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Debate Continues to Flow About Border Grill's Water Fee

December 2, 2011 at 8:38 PM | by | ()

Border Grill margarita: $11-$29. Border Grill water (unlimited): .50 cents.

Some people drink it at restaurants exclusively. Some ask for it as a backup for when their original beverage of choice runs dry. Some restaurants offer it as soon as you sit down, others only if you ask.

When it comes to water at restaurants, everyone -- and every business -- does something different. But, the one thing we've known for sure is that we'll either have to pay for a bottle or go the free route with tap. At least until we found out about Border Grill's water fee for not quite bottled water, not quite tap.

After discovering and writing about the .50 cent water fee earlier this week, the story (penned by East Coast Gambler) is now causing a groundswell of comments on the Internets. It caught the eye of Eater.com and Delish.com dished on it, too, with that piece alone garnering 96 comments and counting.

I think if it isn't printed somewhere on the menu you don't charge for something people are assuming is free.. In Vegas I have literally counted my money before eating and even an extra.50 per person could cause an embarassing situation. That being said... they obviously have the right to charge for what they want as a business... and as consumers we have the right (which I would probably exercise) to either refuse the water or go elsewhere.

It's nice to see that they're providing a refreshing, eco-friendly alternative to tap or bottled water. I would gladly pay the $0.50 as long as I was aware of it prior to ordering.

IF the restaurant wants to charge for water, then they should allow patrons to bring in their own drinks if they don't want to pay for the water!

Border Grill PR representative Ken Langdon told us on Monday that the charge for H20 is due to the restaurant's use of the Natura water purification system -- what Delish describes as "essentially a very fancy Brita filter mixed with a soda maker" and what Langdon says is more environmentally friendly than conventional bottled water since it allows for the reuse of containers. Border Grill's GM elaborates:

"It's important to us that our guests know the 50-cent per person charge is not just tap water, it's filtered with the Natura system, which provides a great-tasting, eco-friendly product, reducing our restaurant's carbon footprint," said Border Grill Las Vegas General Manager Kent Harman. "We have reprinted all of our brunch menus to include the same water policy listed on our lunch and dinner menus, based off feedback we read on the previous post, so hopefully that will help clarify this situation in the future."

The touchpoint of the debate, however, isn't really about what kind of water it is (we still call the Brita on our kitchen sink "tap" water, but whatev') or how much it is (clearly, .50 cents isn't going to break anyone's bank.. well, almost anyone's). The real issue is why regular ol' it-may-not-be-healthy-but-at-least-it's-free tap water isn't an option, too. Or, at least one that's stated.

Will that be bottled water, filtered water or tap?

We're glad to hear Border Grill has corrected the fee's absence from its brunch menu, but if the point is to be eco-friendly, why have an automatic opt-in policy, at all? Isn't it even more environmentally friendly to just not pour unless asked versus "unless you request no water, we will pour unlimited still or sparkling water for every guest at .50 per person."

While we're sure the debate will rage on (add your comments below) we, at least, shouldn't fear the start of a trend. Border Grill says the fee has been in place for close to two years now and it's the only place we know of, in Vegas, to charge it.

(Photos: Flickr, Delish.com, OptimallyOrganic.com)

Archived Comments:

Two years?

Wow, I've eaten here numerous times over the past two years and never noticed the water fee on the menu OR the bill. Just how strong are those margaritas anyway?

I agree though- it should be no pour unless requested (and warned about the fee). What's next-a napkin fee without notice? Those aren't washing themselves in free water ya know.


As Shelly commented above, "as consumers we have the right (which I would probably exercise) to either refuse the water or go elsewhere."

$ speak louder than words. However, it seems that there has been very limited verbal disclosure over the years and that's kind of deceptive since people assume the water is free.

FWIW, if you say something to the waiter they'll probably remove the charge.

From Nikki Mondella Medaugh on Facebook

"Let's see... last time I checked we are not camels and Vegas is still in the desert. Rule number 1 of Vegas travel, stay hydrated. Having a per person minimum is fine, but charging for water in a restaurant is criminal."

From Andrew Scott Medeiros on Facebook

"Very shifty to pour and charge. I would write a subtraction on the tip if a waiter ever did that for something. Its bad enough if they ask if you want a particular side and not tell you about an upcharge... but pouring water and charging for it? Absurd. This place may have decent food, but the business shadeyness speaks volumes over their guacamole."

Drink Up

Well, it's become more of a PR issue than a bottom line issue.  For, we all end up paying for everything a restaurant does in one way or another.  Nothing is really free.  The easy answer is to do what other restaurants do - factor the water bill in with the other costs of doing business and then ensure revenue not only exceeds outlays but also generates profit.  In this case, that means increasing menu item prices a few cents each.

What's Next...

What's next? Will Las Vegas charge for AIR?

Holy Crap.

How about a corkage fee for bringing your own bottled water!

As an avid water drinker, I'm insulted.

What about wiping down the table between meals - maybe there should be an additional charge for that too.

Why go out to a restaurant at all - stay at home, watch the Food Channel and cook your own meal.

Talk about alienating the customer.

get a clue

@nycstone if you wanna complain at least make a valid argument.  comparing air to water here makes you sound completely uneducated on ths subject.  It's apples and oranges.  You are insulted?  Why?  Because they want to charge for something that is better?  Are you insulted when places charge more for better veggies or cuts of meat? If you want tap water just ask and keep drinking lake mead at no charge. I eat here all the time and gladly pay fifty cents for as much of the stuff as I can hold.  As an avid water drinker myself I am glad they provide this to me.

If anyone including the writer did any digging I bet there are a lot of other restaurants doing the same thing.  Get over it people. It's the cost of doing business.