A Little Water Can Be Transformative

by admin on January 1, 2013

My friend, my husband, and I were spending a few days in Salzburg, Austria. There we met one of the most interesting encounters with a waiter that I have ever had.

We popped into a little restaurant to eat before our evening boat cruise on the river. My friend and I both speak German and have spent quite a bit of time in German and Austria.

A little bit of background first. Austria does not serve water for free like the US (we are Americans so this is difficult for us). Instead they charge you an exorbitant amount for a little bit of water. However, you can ask for “Leitungswasser” which is tap water. There seems to be some mixed opinions that I have heard about asking for “Leitungswasser” as rude but this didn’t bother my friend.

We sit down and browse the menu. After some time the waiter, an older gentlemen, comes up to us and asks us what we would like to drink. My friend tells him 3 tap waters; we are after all, three college students on tight budgets. He looks irritated and asks us if that is all we want to drink. We say yes. He gives this dramatic sigh, rolls his eyes and stalks off to get us our water. In all honesty, it was like a 13-year-old year was trapped in this man’s body.

He continued to be quite rude to us while we were there, including grunting at us. Yet the food was delicious and the restaurant was charming. We still laugh about how losing three drinks turned our waiter into a teenage girl. 1228-12

{ 68 comments… read them below or add one }

Sarah Peart January 1, 2013 at 4:11 am

As someone who lives in Germany and understands the financial side I would like to explain why the waiter was so huffy. They make little gross profit on the food (indeed when you think of wages, rent and utilities they made a net loss on your party) and so rely on the drinks to make their profit. The correct thing to do is to order a drink or drinks and then you can order as much “Leitungswasser” as you want. They are just trying to stay in business. It is equivalent to not tipping in the States – except you told them in advance – hence the attitude!

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iwadasn October 16, 2014 at 9:17 am

So you think customers should be forced to choose between ordering drinks they don’t want and having a waiter throw a temper tantrum? What about people who can’t drink for medical or religious reasons?

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Louisa January 1, 2013 at 6:26 am

What a sexist closing line! Whenever men behave badly, weakly or emotionally they are “girls”. But that aside, was this really such a huge encounter? Sure the guy was a bit rude, probably hoping for more money, but it wasn’t huge. Some wait staff are this rude without the water issue! I would shrug it off as trivial. If that’s the worst you encounter in those lovely places, you’ve had a good trip to appreciate.

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perpetua January 1, 2013 at 6:26 am

While there was no need for the waiter to roll his eyes at you if he did so, you may have done far better to realise that not everywhere is the same as America and act accordingly while in another country.

I don’t know the ins and outs of Austrian customs, but if it’s the norm that they don’t serve water for free then you should have budgeted accordingly. When in Rome, etc.

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Mary January 1, 2013 at 9:19 am

I would have major issues with the water due to the fact that I don’t drink alcohol and for weight control reasons would not want soda at every meal!
I found the way the OP phrased her story interesting. They just popped in to a restaurant before their cruise? Maybe the culture is very different in Germany, but while hubby and I visited London we learned very quickly to never eat in a sit down restaurant if we had plans within the next two hours. Almost every restaurant we ate in made it impossible to have a quick meal. I remember two specifically where we were unable to obtain our bill in a timely manner (at least timely to us). We had to wait more than an hour after finishing our meal no matter how much we tried to get the attention of the wait staff. One place we finally started walking to the door figuring they would chase us down to give us the bill. It worked. After these experiences, we started eating mostly street food or places where we could eat on the go. Since we were in London for only five days, we wanted to see as many sights as possible in our time, not linger for three hours over lunch.

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Cat January 1, 2013 at 10:03 am

I can see that the waiter was disappointed but, given that his customers were poor college students, I would not have seen it as provocation for rude behavior.
That said, I too resented the comment about his acting “like a teenage girl”. Substitute a racial, religious, or ethnic group in place of that and it is an obvious sign of bigotry. He acted like a disappointed and rude waitperson and that was all.

