Fortunately, there are also now water menus in restaurants and water sommeliers curating experiences with water and expanding the possibilities. Water deserves a place on the table next to food and wine, but it's not easy to change perceptions and habits. While consumers demand better choices of natural water and order from portfolio distributors for home use, restaurants, and the hospitality industry in general still resist change to a very large extent.
Restaurants tell us that the chef cares about where the food comes from, knows his suppliers, and buys from the local market. The wine sommelier tells us he has relationships with many wine producers and created a wine list of hundreds of exceptional wines that fit the menu and restaurant. It would be nice to believe the restaurants care about our dining experience to guide and curate some special moments far beyond just feeding us. The problem is that when I ask a restaurant with hundreds of wines on the menu and the name of the farm where the duck is coming from on the menu, "What waters do you have?" the uninspiring answer is "Still or sparkling."
I know what's happening because I talk to many water brands from the Fine Water Society, and they all tell me the same story. The restaurant buys the cheapest water possible, usually San Pellegrino and Acqua Panna, from a large distributor. They insist that they cannot afford 25 cents more for a bottle of fine water from a smaller, more exciting brand. The restaurant usually puts a factor of 6-10x on the sale of water but is still too cheap to give consumers a choice and not bore them with the same waters I can buy at a gas station for a fraction of the cost. Now, I am wondering, the fish? Is it the freshest and best choice or was it also the cheapest? The wine list? Was it also selected on what is the cheapest?
It is time for restaurants to change the paradigm and take water seriously. What we demand in fine dining is a water menu. Depending on style and scope, such a water menu should be curated and reflect the restaurant's style, food, and scope consisting of five to 20 waters. By curated, we mean not just buying the 10 waters that are the cheapest and easiest to get. One needs to look at the menu and, together with the chef, create an offering of waters that accompanies the restaurant dishes perfectly. The water menu should have suggestions and options for celebrating with water or enjoying a meal without alcohol. There should be attention paid to the bottled water etiquette, stemware, serving temperature, and education of the wait staff to inform and guide the guest's choices.
Who should do all this?
Luckily, we now have water sommeliers!
Both Martin and I have experience creating water menus, but Martin created some of the most talked-about implementations of water menus in the world. In 2013, he unveiled a signature water program at Ray's & Stark Bar at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and, in 2014, at the Patina Restaurant in the Walt Disney Concert Hall.
It suddenly all made sense. Guests would have a better experience instead of boring hydration they can engaged with a water menu. A novelty shared extensively on social media postings made Martin and the restaurant into celebrities and created colossal visibility. The restaurants also saw an increase in water sales of up to 400%.
A classic win-win situation, a new and better experience for guests, and a larger bottom line for the restaurants. You would think there would be a water menu in every restaurant. There isn't. Why? Resistance to change, laziness, and a good measure of stupidity are all that stand between you and a water menu in a restaurant.
What can you do, you ask?
Demand a choice of water when you're in a fine dining situation, tell the staff that you can buy San Pellegrino, Panna, or Evian at the gas station for $1, and that you deserve a better choice and attention paid to the water service.
Post your experience on social media. If we all do this, we will have great experiences with water in a restaurant soon. Otherwise, we will be bored with the same old choices forever.