There's something in the (on-tap sparkling) water
Imported mineral water used to be something aspirational, with connoisseurs willing to pay high prices for the status, tradition and perceived purity, says Jill Dupleix. But today’s diners aren’t quite so ready to swallow the need to fly heavy glass bottles of water around the world. It’s lucky we have an alternative: on tap.
Some countries, such as Kuwait, are forced to import their drinking water, at great cost to their economy and environment. We’re lucky in our drought-prone country that we don’t have to do that (please cross your fingers and turn off all your taps so that we never will).
And yet so many of our top restaurants proudly list imported mineral waters on their drinks menus. Fair enough – it’s their choice.
The profit margins are excellent, and for Italians, particularly, it’s something embedded deep in their culture. But today’s diners are thinking twice about getting slugged $10 for imported water, and nor do they like the associated costs to the environment – so, like me, they order, “Sydney’s finest, thanks.”
These days, there’s a third way. I reckon the on-tap water-dispensing system is the best thing that’s happened to beverage delivery since 1691, when Dutch inventor Jan Loftingh came up with the beer engine – the precursor to our modern tap technology.
Enterprising companies such as Vestal, Purezza and Moda produce excellent water dispensers that connect to mains water, filter off any sediment or contaminants, then chill and carbonate the water to the desired level.
So now I ask staff, “do you have a water program?” (which has the unfortunate consequence of making me look like a tosser when the waiter’s response is, “do we have a wha--?”). I’m happy to pay a few dollars per person to know that the water I’m ordering hasn’t been shipped thousands of kilometres from France, Italy, Sweden or Fiji in a single-use glass bottle, and hasn’t burned up energy being refrigerated for weeks on end.
For the operator, there are significant savings on transport, storage, refrigeration and garbage removal. At regional Victoria’s star restaurant, Brae, for instance, chef-owner Dan Hunter recently redesigned the water program to harvest, filter, carbonate and dispense the property’s own rain water, which he says has eliminated the need for more than 120 750 ml glass bottles each week.
For the diner, it’s about having a choice, paying less, and feeling warm and fuzzy about reducing our impact on the planet. This also means we feel warm and fuzzy about you and your business, too, because you share our values.
In the long run, it helps everyone by keeping both the product and the economics, local. Imagine if all your beers, wines, ciders, sakes, Spritzes and kombuchas – plus milk for the coffee machine - came on tap, sourced directly from local producers in large-format containers. I’d drink to that.