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Are Restaurants Required to Provide Water?

Conal Yarwood-Frost
19 Oct 2023

How often have you bookended your order in a restaurant with the phrase “...and some tap water for the table, please”? For many customers, free water is the cornerstone of every good meal out. Whether you need something to sip during dry January or you’ve made a bad bet with a good curry, that glass of water can be a lifesaver. 

The ubiquity of free water raises an interesting question. Are restaurants required to provide free water? In this blog, we’ll be exploring the rules around water in the different countries Epos Now operates in and whether or not you’re entitled to quench your thirst for free. 

Rules concerning water 

For many in the hospitality industry, providing water for customers may seem like a part and parcel way of how things are done. If we look a little deeper, we find that the issue is by no means settled. As one would expect, different countries have different rules concerning whether or not a business is legally obliged to serve free water. 

UK

In England and Wales, the rules concerning free water are dictated by whether or not the business in question is a licenced premise*. The general rule is that if a business is licenced to sell alcohol, they are obligated to provide “free portable water” to anyone that asks. In Scotland, there is a similar law but the wording is slightly different. Scottish businesses are required to provide “tap water fit for drinking”. There are currently no such laws on the books in Northern Ireland. 

This means that anyone, paying customer or not, can walk in and ask for water. This could be a glass of tap water or a refillable bottle. A 2017 poll from the environmental charity Keep Britain Tidy found that only 25% of the population knew their rights around free water [1]. 

Ireland

While Ireland is stereotypically considered to be one of the friendliest countries in the world, there is no legal requirement around free water. This means that businesses have no obligation to provide customers free tap water and it must be paid for. Some premises may offer free tap water as a gesture of goodwill.

The United States

As it currently stands, there are no laws concerning free water for American businesses. This doesn’t mean that free water isn’t available as many businesses provide it as part of their service. 

Visitors to particularly drought-prone states won’t find this to be the case, however. In California, water conservation rules prohibit businesses from providing water unless the customer specifically asks for it. 

Canada 

Canada is part of the UK Commonwealth and so a lot of its laws takes their cues from the UK. This means that any business that serves alcohol must also provide free water for their customers. If a customer asks for a large cup, the restaurant does have a right to charge a fee. 

Australia 

While there are different regulations across Australia concerning free water, the Liquor Regulation 2002 laws require licenced premises to provide “cold drinking water” upon request. In addition to this, hotels, nightclubs, and casinos must serve free water during any hours they sell alcohol. 

In Western Australia, the rules are particularly defined. Businesses must provide “fresh water from a jug at the bar, from dispensers located near the bar, or by some other form of readily-accessible point.” In New South Wales, the regulations are focused on alcohol as venues are asked to provide water to “stop people from becoming intoxicated.” [2]

New Zealand 

In New Zealand, the laws surrounding free water are cut and dry. Hospitality businesses are required by law to provide their free drinking water to customers when requested. For restaurant customers and fellowships making their way to Mordor, this is particularly welcome.

Quench your thirst for a powerful POS system

Even if your country doesn’t require you to offer free water, giving your customers the option will definitely improve your customer experience. Another thing you can do to take your customer service to new heights is to use a top-of-the-line POS system.


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