October 6, 2006


In Morgen’s Interesting Thing of the Day article about Aquanomy, she described this new trend—the connoisseurship of water—which results in some trendy restaurants having water lists as long as a good wine list. She said:

This may seem like decadence to those used to drinking water straight from the tap, or a huge luxury when even clean water is a rare commodity in much of the world. However, I agree with Guiliano in her praise of this trend; we spend much more money and resources on beverages that aren’t healthy for us, what’s wrong with enjoying the experience of drinking something that’s actually good for us?

Far be it from me to gainsay my wife, but I have a somewhat different take on this. I can agree that water is healthier than pretty much any other beverage choice you might make, and that if you’re going to drink water, you might as well enjoy the taste. Where we differ is in the willingness to spend significant money on “designer” water rather than simply making do with ordinary, filtered tap water.

What’s at issue for me is the feeling that, as a consumer, I’m being taken advantage of in a truly blatant and brazen way. I decry the whole bottled water fad, and to the extent that aquanomy is another step in that direction, it bugs me. I’ve regularly seen bottles of very ordinary domestic spring water selling for twice as much as a comparably sized container of soda, milk, or even beer, and that’s just wrong. It’s not that I have anything against selling water in bottles as such. It’s that the prices are obscenely high given the amount of effort it took to obtain and package it, and absurdly out of proportion to the price-to-production cost ratio of just about any other liquid. Heck, I’ve even seen decent wine that sells for less, per milliliter, than mid-range bottled water.

My point is: if I’m in a restaurant, I don’t want to pay for water. (Well, OK, that assumes the restaurant in question is located in a part of the world where the municipal water supply isn’t contaminated; I’ve gladly made exceptions to this rule in certain places outside North America and Europe.) I certainly don’t want to pay the standard restaurant markup on top of an already inflated price for something someone just pumped out of a spring and put into a bottle with a fancy label.

I’d support a restaurant having an extensive water list if the prices were reasonable, but I know enough about the restaurant business to realize that’s economically infeasible (for the same reason you’re often charged a “corkage” fee if you walk in with your own bottle of wine). So here’s a puzzler: in the future, will restaurants charge you for the use of a glass if you bring in your own fancy water? I wouldn’t bet against it.

4 Responses to “Aquanomy”

  1. Cris said:

    “I’ve regularly seen bottles of very ordinary domestic spring water selling for twice as much as a comparably sized container of soda, milk, or even beer, and that’s just wrong.”

    … No, no, no. Buying the bottle is what’s wrong. :)

  2. Joe Kissell said:

    Cris: You’re right: if the consumers were no longer willing to make these ridiculous purchases, the overpriced-bottled-water business would dry up!

  3. Ed said:

    Joe they also have this red and white stuff in restaurants. It comes in a bottle and is called wine. If you know the cost of that……… Guess there it is buying the labe that is wrong ;-)

  4. Joe Kissell said:

    Ed: True, of course. But at least if I’m buying wine in a restaurant (and yes, it’s always overpriced too) I’m paying for the work someone put into harvesting, crushing, fermenting, and so on. And it’s not something I could have gotten out of a tap for free!