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Kate January 1, 2013 at 10:39 am

First, I would like to note, as others have not, that OP and friend both speak a little German and have spent a fair bit of time in both countries, and are familiar with the customs. They specifically stated that there were mixed opinions about whether or not ordering tap water was rude.

Second, I really don’t think that they should be grateful that their waiter wasn’t more rude!

Third, even if they were being rude, which I don’t think they were, the waiter had no right to be rude back! Isn’t that the point of this site? Not being rude, and how to gracefully handle rude people?

Fourth, even if the restaurant makes all their money in drinks, they can’t make people order specific ones! If a restaurant in America (where I live, so I am familiar with the customs, for my example) is famous for their clam chowder, that is what they make their money off of, that still doesn’t give them the right to force people to eat it! If they offer something else and people choose it, too bad for them. I am guessing the waiter wasn’t happy about the water thing, but if it was such a big deal, such a big money drain, the restaurant probably would have instituted a policy against allowing people to be served water. Except, I’m guessing, they know that wouldn’t fly and they would lose more business than they would make up for with the drinks.

And really, they make no profit on the food? Or at least not enough of one to survive without their waiters trying to bully people into getting specific drinks? Please let me never accidentally go to this restaurant, it sounds like ehell!

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Homme123 January 1, 2013 at 10:41 am

Completely agree with Louisa regarding the sexist closing line! I find it very strange that the waiter’s rudeness suddenly meant he was like a woman.

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perpetua January 1, 2013 at 11:00 am

Mary, it’s certainly not usual in London to wait an hour for a bill. May I ask how you were trying to ‘get the attention of the wait staff’? Custom here is to say ‘Excuse me, can we have the bill please’ as the waiter walks past, so unless there weren’t any staff walking near your table at all during the course of that hour I’m not sure why you had to wait so long. Unless you were just trying to catch his/her eye or something, which doesn’t tend to be so effective here because waiters aren’t working primarily for tips and aren’t watching your every move to get the table turned around.

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perpetua January 1, 2013 at 11:18 am

Kate: no, they can’t make people order specific drinks, but if it is the custom to order one paid-for drink then switch to water, then not abiding by that custom is still rude, whether they make you do it or not (which as you point out, they can’t)

Your argument is like saying ‘Just because a waitress makes her living from tips, they can’t make me leave one!’ No, they can’t, but it’d still be rude in your culture not to.

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Mary January 1, 2013 at 11:57 am

Perpetua, none of the wait staff would come within 30 feet of us. We would try and wave them down if they looked anywhere towards our direction, but never got a response. Plus they never checked back after our food was served. The other restaurant the waiter kept saying that we (and the couple we were with) were having too much fun to leave and we hadn’t finished our dessert ( we were full). At the end of the four hours there, we ran for the subway and my husband actually felt the station gate closing on his back.

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Laura January 1, 2013 at 12:14 pm

Honestly, I get way more eye rolling and theatrics out of my 13 year old son than I do my 16 year old daughter! :-)

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Sara January 1, 2013 at 12:38 pm

Mary, if you are eating in the UK and need to finish up timely, ask for the bill when you receive your food.

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Spuck January 1, 2013 at 1:22 pm

After hearing both perptua, Sarah, and Louisa’s information, I can’t help but think it isn’t a good custom to have and a bad business plan. If I am visiting a different country, looking up information or asking tips is relatively easy. A custom this specific is not. If a restaurant wants to ensure it gets it money it should probably change its tactics if it is located in an area where the tourists are foreign.

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Kovi January 1, 2013 at 2:23 pm

I have to agree with everything Kate has said. The waiter is extremely rude and acting like a petulant child, all because a couple customers ordered something they have every right to order (if the place doesn’t like it, they’re free to make ordering free water against policy). I’m truly astonished that people are actually supporting the waiter’s rude attitude. Even if you want to claim it’s against custom (controversial does not equal ‘against custom’, however), it’d still be rude.

At least one person is comparing ordering free water to not tipping. Wouldn’t you still say that a waiter who acted this way after not receiving a tip is being rude? I imagine you would.

