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The soaring cost of bottled water in London as one restaurant charges £62

The increasing cost of bottled water, said to have been triggered by the rise in popularity of non-alcoholic drinks, has raised eyebrows

Maira Butt
Tuesday 02 April 2024 13:21 BST
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Bottles of water are selling for as much as £60 in high-end London restaurants, it is claimed, as industry experts brand soaring prices “madness”.

Londoners will often fork out around £7 for a bottle of water while eating out, but The Independent has been told at least one highly-rated establishment in the capital charges customers nearly ten times that for a ‘premium’ product.

Although it’s no secret the hospitality world makes a hefty chunk of its profits off drinks, the growing cost of bottled water has raised eyebrows. Experts have suggested the trend towards drinking less alcohol – particularly among Gen Z and Millennials – has contributed to extortionate prices on non-alcoholic drinks.

Victor Garvey, chef-patron of Michelin-starred restaurant Sola in Soho, sells premium water brand Hallstein which retails at £22, minus the restaurant’s 20 per cent service charge.

“We give options,” he told The Independent. “We understand that people may want to spend £1,000 per person and that’s absolutely fine. You can also dine here for less than £100 a head. “Our normal water starts at £5 a bottle for still or sparkling, but we’ve also got our really expensive water.

“It’s no joke, it’s limited production from a natural spring in Austria. That being said, we also offer filtered tap water if customers don’t want a bottle. And that’s free. So you’ve got three price points that anybody would be happy with. One of my friends has a Michelin-starred restaurant and he charges £62 for a bottle of very premium water.”

Mr Garvey declined to reveal which restaurant it is.

People are prepared to spend a lot more on water these days, it would seem (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

But food critic Giles Coren told The Independent that charging high prices for what he declared as a fundamental human right was an attempt to “screw people”.

Coren, who has written on the industry for over three decades, says he has awarded restaurants zero marks for sustainability if they have not offered him tap water ahead of pre-packaged water.

“People got very angry with me. They told me: ‘This is how we make our money’ – the mark-up off the water. It should not be the pricing model for a restaurant,” he said.

“You shouldn’t be trying to screw people with the price of water. It is a fundamental human right. It’s madness and in some ways those people who buy it deserve everything they get.

“People say things like ‘Oh, it’s filtered through a million layers of a billion-years-old volcanic rock’ - That’s what water is. It was rain, it fell on the ground, it got filtered down through rocks by gravity, and it got put in a bottle. It’s all b*****ks.

“You should never feel unable to say you want tap water. It is their legal duty to provide it to you.”

Food critics Giles Coren is not impressed by the mark-up on such a basic essential (Rex Features)

Food writer Kate Ngyushi says the cost is why she goes out of her way to clarify she wants tap water even at the expense of “dirty looks”.

She said: “I know it can really add to the bill. You have to be thick-skinned, I make sure I’m clear in asking for tap water.”

Pritham Bathia, a travel and lifestyle content creator, told The Independent that she was charged £14 for a bottle of water at a restaurant in Covent Garden.

“I was shocked at the bill. I remember getting it and shrieking in front of everybody like ‘This is outrageous!’ she said.

“I mean, what the heck? It’s just obscene. I couldn’t believe it. It came in an unmarked glass bottle, and it honestly could have been anything.”

Another issue is that bottled water is not always listed on food and drinks menus, meaning customers often have no idea how much they are forking out until the bill arrives at the end of the meal.

“It’s a way to make money,” one hospitality worker in Covent Garden told The Independent. “It’s just a strategy. The first thing we ask is ‘still or sparkling?’ and the assumption is that you can make some money off it. And it not being on the menu? It’s a sales technique, absolutely.”

A UK hospitality spokesperson stressed that free tap water should always be available, even in pricy establishments.

“Essentially, restaurants (and other hospitality venues) are under no obligation to list every single item available for order, in fact usually there are items available for order that aren’t on the menu and this may include water,” they said.

“Venues would, of course, share the water options available and the associated cost with customers that request this information. It is also worth flagging that restaurants are obliged to provide tap water free of charge to customers.”

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