Should You Automatically Serve Water At Your Restaurant?

In restaurants, details matter. Every detail ties into the next, and one loose screw can send you into a spiral of issues. Something as simple as serving water needs careful consideration.

The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) is the federal law that protects public drinking water supplies throughout the nation. Because of this, forgetting to automatically serve “free” water to your guests can almost be considered a faux pas. Customers arrive with an expectation of starting the dining experience with a round of water. While some may argue that its necessary, there’s a few perspectives to look at before you incorporate this into your servers “rule book.”

Service Standards

Should Your Automatically Serve Water At Your Restaurant?

When automatically providing water, you’re taking a chance at delaying the ordering process. Sure, drinks come first, which should include “water orders.” Setting up and clearing untouched water glasses wastes the time of servers, bus boys and dishwashers. If incorporating an “offer” approach isn’t something you want to execute, try using bottles, as they’re easily carried, and only poured for those who are interested.


Should Your Automatically Serve Water At Your Restaurant?

Delicious tap water may save you the cost of expensive filters, but it won’t save your water bill. As a business, you’re paying per water usage. Not only are you paying for the pour, you’re also paying for the wash.

Average Ticket

Should Your Automatically Serve Water At Your Restaurant?

While we do feel water should be available upon request, automatically serving it fills your guests up and decreases the chances of ordering from the parts of your menu with the highest profit margins:

  • Beverages
  • Cocktails
  • Appetizers and Desserts.

At the end of the day, tap water doesn’t add to the check average which doesn’t increase the gratuities that service workers depend on.


Should Your Automatically Serve Water At Your Restaurant?

According to the Water Resources Group, water demand is expected to increase 40% above average supply by 2030. Keeping your water generosity under control is an easy way to be environmentally friendly.

As a matter of fact, in liberal driven cities such as New York, a subdivision of Section 20-08 of Chapter 20 of Title 15 of the Rules of the City of New York Governing and Restricting the Use and Supply of Water unequivocally prohibits serving water in a restaurant unless a patron requests it.

As an experiment, ask your servers and bartenders to provide water upon request for a month, and compare your water meter. If you don’t notice too many complaints from your patrons, add this to your employee handbooks!

Our industry is always growing and developing which comes with discovering the effects of certain practices and procedures. As we learn about our operation, it’s important to adjust to the situation and make better choices.


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Alla Malina


I’ve always been in love with all things hospitality as I believe that food brings us together, and drinks keep us together. After some time operating restaurants, I ventured out to my own restaurant consulting company (CHIVE CREATIVE CO.) that focuses on the freedom of creativity in all respects and have had the honor to work with some top tier chefs and companies. I enjoy discussing topics of gastronomy and tapping into the undiscovered corners of the restaurant industry. Also, family meals need to be streamlined.

1 Comment

  • marty O

    “Something as simple as serving water needs careful consideration”, but then only listed reasons for not serving water, I think looking at one side does not meet the requirements of careful consideration.
    What are some of the benefits of beginning service with automatically being served water?
    -Restaurants that have a “seat your self” policy: It is a great way to know that the table has been officially greeted by staff. This is not a foolproof plan, I have seen many guests sit at an empty table that has not been bussed as they prefer the location, proximity to TV’s, or in a quiet corner. This helps reduce people not being greeted promptly
    -For places that are drink and beer focused, water can help slow down the rate of inebriation. Especially for places like brew pubs where the ABV might be higher than what people are used to, or places that have plenty of seating available. It can be quite difficult to get people to come in to a place, so if by giving them water before they have to ask for it, they might be able to stay longer and have a second or third drink, without leading to people having to be cut off or feeling to tipsy to order another of what you say are the higher profit margin items, beer cocktails and apps
    -Refilling water glasses is a great way to interact with the table without interrupting. Especially for places that tend to have parties hang out and chat for awhile.

    That was three reasons off the top of my head and I was barely trying.

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