Comment: Water costs should be reassessed

Middle East restaurants should reconsider their stance on water

Caterer Middle East editor Devina Divecha.
Caterer Middle East editor Devina Divecha.

I have often found myself in restaurants which charge me anywhere from AED 10-15 (that’s US $2.72-4.08) for a large bottle of local water. This probably doesn’t seem too outrageous to those who regularly pay around AED 25 ($6.8) for imported still or sparkling water.

In an about-turn, when I ventured to Urban Bistro in Dubai Media City recently, I found to my surprise that it provides customers with unlimited local water in a carafe. For free.

When I got in touch with Skelmore Hospitality, the group behind Urban Bistro, its director Omar Kadrie said the brand was established based on “progressive principles”.

He added: “Accordingly we view the free carafe of water as a service to our customers in line with traditional regional hospitality while simultaneously promoting sustainable practices. By prioritising the principle, we have accepted the costs associated by the offer.” Bravo.

Like Urban Bistro, surely other restaurants can do something similar by getting 20-litre bottles and dispensing cost-effective jugs of water from these? As Kadrie said, it’s also sustainable because it promotes the doing away of widespread use of plastic.

The current state of affairs is ironic given that we are, as he said, based in a proud culture where guests are treated like kings and the first thing Bedouins do is offer dates and water.

Residents of this region probably take it for granted that they will pay a high amount for water when dining out. However, it feels like an over-pricing of what is often a free service in many countries.

Perhaps smaller eateries may end up with a loss if they don’t charge, so why not consider adding it as a nominal service charge? And for minimum spends of say, AED 200, make the service free?

If restaurants really want to raise the overall quality of dining experience in the region, a step forward would be to provide local water as a matter of courtesy, offer imported water as a matter of choice, and avoid charging disproportionate prices for an item that requires no preparation or import costs. It’s also surprising to find outlets that serve only imported bottles and do not offer local water as an option at all.

Like Gourmet Gulf CEO Sami Daud said in his interview (pg 22-26), customers get annoyed when they pay a lot of money for something of lesser value. He may have been talking about food, but the idea extends to other things as well, like water.

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