Sunday, February 15, 2009

Why are we paying 50 cents for a glass of plain water?

We were at the Macau Express at Singapore Expo for dinner. After we were done with our meals, my friend requested for a glass of plain water so that she could take her medicine. The waitress bluntly informed her that would be fifty cents.

Yes, no kidding. Fifty cents for a glass of plain water, probably straight from the tap.

I'm sure by now everybody knows that it is not uncommon for restaurants and cafes to either charge for plain water, or not to offer at all. Please do not be deluded thinking that this could be due to the reason that water is scarce in Singapore and therefore is expensive.

First of all, water has never been scarce in Singapore. Besides the not-so-amicable sources from Johor and many reservoirs all over the island, we are also having the SingSpring desalination plant and the all new Marina Barrage. And not forgetting the NEWater, though to some Singaporeans it is a Fear Factor drink.

Secondly, is water really that expensive in Singapore? A quick check on PUB's water tariff tells us that non-domestic tariff charge is $1.17/m cube, before GST. That doesn't look too unaffordable for a eating place open for business, does it? Oh, but there is a Water Conservation Tax levied by the Government to reinforce the water conservation message, which is 30% of the tariff. I would have to agree that 30% of the total bill, plus another 7% for GST, is not a small amount. But should the customers be paying to help the business conserve water? Will the amount of plain water given away in a day be more than the amount used in cooking and washing?

The eating places cannot just force it down our throats that the price of water is indeed an issue and the customers should pay, I meant do, their part in conserving water. Well, admittedly, we might not always finish up the whole glass of plain water which we requested for, and we are therefore falling under the category of wasting water. But is it really about conserving water?

It is a common practice in cafes, and even kopitiams, that you could request for a free refill of hot water for the cup of tea that you ordered. Why is it then that you are required to pay for a glass of plain water, but when you are refilling the same amount of water into your tea, it is free? Simple. Because you've already paid for your cup of tea and the eating place feels that you've already done your part as the customer. Pay.

Apparently, it all comes down to the dollar sign. Don't they all?

Strangly, expensive franchises like Coffee Beans and Tea Leaves could afford to offer iced plain water to their customers, but the smaller Hong Kong cafes with lower operations cost could not follow suit. How great a loss will they suffer if they were to start offering free plain water to their customers? Okay, say the customers were willing to pay for their plain water, isn't fifty cents too much to ask for? And for some eating places, why the difference in price between water with ice cubes and just plain water? Because the electricity bill is in play now?

One may argue that if the eating place were to offer plain water to the customers, the customers will most probably not order any drinks at all. Well, unless a customer is sitting at the table with just the free plain water, which would be preposterous, he/she must have ordered a main course, a side dish, or dessert! If the customer has already spent ten dollars on bowl of noodles, or five dollars on a small slice of cake, can't the cafe just give his/her wallet a break? Considering the low cost of raw materials involved in the production of these food, isn't the profit adequate to produce a spectacular Profit and Loss statement? Must the customer be so obliged to order a glass of lime juice or a cup of coffee?

For some posh cafes like Bakerzin cafes and the TCC at Clarke Quay (for some reasons, TCC cafes at other not as "prestigious" locations are willing to offer free plain water), their customers will not get plain water, even if they wished to pay for it. These are the places where only the finest Evian bottled mineral water is served. Yes, only Evian is served, not the cheap Ice Mountain. Perhaps the reason being they could charge you five dollars for an Evian and still look reasonable.

But what exasperates me is that, like most coffee drinkers, I would prefer not to have my breath to smell of espresso after the drink, and a small glass of plain water would just be what I needed, not a whole bottle of Evian! And I'm still bemused. Why only Evian? This is Singapore, so serve Ice Mountain, Spring Fresh or Aqua, for goodness's sake!

While the eating places are having so much issues offering free plain water to their customers, it would make perfect sense for the customers to BYO, to bring along a bottle of plain water. However this does not work as well, because almost every restaurant, cafe, kopitiam, and even an eating place as small as your bed room has this flamboyant sign that says "No outside food and drinks allowed"!




  1. hoho, and recently the news about a particular budget airline, they were "stranded" in China and held up for 5 hours, and they did not provide free water for the passengers who were patiently waiting inside the cabin.

  2. that's not very nice of them... should've provided water for the passengers... at S$1 a cup...

  3. they did offer to sell them as per menu...