RESTAURATEURS HAVE SLAMMED a European proposal that they must give free tap water to all members of the public as a “nonsensical” burden on businesses.
The European Commission has proposed the revision of an EU directive that governs the quality of drinking water across the trade bloc.
The current draft of the amended directive includes an article that says member-states must “promote water intended for human consumption” by encouraging free access – including to non-customers – in public buildings, restaurants and catering facilities.
The proposition has received support from several, mostly left-wing groups including the Greens and the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats.
Dutch politician Frans Timmermans, whose Labour Party is part of the latter group, said in February that the measure is “a good proposal for our citizens’ health and for their pockets as well”. He also said it would contribute to a reduction in single use plastics.
In response, a Europe-wide consortium of hospitality trade groups is calling on MEPs to soften the wording of the proposal, saying that it could add extra costs and eat into the sales of food businesses.
Umbrella group Hotrec – which counts the Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI) among its 43 member-associations – said providing free water to anyone who enters a restaurant or cafe ignores costs like glassware, dishwashing and waiting staff.
“By not making a distinction between customers and non-customers of restaurants, it makes it unsustainable, especially in touristic areas where restaurants would be overburdened by tourists not consuming anything,” the group said in a position paper shared with Fora.
The group said free tap water for all might also “discourage the consumption of mineral water and non-alcoholic drinks, which represents an important source of revenue for restaurants”.
RAI chief executive Adrian Cummins, who is a board member of Hotrec’s executive committee, said the wording of the directive as it stands is “very vague” and should clarify that free tap water be made available to paying customers only.
“If your door is open, someone can come in and ask for a glass of tap water, but they mightn’t spend anything. This is an issue that’s exercising all hospitality businesses,” he said.
Cummins insisted that Irish restaurants and cafés have “no problem” providing free tap water to customers, “but they must be an actual customer that’s paying for a meal or paying for a coffee”.
“We’re not a charity, we’re there to provide a service. We have to pay rent and rates and pay wages. We don’t mind giving free tap water to customers, but this is a nonsensical idea.”
The Restaurants Association boss said the organisation is “very much pro the European project” but added policymakers in Brussels “often come out with nonsensical ideas that have no relevance to member states or with what’s going on in civic society”.
Cummins said the RAI and Hotrec are concerned the directive will be rushed through before the European Parliament elections in May 2019.
MEPs sitting on the parliament’s committee on environment, public health and food safety will vote on the drinking water directive in September.
Hotrec has encouraged its members to lobby national MEPs to vote in favour of a clarification that would state that restaurants should be encouraged to provide free tap water to paying customers only.