Bottled water vs tap water
About the time that we opened Rendezvous in late 2005, there was quite a bit of discussion among the dining public and the food media about the issue of bottled water versus tap water in restaurants. The boom-times in the restaurant business during the late 90′s coincided with the† gaining popularity of bottled water as a beverage of choice and as a sort of social status symbol. Fusing these two trends, restaurants of a certain caliber worked hard to sell expensive bottles of water to their guests, using a variety of strategies, and this usually occurred during the first point of contact that guests would have with their server upon being seated at their table.
Barely having had the chance to unfold your napkins or take out your reading glasses, you’d be forced to make the first big decision regarding your dining (and spending) experience. “Will you be drinking bottled water this evening, or should I take this bottle away?” This question was often accompanied by attitudes or implications . . . . Restaurant-goers complained about this treatment, and articles were circulating in the press — it was a hot topic at the time.
Months before we opened the doors to our first guests in November 2005, Nicole and I discussed this specific point as a part of our overall hospitality plan, and we determined that we didn’t want to participate in this aggressive behavior. Instead, we let the servers pour bottled Poland Springs water (that we bought in 5-gallon jugs and transferred painstakingly into nice unmarked carafes) into the glasses as they came over to greet the guests — all this at a considerable expense for us . . . and completely free to the guests! Slightly fancier bottled sparkling water was kept on hand for purchase by those who specifically requested it.
In our view, the first 5 minutes are very crucial to the restaurant diner’s overall experience. Addition by subtraction; we wanted to help folks settle in and feel welcome among us by removing this jolting reminder that they had just entered a place of commerce. Let them ease into their seats, let go of the worries of the world, and focus on each other for a few minutes at least! This approach contributed to the friendly, relaxed — yet professional — vibe that we were trying to establish here. Our guests noticed, and they appreciated the gesture.
We even got a little attention in the press about it — a bonus! This gentle hospitality strategy turned out to be a critical as well as popular success! But then, guess what happened . . . .
About a year after we opened, bottled water started drawing lots of criticism for environmental reasons. This lovely little aspect of our hospitality plan had soon put us on the wrong side of another, more profound issue. Convinced by the carbon footprint argument, it was easy for us to adapt; we decided to install a water filtration system for the restaurant. Today, the same, easy welcoming atmosphere exists, water still comes to the table in carafes, and fancy bottled water is still available to guests (but in limited quantities!). It just goes to show that even if you have a good, original and well-intended idea, it’s very hard to predict trends in this business.