Scots diners urged to demand free tap water in public

It is the question which any cash-strapped diner has come to dread: 'Still or sparkling water'?

Scots are being urged to ask bars and restaurants for refills of tap water as a survey shows most feel 'awkward' when doing so. Picture: Neil Hanna

But the answer may be more straightforward than you think as a report reveals that Scottish consumers are unaware of their rights to demand free tap water in public buildings, rather than fork out for the expensive bottled variety.

The study found that just a quarter of consumers realise that licensed premises including bars, theatres and restaurants are legally required to provide free drinking water on request in Scotland, leading many to buy bottled water or other drinks when on the go. Despite this, according to a study from Keep Britain Tidy and Brita UK, almost three quarters of Scots are uncomfortable asking for free tap water in a glass without buying something else and more than a third feel awkward asking for it in a reusable bottle even if they are making a purchase.

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Keep Britain Tidy chief executive Allison Ogden-Newton said: “This report demonstrates that the British public wants greater access to tap water when out and about. Topping-up a glass or refillable bottle would encourage us to stay healthy while helping to reduce littering in our streets, parks and beaches, which is all good.”

Under the Licensing Act (Scotland) 2005, all licensed premises – ie those allowed to serve alcohol – have to provide tap water free of charge – although they are technically allowed to charge for use of a glass. Alex Buchan, partner and licensing specialist at Edinburgh lawyers Brodies, said: “In Scotland, there are mandatory conditions applicable to all licensed premises and one of these is that they provide tap water free of charge on request.”

Leigh Sparks, professor of retail studies at Strathclyde University, said that restaurants and bars were loathe to supply free tap water on a purely commercial basis. “The reason restaurants and bars don’t make it as widely known is that if they can charge for a bottle of fizzy water, they make more money,” he said.

The report found that 60 per cent of people, however, believe businesses that serve food or drink should be required to provide free drinking water to the public, regardless of whether they are a customer or not.