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Double You January 1, 2013 at 2:29 pm

Living in Belgium, and having visited many other European countries, I can confirm that serving free water is indeed very rare in many countries. I only ever encountered this practice in Italy, and in an Italian restaurant in Stockholm, Sweden.

What I also haven’t encountered, however, is restaurants charging an “exorbitant amount” for a “little bit of water”. Here in Belgium, sparkling or non-sparkling mineral water is usually charged at the same price (or a little cheaper) than coke, lemonade, iced tea and similar beverages. Also, in most restaurants you have the option of ordering a large bottle, which is cheaper than ordering by the glass.

And while it’s probably true that in the average restaurant or diner, the profit margin on drinks is greater than that on food, you have to take into account that in most European countries tipping is neither customary nor expected, and that the prices on the menus typically include all taxes, VAT and service (which by the way I think is a much more transparent system).

So bearing all this in mind, I can understand the waiter being a bit dismayed – although he could have refrained from showing it.

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E January 1, 2013 at 2:53 pm

I do think it’s a little rude to order tap water knowing it’s controversial/not the done thing – when in Rome! It would have been better to go to a restaurant with cheaper food so you could afford a drink too, even if it was the cheapest on the menu as when abroad you really should try to stick to the etiquette of the country you’re in.

Mary – Where in London was this?! I’d love to find somewhere modestly priced that lets you take hours over lunch, the only places I know that are that relaxed are michelin star level where it’s expected lunch will take hours.

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MichelleP January 1, 2013 at 2:58 pm

I’m an American and I’ve lived in Germany twice; as a child of an army soldier and as the spouse of an army soldier, and one lesson we learned the hard way is not to expect American style customer service. We couldn’t meet on our lunch hour, as lunch is the big meal of the day for most Germans and they simply don’t hurry. There were exceptions, but there is no sense of customer service there. We made the best of it, and enjoyed being in a beautiful country.

There was no need for the waiter to be rude, regardless of country, what they ordered, culture, etc.

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Jules January 1, 2013 at 3:16 pm

As a German who has never been to Austria, I can’t comment on the situation there (yes, it’s an different country and quite a different culture). It is considered rude here to order only tab water, though. You can order bottled water, both regular and sparkling. Yes, it costs about as much as a soda would, but compared to the price of the meal it won’t break the budget. I’m a poor college student, and I wouldn’t order tab water. I simply don’t eat out when I can’t afford it – a 2€ drink won’t make a difference (Much like I wouldn’t go out when I know I could afford the food, but couldn’t tip accordingly). When you pay for your meal at a restaurant you don’t just pay for the food you consumed, but also for the building, the staff, the electricity, the equipment, etc. These are all variables that don’t change, no matter what you order. In my experience food is much cheaper in restaurants here than it is in the US, but drinks are more expensive. It pretty much evens out that way. That’s why it’s considered rude to try to avoid paying for even the most basic of things. They might just be losing money on you. Needless to say, this doesn’t excuse the waiters behaviour.

Kate, I think they are legally obliged to give you tab water when you ask, they don’t really “offer” it.

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Lo January 1, 2013 at 3:29 pm

this is kind of a rough one because I can see how it would be impolite in some cultures to expect to be served tap water and not a proper drink.

I’m glad that water is free here in the US. I would definitely have ordered something inexpensive to drink besides the water to appease the waiter.

Yeah, he shouldn’t have been so rude. I kind of see it as the way a waiter might (unfortunately) react over here if someone came out to dinner and only ordered a water and no food or wanted to share a plate because they didn’t want to pay for a seperate meal. That’s aggravating for restaurants. But it happens.

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The Elf January 1, 2013 at 3:34 pm

I love how the little details of dining customs vary so much by culture! Reading through the comments has given me insight. For whatever reason, food-related etiquette seems to vary the most.

I cannot comment about if just ordering tap water is rude or not, because I don’t know the culture.

But certainly rudeness should not beget rudeness, so the waiter should have remained at least minimally polite! Acting like doing your job is huge imposition is pretty much rude everywhere.

