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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?

  • 5
    Seems too geographically wide IMHO. Unless it's a federal law, it'd need to be researched for each of the 57 states. – user5341 Nov 25 '11 at 19:32
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    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
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    In italy you pay... – Sklivvz 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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    I figured this question might be too broad for each location but I figured I'd ask anyways to see if anyone compiled a list or something. Feel free to close it if the community doesn't feel it is constructive enough. – Sam I Am Nov 25 '11 at 23:00
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Europe

Belgium has no law regulating it (Dutch link).

In Finland there is no law regulating it.

France has a law to provide free tap water when serving a meal at a restaurant. (see here). Almost all restaurants in France accept to server free water (and free bread).

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.)

In Iceland there is no law regulating it, but restaurants provide free water.

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

In Russia there is no law requiring restaurants to serve free tap water. (Russian 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.

In Italy there is no law about it, but the majority of restaurants will serve bottled water by default. Few of them will deny tap water to customers, and few of them only serve tap or filtered water free of charge.

United Kingdom:

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.

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

The Middle East

In Israel, by law (in Hebrew), restaurants are required to serve customers chilled water:

Whoever manages or hold a restaurant, weather as an owner or in other way, a restaurant, a food establishment, a coffee house or such a place where food is served, will make it so each costumer is presented with a pitcher of chilled water, without payment.

(My translation)

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, Arizona, California, Colorado

  • 27
    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
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    Good job, just a little confused why UK is not in Europe. ;) I added the German situation. – magnattic Dec 10 '14 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 '14 at 2:52
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    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 '14 at 19:12
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    @magnattic Perhaps that editor was prescient. – Shadur Jul 19 '17 at 8:42

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