Thursday, March 4, 2010

Water,Water Everywhere and Not a Drop to Drink

Promoting The Recognition of Cuisine as a Manifestation of Culture.



Water,Water Everywhere and Not a Drop to Drink

It is a special occasion, and my friends and I are looking forward to an evening out. We were conscientious,we made a reservation, and we even dressed better than we usually do. My companions are cultured, well-heeled and down-to-earth. We are former restaurant people; probably more considerate and forgiving than most diners.
We are greeted with rushed civility and not even seated in our assigned chairs
when the maître d’/water sommelier begins his inquisition, demanding to know
our poison, bottled or tap? The tone of his voice sounds more like an accusation than
an inquiry. The words “tap water” on his parched lips have an unexpected air of
derision and vulgarity. He offers no snappy tutorial on the availability, taste, clarity,brightness or viscosity of the bottled water. It is as if he is looking right through us,blatantly sizing us up, guesstimating the sales prospects of the table and whether we are potentially upsellable or not. In other words, can we be intimidated; and if so, to what dollar value. We opt for the tap water
and our sales potential is immediately underestimated. But I certainly am not
expecting what happens next. Minutes later, I get the distinct impression that we
failed the tap water test and are getting the bum’s rush.
I find that transactional and passive aggressive exchanges like this incident take all the hospitality and pleasure out of dining. I was embarrassed for the maître d’and for the restaurant. I did not want to complain about the service, but my irritation escalated when the tap water took a long and circuitous route to our table.

The problem of running an ambitious restaurant on a limited budget is that the bottom line becomes the focus, and well-paid, professionally trained staff is not a priority. In this case, it seemed the service was not about encouraging customer loyalty or satisfaction. It was about squeezing every penny from the diner. This happens too often these days,and it makes me uncomfortable. Is it too much trouble to put a complimentary glass of cold water on the table while we peruse the menu? If we want bottled water, we will order it. It is galling when servers are disingenuous and aggressively try to push something on you in an attempt to make you feel stingy and uncultured, while they increase their cheque average. I don’t condemn all forms of suggestive selling out of hand; but we like to know our options, their sources and the specialties that might complement our choices. And considering the pedigree of the chef in this fine establishment, the décor and the prices, it seems uncouth for anyone to utter scripted words like “tapwater.” In such elegant surroundings, the term “ice water” should suffice.

Once an avid consumer of bottled water, I have now developed an aversion to it. I
had to rethink my perceptions and dining rituals. Despite the popular perception that
bottled water is tastier than municipal water, this is more theoretical than real.
Bottled water is not necessarily cleaner, safer or even healthier than our local supply. We certainly know that bottled water is not coming from the pure springs of distant mountains and glaciers, despite its designer labels. The bottled water revolution of the last decade has come with a huge environmental footprint, and drinking bottled water is something that really needs to be rethought. — B.L

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