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dizzy January 1, 2013 at 5:14 pm

I went to france in high school and we were told multiple times by guides and teachers that if you go into a restaurant you were expected to order a beverage, that was were they made their money. To not do was considered very rude. we were encouraged to go to a grocery store or to a fast food chain if we were short on funds.

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Jays January 1, 2013 at 7:30 pm

Very interesting. What if you don’t drink alcohol, don’t care for soda, etc., and/or just like to drink water? I consider it rather wasteful (and silly) to order bottled water. I would never have guessed I would forced to do so.

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Kai January 1, 2013 at 8:13 pm

It’s an interesting concept. While I would prefer a grocery store when possible anyways, I simply don’t drink anything other than tap water. If I go to a restaurant, that’s what I’m going to be ordering. I never drink pop or alcohol, and I don’t drink bottled water for both environmental and taste reasons (that stuff is so dead and stale) unless I’m in a place where it is unsafe to drink anything not out of a bottle.
I understand that in a culture where most people drink alcohol, they might expect to make good money out of that, but to carry it into ‘rude’ territory is a different thing. I’m not going to order a glass of something I won’t drink just to be ‘polite’.
Is it considered rude in north america to not order drinks, an appetizer, and dessert? I’ve never been hungry enough (or gluttonous enough?) to eat anything else when I’m being served a restaurant portion, and I have split an entree before. Not because we wanted to cheap out, but because the portions have become so ridiculous that a person with a healthy appetite who wants to stay at a healthy weight can not possibly eat a whole entree at many places, let alone additional courses.
If a business doesn’t want something to be an option, then they shouldn’t let it be one. And if the government has required something like tap water to be available, then there’s a reason for it and it’s not rude to request it.

We know movie theatres make most of their money on the concession rather than the snacks, but I’ve never heard anyone say that you are obligated to buy food their at risk of being rude to the movie theatre…

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Pat in Toulouse January 1, 2013 at 8:16 pm

@dizzy: I have lived in France for 27 years now and can assure you that it is absolutely not considered rude to order “une carafe d’eau”, which is tap water. If you don’t want to drink anything else but tap water, then this is what you order – also, it is free of charge and you get as many refills as you want. And nobody has a problem with that. In a high-end, fancy restaurant it might be frowned upon, but not in average places. What you do not get with it, though, is ice. (And as far as I am concerned, that’s a good thing.) Also, in Germany (where I grew up and frequently travel to), a very large majority of people prefer sparkling water to flat water. I suppose it is similar in Austria. That explains why they generally order bottled water.

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Mary January 1, 2013 at 8:30 pm

E- this was 13 years ago and the food wasn’t that great, but it was right across from the entrance from the Tower of London and on the second floor of the building.

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Angel January 1, 2013 at 9:07 pm

If you can afford a boat cruise you can afford a few drinks. I am going to go against quite a few of the posters and say that both sides were rude–the OP and the rest of her friends for not ordering drinks and the waiter who was rude to them after they only ordered tap water. I think the waiter was rude but I can certainly understand his frustration.

I’m glad I’m not the only one who takes issue with the teenage girl comment. Boys can be every bit as bad if not worse–and they don’t necesarily have to be teenagers either. Rudeness exists amongst all ages!!

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Cat Whisperer January 1, 2013 at 10:54 pm

Interesting post.

When husband, daughter and I went to England and Ireland, we enjoyed our experiences eating in local restaurants. The only time I encountered anything like an “eye-roll” was in a London restaurant, where I asked if they had iced tea. (We were there in the summer, and the two weeks we were there included some very hot days; after a long day spent seeing sights, I just wanted something cold to drink that wasn’t a soft drink.)

Our waiter seemed amused by the idea, and in so many words said that iced tea was an American creation and that they might have it at McDonald’s in London but places that didn’t cater to tourists would never dream of serving tea any way other than hot.

