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My mother claimed the other day that it is a "state law" that any restaurant must serve customers tap water upon request, therefore not requiring customers to buy a (flavored) drink or (overpriced) bottled water. I asked her how she knows that, she said her dad told her, and it must be true because her dad would never lie to her and "if they could get away with making you buy a drink they would, but they can't, because it is illegal."

This is (by far) not the first time I heard someone make this claim, however it is the first time I heard it being claimed a (US) state law. I live in a different US state than my mom, and I heard it in the state I live in as well as the state my mom lives in.

So where is the proof? What locations exactly can legally refuse a customer a glass of tap water? What specific laws are on the books in the US, Europe, Australia, etc. about legally requiring restaurants to serve tap water to customers?

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4  
Seems too geographically wide IMHO. Unless it's a federal law, it'd need to be researched for each of the 57 states. –  DVK Nov 25 '11 at 19:32
3  
It's widely believed in the UK, and restaurants almost always abide by it even if its not actually a law. –  DJClayworth Nov 25 '11 at 19:58
1  
In italy you pay... –  Ebenezer Sklivvze Nov 25 '11 at 20:30
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Way too wide - these laws are local. For example, in New South Wales free water is a condition of a liquor license since 2004. –  Oddthinking Nov 25 '11 at 22:54
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@ratchetfreak: But the fountain will not serve you, will not have a seat for you, will not wash your glass, ... –  user unknown Nov 26 '11 at 20:42

1 Answer 1

up vote 44 down vote accepted

Continental Europe

In the Netherlands, a 2011 campaign demanded free tap water in restaurants. Those that provide it can be recognised by a sticker on the window. (Dutch links.)

Belgium has no law regulating it (Dutch link).

Spain does not mandate it, though restaurants generally provide free water:

Water is frequently served without a specific request, and is normally charged for--unless it's included in your menu del dia. If you would like free tap water instead of bottled water, request "agua del grifo" (water from the tap). However, not all restaurants will offer this and you may be forced to order bottled water.

Germany does not legally mandate free tap water. Restaurant owners are free to decide what drinks to serve and what to charge for them. (German links.)

United Kingdom

In England and Wales, it is mandatory if you sell alcohol:

Condition 3. Free Tap Water for Customers

Many premises already offer free tap water. This condition means that all premises have to give customers tap water for free if they ask for it. This helps people to space out their drinks and not become intoxicated quickly, which reduces the risk of crime and disorder occurring.

The tap water you provide should be suitable for drinking and must be provided where reasonably available.

What is meant by “reasonably available” is a question of fact; for example, it would not be reasonable to expect free tap water to be available in premises for which the water supply had temporarily been lost because of a broken mains supply.

The same goes for Scotland. The 2005 Licensing Act mandates requires:

(2) Tap water fit for drinking must be provided free of charge on request.

Australia

In New South Wales since 2004:

It is mandatory to have free drinking water available to patrons at all times liquor is sold or supplied in licensed venues.

In Victoria since 2010:

licensed venues that supply alcohol for consumption on-site are required to provide free drinking water to their patrons.

Exemptions may be granted upon request.

In South Australia, the Liquor Licensing Act 1997 does not require it, but in the City of Adelaide there is a goodwill (voluntary) Adelaide Liquor Licensing Accord which covers it.

Licensed premises in Queensland are required by law "to provide drinking water to their patrons for free or at a reasonable cost."

The Liquor Regulation 2002 has been amended to include a requirement for licensees to make drinking water available to patrons free of charge or at a reasonable cost. For example, a glass of tap water should not cost more than a glass of soft drink.

The Northern Territory's Liquor Act does not specify water must be provided.

In Western Australia since 2007:

Section 115A of the Liquor Control Act 1988 (“the Act”) requires that the licensee must ensure that water suitable for drinking is provided, free of charge, at all times when liquor is sold and supplied for consumption on the licensed premises. The penalty for non-compliance: in the case of a licensee - $10 000; and in the case of a manager - $4 000.

North America

United States

Wherever prices of drinking water are unregulated, it is still rare to be charged for tap water at restaurants and bars, though it's common at self-service beverage fountains (e.g. convenience stores).

States requiring free water at all restaurants:

States only requiring free water where alcohol is served:

States with no known regulations: Alabama, California.

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14  
Made Community Wiki so we can add them all. The claim is quite prevalent, as a Google search will demonstrate, but the laws vary locally. Let's just consolidate all of them in one answer. –  Borror0 Nov 26 '11 at 10:18
    
Good job, just a little confused why UK is not in Europe. ;) I added the German situation. –  atticae Dec 10 at 16:35
    
Does anyone know the official Japan situation? Just about all non-upscale restaurants provide and actively refill water (or green or buckwheat tea) glasses for free without asking, and bottled water is a rarity on menus, at least in the kinds of places I frequent... –  Ken Y-N Dec 11 at 2:52
    
As the pricing rule for Queensland is quoted ("should not cost more than a glass of soft drink"), the German situation might be extended to state that some nonalcoholic drink must be available at a lower price than the cheapest alcoholic drink. I'd have to find the exact norm, though. –  Hagen von Eitzen Dec 12 at 19:12

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