28 Sep 2023  |   05:51am IST


Chander Gupta

No sooner are the guests seated on a table after landing up at restaurants for dining than the waiter would pose this question post-haste, “Mineral water or regular water?” The strategy is to thrust the mineral water even before you are handed the menu lest you may be deterred by its exorbitant price. Willy-nilly we say ‘mineral water’ to avoid a vague sense of embarrassment in asking for regular water. I find the aquatic query unwelcome.

Recently I, along-with two companions, went to a restaurant in a so-called five-star hotel. The ambience was awesome, commensurate with the five-star rating. As soon as the three of us were seated at a table, the waiter as usual enquired about our water choice without first handing the menu. But this time the choice given was not between mineral and regular waters, but between ‘still’ and ‘sparkling’ waters. For me, who rarely dines in a five-star hotel, this was something new. My companion saved me from the dilemma as he opted for ‘still’ water.

The waiter brought two bottles of ‘still’ water, each containing only 300 ml of natural mineral water, with the labels flaunting the top industry brand. Two bottles were emptied in just filling each of the three tumblers with 200 ml of water. As is my wont, I picked up one of the empty glass bottles to read the label as my companions were browsing the menu for ordering beverages and food. The printed price was Rs100 for 300 ml of water. However, the date of packaging  stamped on the neck of the bottle left me aghast. The date of packaging showed the water to be eight months old. Annoyed, we summoned the waiter to confront him with the date of packaging. Unfazed he retorted that the ‘use by date’ was one year apart from date of packaging. It was shocking for us that bottled water had a shelf life of one year. Interrogating whether they stocked water for 1 year in advance, I persisted with the protest for being served eight-month-old water. The hotel staff stood their ground without expressing any regret. To resolve the impasse, they offered regular water (free) subsequent to bottled water already served. Sensing futility in further arguments, we made peace with the supplement of regular water. 

Finally, I asked for the bill after we had finished wining and dining. The ink of the printed bill was too dim to read without straining the eyes. Was it deliberate? My suspicion was reinforced as I saw Rs 500 being charged for 2 bottles of water. They charged Rs 250 per bottle of 300 ml of water whereas the printed price was Rs 100. At this enhanced pricing, the cost of one litre of water amounted to Rs 833 which is exorbitant even at the level of five-star hotel. I took solace that they didn’t charge for the ice-cubes which were freely supplied for cooling our drinks.

We left vowing to pitch for regular water when dining in restaurants in future.


Idhar Udhar