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Mer January 2, 2013 at 2:13 am

It is indeed funny, how customs vary. Here (country in northern Europe) one can have tap water in most restaurants, thought not in the Michelin star places (these very high end places often serve some kind of spring water or filtered water and the water will be pricey) and customs may vary. Some restaurants/diner type places provide tap water in pitcher straight away and at least I have not gotten any dirty looks when not ordering more expensive drinks. Some have a namely price for it, like 0,50-1€ though depending on the place, they may or may not charge it if ordered with food and other drinks.

But this was actually good information, as I (even if visited both Germany and Austria) did not know that it was rude to order only tap water in those places. Missed probably the dirty looks by avoiding tap water automatically in foreign countries. (At least when I was young it was warned that tap water might cause stomach bug due to different bacterial strain between countries.)

I think the comparison between tipping and this is quite fitting. Some might say that restaurants relying on not paying their employees should think through their business model. I might agree with that but, while the situation is what it is one has two options: Avoid eating in place that follows custom you don’t like or act according to the custom.

Jays: If knowing this custom is there and for ethical reasons you avoid bottled water, perhaps offer to pay for the tap water. It is true that tap water as it is does not cost much per glass. But you are not paying only for the water, as others have said, you are paying for the electricity, salaries, rent, service etc. That’s why tap water it compares to tipping so well, costs come mainly from other than the material itself. In US you pay for the water in tips and partially in your food. Tips cover the serving part and in food prices you cover the other expenses.

However, as other has stated, in customer service work one always encounters people that do not act perfectly. Sometimes it’s just new situation and the customer does not know the customs, sometimes it’s deliberate. Person who is working should be the professional and act according to it. Rolling eyes and grunting is not professional, whatever the situation.

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Kai January 2, 2013 at 3:55 am

“Angel January 1, 2013 at 9:07 pm
If you can afford a boat cruise you can afford a few drinks”

And what if it isn’t about affording?
One could also argue that if you can afford a boat cruise, you can afford lobster for dinner. So why aren’t you getting the more expensive entree? But we certainly don’t expect that.
And if it is acceptable to order water because you prefer to drink it, then it is perfectly reasonable to choose to prefer water and a thicker wallet.
If you really can’t function unless everyone orders expensive drinks, set a drink minimum like some bars do. Otherwise, it’s not rude to choose to spend less money on menu items.

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Melnick January 2, 2013 at 6:47 am

This has been an interesting post to follow. When international readers complain of the tipping expectation in America and suggest that it should be included in the price of the meal rather than expecting the clientele to pay for staff wages, there is uproar and the practice is vigorously defended. I would have thought Americans, more than most other cultures, would be sympathetic to the expectation of buying a drink with the meal as being somewhat equivalent to the expectation of tipping. When I read the post, my immediate thought was that this was somewhat like the tipping expectation. I dislike the practice, however, if I were to visit America or Austria, I would abide the custom for the fact that I’m a visitor in that country. Life would be easier if everyone just properly calculated the cost of the meals and charged customers exactly that! (For the record though, I’m repeatedly told of the amazing service that friends have received in America because they are working for tips, but I wonder whether that might just be the pride that waitstaff have in what they do – the culture has become to be friendly and vivacious and it seems wonderful!)

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Tracy January 2, 2013 at 9:41 am

I agree that this is very much like the American expectation of tipping (which I will not defend, as I would prefer to do away with it and pay the waitstaff a decent wage instead). For those who want to drink water, order bottled water. I also agree that, even if the guests were inadvertently rude, the waiter’s deliberately rude response was inappropriate. If you don’t want to provide free water, don’t do it.

BTW, we had no problem getting water in Paris or London on a recent visit (or getting our check quickly), but we had ordered other drinks as well.

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Green123 January 2, 2013 at 9:58 am

I have to say I prefer sparkling water to still, and although I know the tapwater is safe to drink, when travelling at home (UK) or in Europe I’d tend to order bottled water. It’s never more than a couple of pounds/euros. Although the waiter in this story wasn’t exactly polite, I don’t think it’s unusual for waiters anywhere other than the US to be ‘pleased’ when a customer declines to buy any drinks at all.

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Kovi January 2, 2013 at 12:56 pm

“If you can afford a boat cruise you can afford a few drinks.”

