Don’t expect to find that complimentary glass of water on your table the next time you sit down at a restaurant.
Last week the California State Water Resources Control Board floated the idea of mandating a policy that would require servers to provide water to customers only when asked – a tiny step towards conservation in a state that has been ravaged by a four-year drought that many believe could run major reservoirs empty by the time the summer is over.
Whether it’s a political move or a symbolic gesture, it’s one that many restaurants have long instituted – either because its more convenient or customers have gone away from the standard drinking water that used to come gratis with a meal.
“I’d say that the majority of the servers here work like that – they don’t give out water unless a customer asks for it,” said a staffer at Strings. “I don’t think it would be much of a change.”
Several cities have already taking legislative steps to make the practice law. In Santa Cruz it is against a city ordinance to serve customers water before they specifically ask for it.
Part of the issue isn’t just the water glasses that are distributed to the tables, said one server that asked not to be named because she didn’t have permission to speak on the matter, but the amount of water that’s used to clean them regardless of whether they’re used. It’s not uncommon to bring water to a table only for it to go untouched when patrons order something else off of the menu.
Other Manteca restaurants declined to comment citing corporate concerns, but another privately owned chain said that they only furnish water to those who specifically ask for it, and the amount of people who do is down significantly.
“It’s those who want water with their meal that are the ones who are going to ask for it,” the server said. “Before it was people who would take a drink or two and (then) push it off to the side. Now they’re getting refills. It’s much different.”
And the practice, while new to Californians, isn’t new to the rest of the country. As the New York Times reported earlier this month, the policy has specifically been on the books since 1991 when a major drought forced the state to reexamine its water usage policies. It was recently repealed.
California’s extreme drought is expected to empty some major Northern California reservoirs by the end of the summer and skyrocket the price of quality drinking water – forcing cities that can to rely more on groundwater to meet the needs of their customers. Concerns about the falling aquifer levels and the abundance and cost of high-quality surface groundwater are also issues.
Additional water restrictions will also likely be imposed as the summer months encroach. Among them is a possible statewide prohibition of hotels providing fresh towels and sheets unless guests ask for them.