Bottled Water; Does Brand Make a Difference?

Do you really care about what brand of bottled water a restaurant serves? Does your decision to buy or not depend on what bottled water they are selling? I would hazard to guess that the answer to this question (for the most part of people) would be a resounding “NO”.

Water is an essential part of life for the consumer and an essential part of the make-up of a restaurants revenue stream. Can we drink tap water? Of course we can and although many seem to think that Hong Kong’s tap water is not fit for consumption, we must remind ourselves that we have progressed somewhat in the last 40 years from a time of rusty pipes that delivered reservoir water to our homes and faucets in the city.

Hong Kong’s water supply is treated in and sent down from China – one of the reasons that Hong Kong could never be fully independent as it relies heavily on it’s water supply sourced from the mainland. But could we none-the-less survive on imported bottled water alone? Arguably yes, but that would get ridiculously expensive and we would, as many do, end up boiling the tap water we have here (and condemning it to a nutrient-less by-product of what used to be water). Parallel to this it must be considered that even our own bottled water (Watson’s, Vita, Bonaqua) is actually distilled water (the stuff they told us not to drink in Chemistry at school) or mineralized water (so they’ve added minerals? Hmmm…).

Not a single restaurant I have ever been in serves “local” Hong Kong bottled water. Would it be remiss of me to ask why? I have a Bonaqua system at home that delivers me 36 litres of water a week for the princely sum of $66 – not bad. Consider though that I mostly use it for hot water to make coffee in the mornings although if there is a local water of preference, it would have to be Bonaqua.

So do we care what water restaurants serve? No. Brand loyalty is out of the question here as we have no damn choice! Panna? San Pelegrino? Antipodes? Hildon? Fonte de Medici? The list goes on and it’s a lucrative market. There’s a New Zealand water that’s served in my mate Kris’ restaurant (Table, 8th Floor The Pemberton, 22-26 Bonham Strand) which is fantastic – but I’ll be damned if I can remember the name of it.

On the whole, we get what we’re served. I have never seen a drinks list display what brand of water they sell – or for that matter, push the boat out a little and give people a choice of several different mineral waters. So it’s “still or sparkling” and you get to drink whatever suited the budget of the restaurant at the time, or the water that they picked up in their latest deal. There’s nothing wrong with this…but imagine if wine was like this. “Red or White”? Nope, that’s your choice, red or white.

Additionally, in my lifetime working in the hospitality industry I have never been asked what water I serve and have never had a single complaint about serving the said water. After all, it’s not like I (or anybody else for that matter) has a replacement choice other than tap water.

Let me make it clear though that I am only talking about restaurants where we have no choice. In fact, the brand decision has been made on our behalf – but we’d like to think that we are being well represented by people we trust as we are, after all patronizing their establishment.

For sure, there’s brand loyalty when it comes to water in the supermarket. Personally, I would only be inclined to go for water from Italy or the United Kingdom (I am actually particularly brand un-loyal; my only true one may actually be to Marlboro which is kind of sad). But for many, there’s “only one kind of water to have in my home and it’s XXXX” – and that’s what you buy.

While closing, I will note one small thing. San Pellegrino is available in 759, Wellcome and other local chain stores for about $18 a bottle yet we do not complain about paying $50 and above in a restaurant. This is criminal in my world as I have had to deal with years of torment from customers who complain that they can get wine for $80 a bottle in Wellcome. This is why restaurants don’t stock the same wines as supermarkets as you’d have to be a fucking idiot to buy something in a restaurant you know is available for 3 times less in the supermarket….oh hang on….