I find that to be a rather rude statement to make. What does it matter what they chose to spend money on? Perhaps (and this is merely speculation, since the facts are none of our business) they can only afford the boat cruise because of the money they have been able to save up. I know it’s been that way with my family. We can afford nice things, but that doesn’t mean we won’t save money when we can.

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whatever January 2, 2013 at 1:20 pm

Ok, so: I’m austrian (though not from Salzburg, but some of my relatives live there, so I’ve been there plenty of times.
There are quite some misconceptions here in the comments that I’d like to shed a bit of light on.

It is true that usually drinks are quite expensive (the very cheapest around 2€, or somewhere between 2 and 3 $ depending on the current exchange rate), and that food is cheaper than for example in America. It is also true that the prices in the menu include all costs of utilities, service, taxes etc. and tips are a nice gesture when you have been particularly pleased with the service, but not a necessity. so food has a very small, if any, profit margin compared to drinks.

What is NOT true is that restaurants are allowed to forbid you from ordering tap water, or charge a service fee for it. Restaurants tried the latter some years ago, starting with about 30cents (half a dollar) and slowly going up to over a euro (around 2 dollars). then government stopped them, for youth protection laws. they are required to serve you tap water for free by law. it is considered impolite if all the persons at the table order nothing but plain water to drink. if only one (or two if the group is bigger) person does this it is usually overlooked.

if you don’t want to order plain bottled water (which is usually around 2 – 2.50€, more if you are served a half liter bottle instead of a glass), or wanting to order cheap, there is another option that you might want to check out: restaurants are required by law to offer one non-alcoholic drink that is cheaper than the cheapest alcoholic drink. that is usually either apple juice (around 1,90€) or a “Jugendgetränk” (youth drink), that usually costs around 1.50-1.70€.

the waiter on the other hand was rude to roll his eyes at you. sadly, though, this being Salzburg, it is quite common as it is one of the most expensive cities here (on par with inner city Wien), and usually visited by culturally interested rich people.

about the service being bad in europe: it is not based on tips, but on appropriate wages, so waiters in cheaper/average places aren’t as fast as in america. that changes dramatically when you go to more elegant places. there they have more staff and require them to be more prompt to maintain their jobs, which are much better payed than the average service jobs. of course you are required to pay for that better service by more expensive meals and drinks, and ordering just tap water there (or soda or juice as a first drink if you are older than 16, which is the age where you are allowed to drink beer and wine here, unless there is an obvious reason like having a baby and nursing or being the designated driver) is an enourmous affront.

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Enna January 2, 2013 at 2:43 pm

Homme123 I agree too! That is rude of the OP!

@ Sarah Peart what is wrong with having water to drink? They are having a meal there and can have water if they want to drink it. What would the waiter rather? Drunk people?

So long as people behave reasonably, pay the bill and don’t cause trouble what’s wrong with having soft drinks?

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Missy January 2, 2013 at 3:10 pm

From a cultural perspective, I would point out that ordering tap water in Germany (especially to some of the older ones) is sort of on par with asking for a salad of unwashed greens in America. They’ll probably do it because you are the customer, but they are going to find it absolutely disgusting. As someone who has drunk tap water in Europe (I didn’t order it but refilled water bottles in a train station bathroom) I know that you can expect a strong “EWWWW” reaction plus some well-meant protests.

I’m not saying that I do everything the “right” way when traveling abroad, but I’ve learned not to be offended or ruffled by the reactions.

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Carrie January 2, 2013 at 3:13 pm

I wonder if you and I visited the same restaurant! It took quire awhile for me to get the check, and the food was standard, as well.

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Carrie January 2, 2013 at 3:13 pm

Oops, I meant that for Mary!

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Serena January 2, 2013 at 4:46 pm

” I would have thought Americans, more than most other cultures, would be sympathetic to the expectation of buying a drink with the meal as being somewhat equivalent to the expectation of tipping.”

