Exclusive: Restaurants to hit diners with €1 charge for tap water
A glass of tap water with your carvery lunch will cost €1 next year - as restaurant owners pass on massive commercial rate increases to diners, the Sunday Independent has learned.
Restaurant industry experts say a tap water charge is likely to be introduced in line with anticipated hikes in water charges for businesses next year.
Adrian Cummins, CEO of the Restaurants' Association of Ireland, says a reasonable charge on tap water is "only fair" as he claims Irish Water has repeatedly "flagged" plans to increase commercial water rates.
"They have flagged the issue to us and it's my opinion that they are softening us up. They are getting us ready for a rise in rates and it's going to have a major knock-on affect on our industry," he said.
"Businesses are going to get hit with the cost so we need to look at how to recoup that cost and we feel a small charge on good quality tap water is a fair and equitable way of doing it," he said. Mr Cummins expects many restaurants, pubs and coffees shops, that already pay hefty water bills to local authorities, to apply a €1 tariff on filtered tap water.
He says some restaurants will be looking at it more seriously than others.
"Some will say they'll provide filtered water at a charge of €1 for a bottle, and that's it - customers can have as much water as they want throughout the night," he said, adding that sparkling and still water will be made available.
"From a logical perspective, if you invest in equipment that provides good quality, filtered, good-tasting drinking water then restaurants will probably add a charge to the bill," he said.
"Some people think it's carte blanche but we're not a public service - it's a business and people need to respect that," he said.
However, he said it's unlikely a uniform system will be implemented for all establishments.
"Those who feel they should be charging for tap water will be on a case-to-case basis. A lot of restaurants are already putting in that type of a system," he said.
According to Irish Water, there are approximately 500 separate tariffs for non-domestic water customers around the country.
A spokeswoman for Irish Water described the current system as "a legacy of the historic provision of water services by more than 30 separate local authorities".
These tariffs were carried forward to Irish Water and will remain in place until a new tariff structure is approved by the regulator, the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER).
"The CER will undertake a process to define and agree the appropriate and enduring tariff arrangements for non-domestic customers of Irish Water in the future. This process is likely to take a number of years and will involve extensive public consultation," said the spokeswoman.
However, the Restaurants' Association of Ireland is concerned the new system will be introduced sooner rather than later and will have lasting ramifications for the industry.
"We are being softened up now for all of this," said Mr Cummins, adding that consumers need to be aware of the situation.
"We're not like the households where you pay a flat fee, you pay per consumption so the more you consume the more you pay. We have to educate consumers," he said.
Meanwhile, the Consumers' Association of Ireland says diners won't appreciate a charge on tap water.
Dermott Jewell, policy advisor at the consumer body, said: "Tap water is viewed by customers as part of the standard charge of provision of service.
"It's a bad charge, it's poorly thought out and it's going to hurt them.
"Even if it's filtered, not all water is of the same quality from every tap and that needs to be considered.
"We understand a rise in rates is a cost to business but tap water has always been deemed part of general service and a move away from that will indirectly backfire," he said.