Restaurants might not have to provide free water after all - and could even charge for it

Hospitality groups previously slammed an EU proposal mandating them to quench the public’s thirst.

By Conor McMahon Deputy editor, Fora

EUROPE’S RESTAURANTS AND cafes may not have to provide free tap water to anyone who walks in the door – and could even reserve the right to charge customers for the service.

As previously reported by Fora, the European Commission has proposed the revision of an EU directive that governs the quality of drinking water across the trade bloc.

A draft of the amended directive included an article that said 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 proposed amendment was slammed as “nonsensical” and a burden on businesses by hospitality lobby groups like the Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI).

However, the European Parliament’s Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, which is considering the directive, has rowed back on the wording and proposed a diluted version of the planned amendment.

In an email circulated to 43 member associations seen by Fora, Europe-wide lobby group Hotrec said the committee has adopted a “crucial amendment … which basically contains all the main Hotrec requests”.

The proposed amended directive would now require member states to encourage the provision of tap water “for free, or for a low service fee, for customers in restaurants, canteens and catering services”.

2017 Cheltenham Festival - St Patrick's Thursday - Cheltenham Racecourse
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If adopted, the new, softened wording would remove the requirement for food businesses to provide free tap water to everyone including non-customers.

Hotrec – which counts the RAI as a member – previously warned that free tap water for all ignored costs like glassware, dishwashing and waiting staff, and said it would be “unsustainable” in holiday hotspots “where restaurants would be overburdened by tourists not consuming anything”.

The umbrella group, which encouraged its members to lobby national MEPs, previously claimed that the provision of free tap water would discourage customers from buying mineral water and non-alcoholic drinks, which would eat into sales.

The European environment and food safety committee’s report will be submitted to a parliament plenary session in October. Policymakers will still have the opportunity to reject the current wording of the amended directive.

Commenting on the new proposed amendment, RAI chief executive Adrian Cummins said the organisation welcomes the food safety committee’s decision.

“Common sense has prevailed and somebody has seen the light,” he told Fora.

Asked why it was important to include a provision that allows restaurants to charge for tap water, Cummins said, “That’s to keep the Mediterranean countries happy. They would charge for it as water is a huge issue in really hot countries like Malta, Greece, Spain and Portugal.

“In Ireland, it’s different. We provide free tap water, and we’re happy to do so as long as they’re customers.”

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