At least in the area where I live (U.S.), most people still haven’t quite gotten the entire concept of tipping. Many are stuck in depression-era thinking: One person, bill is $4.50–Tip=$1.00; Three people, bill is $45.00–Tip=$3.00; 25 people, bill is $210.00–Tip is $15.00 and some change. This doesn’t apply to everyone, mind you, but as a restaurant manager I saw it happen more often than not.

As for drinks, when I was managing a casual dining restaurant, on more than one occasion I would see the father of a family of 5 order one large drink for the whole family to share. There is frugal and then there is disgusting.

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Mary January 2, 2013 at 6:25 pm

Whatever…. It’s offensive to even order a soft drink or juice when you an adult? Where in Europe is this? I do not drink alcohol and I don’t care how rude it would be, I would not order (and have to pay for) wine or beer just to be polite. After reading this thread, I would be fine with soda or bottled water, but I’m not paying for alcohol that I wouldn’t drink!

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Miss Raven January 2, 2013 at 6:47 pm

I’m not taking a side on the obligatory beverage/tipping arguments. However, I would like to point out that it doesn’t matter whether or not the Americans were inadvertently rude (since the jury really does seem to be out on whether ordering tap water is rude, depending on country/region/other factors).

It doesn’t MATTER. I have been a waitress in several restaurants and also a bartender at a very tourist-oriented place in the States. I know that in most other countries, tipping is not compulsory. So when getting stiffed by a French family or a German couple, I would just grin and bear it. Because I’m not a complete self-involved jerk.

Does it suck getting stiffed? Of course. But if an American stiffs you (and you did nothing wrong), it is because they are inconsiderate, they are insulting you, or they have a point to make about how they think Things should be done and instead of trying to change Things, they take it out on your rent money. If a European stiffs you, it is just benign ignorance and nothing to get upset over. Even if you academically understand what a tip is, it’s difficult to completely absorb the cultural expectations and act accordingly.

No matter what, if you work in hospitality, this is not an excuse to be rude. At all. This one is on the waiter’s head.

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Amanda H. January 2, 2013 at 10:29 pm

@whatever: remind me never to eat at those more elegant places then, if ordering even juice or soda as a first drink counts as an enormous affront. I don’t drink ever due to religious reasons, not just when I’m pregnant or nursing. Same goes for the company I keep, so I can think of very few instances where I’d be at one of those restaurants with anyone who would actually order something alcoholic.

Unless I mistook what you meant….

That aside, I’m a bit torn on the subject. I usually go for the free water at the restaurants here in America for budget and waistline reasons both, but on the other hand customs are different abroad and as others have said, “When in Rome….” Regardless, though, the waiter should not have retaliated with rudeness of his own.

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Kai January 2, 2013 at 10:47 pm

Thank you for some local perspective.

I understand requiring the ordering of drinks at a bar or pub, even when such places might let an individual in a group go without, but it still seems absurd to consider it rude not to order a drink.
I understand a culture where everyone drinks alcohol with dinner, but an etiquette obligation to do so is just absurd.

“if you don’t want to order plain bottled water (which is usually around 2 – 2.50€, more if you are served a half liter bottle instead of a glass), or wanting to order cheap, there is another option that you might want to check out: restaurants are required by law to offer one non-alcoholic drink that is cheaper than the cheapest alcoholic drink. that is usually either apple juice (around 1,90€) or a “Jugendgetränk” (youth drink), that usually costs around 1.50-1.70€.”

For a continent that doesn’t have much water, I would have thought Europe would get on the self-preservation wagon, if not the environmental one against bottled water.
I won’t drink bottled water if I have an option because it tastes dead, but I also won’t drink it because it’s absolutely horrific for the environment. I can’t believe it is still accepted in countries with perfection potable tap water.

I never drink anything but water. I don’t drink alcohol, and it doesn’t matter how cheap the juice is – I don’t drink that either.
I’ve never been to Europe, but I would have been unknowingly rude all over the place if I had.
I guess now if I ever visit I’ll be knowingly rude.

I think everyone’s talking about whether the OP was rude because everyone agrees that despite the possible rudeness of the customer, it was inappropriate of the waiter to be rude. That’s just not in question.

