Business owners know that the water that comes out of their taps isn’t free. So when a customer asks for a glass of tap water, can the business charge for it? Essentially the answer is no – but you could charge them for the service.
All licensed premises in England and Wales are required by law to provide “free potable water” to their customers upon request. In Scotland a similar law exists but specifies “tap water fit for drinking”. This means that any establishment authorised to serve alcohol including pubs, bars, nightclubs, cafes, restaurants, takeaways, cinemas, theatres, and even village and community halls must comply.
However, these premises can choose to charge people for the use of a glass – or their service – when serving the “free” tap water. There is currently no law regarding the provision of drinking water in licensed premises in Northern Ireland.
Unlicensed premises in the UK do not have to legally supply free drinking water, but in an effort to reduce the amount of plastic used, many businesses, both local and national, are actively encouraging people to reuse plastic bottles and visit their establishments to have them refilled anytime, for free. This practise naturally leads to increased footfall for those businesses and helps to foster positive customer relations around a shared goal.
In England, Scotland and Wales, schools are legally required to provide drinking water for pupils at all times – but not in Northern Ireland. However, the Public Health Agency has stated that children in Northern Ireland “must have easy access at all times to free, fresh, preferably chilled water”.
All UK employers must always provide free drinking water in the workplace for all their employees.
So, although it may be legal, charging for the service may well leave a bitter taste in the customer’s mouth. In reality, a bucket of water probably costs the average business about 1p, so the water in a ‘free’ glass shouldn’t break the bank. Plus, a happy and well-hydrated customer is much more likely to consider sampling your other products!