Is It Illegal To Charge For Water? (& Why It’s Expensive)

Is it illegal to charge for water is a question that will cross everyone’s mind at some point in their lives, usually early on because the answer will get clear quite fast when dining in a restaurant or some other business. Of course, there are exceptions when someone might have avoided this question and the answer to it as a whole.

In this article, you will learn everything there is need to know about is it illegal to charge for water and other questions considering restaurants and other businesses, and how they choose to treat water as in their establishment.

Restaurants have every right to charge for water, and it is not illegal. Fresh water with ice can be priced by restaurants according to their individual policies and preferences, however, most do provide tap water without charge.

You might think huh, do restaurants have such a need to save money for a basic need that is free?. The truth be told, it isn’t free for the restaurants so we will go through now why the restaurant should and shouldn’t charge for water and in the end, it is the restaurant’s decision whether they choose to offer it for free of charge from it. Either way, there are pros and cons to both of them.

Why do restaurants charge for water

There are many reasons why restaurants charge for water. The restaurant needs to provide glasses that will break over time, water jugs that need to be beautiful therefore expensive, water filtration systems that aren’t cheap, and ice machines that aren’t cheap either and they require constant maintenance.

As we can see there are so many reasons that when put together will certainly add up, and in addition to the aspects above the water itself costs money as well and a smart restaurant owner wouldn’t operate a smart business if he or she would overlook this cost.

Why do restaurants give free water

Even when a smart business owner takes every cost into consideration, there are various reasons why restaurants should give water for free.

Most restaurants offer free water because they want their customers to feel appreciated. Water is a basic need and many customers expect it to be given free, due to the reason that they purchase meals and additional items. Restaurants have usually added the water’s cost to the overall mark-up.

In addition, charging from high-quality iced water in a carafe is somewhat understandable, however, charging from tap water is kind of tacky for the vast majority of people. That could and probably will even lower your overall business’s branding.

Now, let’s take a look at some additional questions that many people have when trying to understand the whole subject of charging from water in a restaurant.

Can you charge for tap water

You can definitely charge for tap water because even if the water doesn’t have ice or doesn’t get served from a carafe, there is a service between the transaction which always costs money, in addition, the restaurant does pay for water bill as well, therefore there aren’t any obstacles on chagrin for tap water.

Can a business refuse to give water

When charging from water isn’t illegal, there is no obligation for a business to give free water, therefore businesses can refuse to give water. As previously stated, restaurants and businesses can charge their water on however they want so refusing can and usually will happen, if the water is priced.

There are many quite strong opinions on how does this makes the business look and everyone should make their own conclusion about it.

Why do European restaurants charge for water

In the United States, it is quite common to get free water with your meal, depending on the restaurant of course as it does in other parts of the world. However, in Europe, it is far more common to pay for bottled water because it is a standard there and people actually order water for taste and it can get quite expensive. I actually have a funny story about that.

In 2017 I was visiting Germany and especially in Berlin. I was staying in this cute little hotel and next to it was this wonderful Indian restaurant with great limited-time offers and promotions for the lunch. Of course, I decided to take action and if I remember correctly the lunch offer was €5.99 for the smaller lunch menu and as weren’t that hungry at the moment, I took it.

When I sat down at the table I expected to get a free glass of water but oh boy were I wrong because the actual 0.75l bottle of water cost the exact same amount as the lunch menu! €5.99 was the cost of the bottle and I was totally astonished, in a positive way mostly. After seeing the check i undredstood why they could price the menu’s so low, because of the water.

As a takeaway from this story is that charging from water can be quite a smart business move when looked from the restaurant’s perspective, however they could of told the price up front which was kind of funny to me, perhaps not for everyone.


The conversation about offering water and pricing will surely be a strong topic for years to come, and I don’t see water becoming free everywhere any time soon.

Personally, I understand both sides of the argument, especially from a business perspective because I have worked a lot in the restaurant industry, however, I am a regular customer in many places so I totally understand why it is tacky to charge from water, especially with tap water!

I hope this article gave you value and understanding about the legal factors about charging from water and why somebody would do so.

Omar Abdalla

I’m the owner of JRS. While I love writing about food, I also enjoy peaceful and relaxed cookouts at home.

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