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whatever January 2, 2013 at 10:57 pm

mary – that’s only the VERY fine dining places here, you know, those that serve bite sized portions on tire sized plates. they expect you to at least order a glass of champagne for starters. i very seldom drink alcohol and not ordering any in such places earned me a rather cold look by the waiter.

in all the more common places everything but tap water is perfectly fine. i usually order an apple juice mixed with tap water to double the size – it’s cheap, not as sweet as pure juice and a large enough drink to last me for the meal.

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Red Cat January 3, 2013 at 12:21 am

Here in Australia it is customary to receive tap water almost as soon as you sit down in a restaurant. You may purchase a bottle of sparkling water, but most people don’t as it’s not really common here and is expensive. We don’t tip either. If service is really good, you may leave a dollar or two, but it is not expected (in Aus the minimum wage is almost $16 dollars per hour, with casual staff receiving almost $20 per hour).

One of the most frustrating things about travelling in North America was never knowing how much something costs – even when buying gifts, clothing, services, etc. tax may not be included in the price tag – you get an unpleasant surprise at the register! I find that quite misleading, and asked many people why the total cost was not included upfront. No one could give me a satisfactory answer!

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iwadasn October 16, 2014 at 9:37 am

It’s because taxes vary by state, so you can’t put just one tax-included price on a product that will be sold all across the U.S. For example, a product with a before-tax price of $1.00 will cost $1.00 in one state, $1.03 in another state, and $1.07 in a third state. Unless you want to stick a huge price tag on each product with the different tax-included prices for all the different states, it just makes more sense to put the base price on the product. If you round up when calculating prices, you should come pretty close to the after-tax amount.

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Jenn50 January 3, 2013 at 1:00 am

Regardless of the etiquette of ordering just tap water, the waiter should not have openly sulked.

What I take exception to is one of the commenter’s suggestion that it is gluttonous to order an appetizer or dessert. One cannot simply want to try different dishes? What’s wrong with taking the rest home? We often order several courses, but we don’t feel the need to force it all down. The staff have never batted an eye at our requests to pack up leftovers, and we enjoy them for subsequent meals. And in many higher end restaurants, servings are more modest. It just strikes me as needlessly judgemental to call that gluttony.

Anyway, sorry to veer off the topic at hand.

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whatever January 3, 2013 at 3:02 am

kai – bottled water here is mineral water (available in strong carbonated, mildly carbonated and non-carbonated), as we have a lot of thermal springs here. it is never just bottled tap water. it actually tastes really good and fresh, you should try it sometime.
also, gastronomy uses almost exclusively water bottled in reusable glass bottles, for environmental reasons.

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The Elf January 3, 2013 at 7:16 am

Red Cat, here’s your satisfactory answer: It’s for marketing. You advertise the price as $X. And that is the price, less tax or service charge or whatever. The buyer thinks that they are paying $X for the item even thought they know it’s $X + extra. If it was the full price, the buyer might think it is too expensive and not buy it. It’s a little psychological trick we was as consumers play on ourselves, with the store owner/service provider encouraging it.

That said, no tax, fee, service charge, or tip should ever really be a surprise. These are known quantaties, and you as a consumer have a right to question how it adds up.

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Stefanie January 3, 2013 at 7:44 am

Kai, regarding your comment on the wastefulness of bottled water, in Europe the bottled water is nearly always served in glass bottles, which are recycled. You can tell how often they’re recycled as they start to get a ring etched near the neck of the bottle from the process. So, while it is still not as environmentally friendly as tap water might be, it’s not as bad as the American way of using plastic bottles.

Additionally, you mention that the tap water is much more potable than other places – not necessarily so, particularly in places where the infrastructure is very old. Many parts of the UK disallow drinking of tap water due to the pipes, for example. I live in Eastern Europe and many of those countries do not commonly drink tap water due to the pipes as well.

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Mary January 3, 2013 at 8:13 am

Red Cat, come to Minnesota to do your clothing shopping. No sales tax on clothing. It took me awhile to get used to going to the register and the total being the same amount on the tag!

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