By Ann | February 17, 2011
Yesterday I went out for lunch with a friend I’ll call Elizabeth. We were the first customers at a neighborhood restaurant and we ordered an entrée + plat for Elizabeth, a plat + dessert for me. And then the server paused with a flourish. “Qu’est-ce que vous voulez boire?” he asked.
I rarely drink wine at lunch — it ruins the rest of my work afternoon and I’m already far too prone to naps or internet distraction without any chemically induced aid. I also rarely order bottled water because I think it takes a toll on the environment, and, let’s be honest, I don’t mind saving a few pennies by drinking tap.
One of us ordered une carafe d’eau — a pitcher of tap water.”Non, ça marche pas ici,” said the waiter. He proposed a half-bottle of flat or sparkling. I must have been weak from hunger because I didn’t question him. We ordered a large bottle of fizzy.
But later that afternoon, I started thinking. Is it legal for a restaurant to deny a customer tap water?
I asked my friend, Alain, who owns a café, Le Mistral, in the 20e. “C’est pas gentil,” he said. But he didn’t know if there was any law preventing it.
And then I posted on Twitter. Thanks to my friend Katia’s crack research team, I discovered a helpful website, which details this 1967 decree: A restaurant is obligated to provide bread, regular water, spices or condiments, dishes, glassware, napkins, etc. As a result, a restaurant cannot charge for a carafe of water when it accompanies a meal.
I phoned the restaurant, to ask if they had a comment. “If customers don’t drink wine, I can’t earn a living if they don’t even order a small bottle of water,” the owner told me. “If you don’t take any wine, at least have the kindness to order a bottle of water.” He added: “I am someone who is known to be very reasonable with the prices.
“What about the decree of 1967? I read it aloud. “We didn’t charge for tap water,” said monsieur. Ah, semantics.
Our lunch was 58€. I don’t remember the breakdown, but that included one entrée, two plats, one dessert, and the aforementioned large bottle of water.
“I have the best rapport qualité prix in the whole quartier,” said Monsieur. “I offer lunch for 24 euros, pour faire plaisir. Did you enjoy your lunch?”
I hadn’t, particularly. I told him the bread had been stale, and my risotto raw. He promptly invited me and Elizabeth to lunch there — tomorrow — to “recapture our interest,” an invitation that I had to decline.
Besides, what would we drink to wash it all down?
UPDATE: Read the restaurateur’s final response here.