cannot charge for the water themselves, they can however charge people for use of a glass or for their service.

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