Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Dam that sentiment


Looks as if the price of bottled water isn’t as elastic as restaurateurs might have thought. After charging as much for H20 as they once collected for a dinner’s complement of wine, the trade has triggered a full-fledged backlash, replete with an advocacy group, a deeply felt cause, and a loudly articulated action plan. The battle cry: Drink tap instead.

The only good news, at least from the restaurant industry’s perspective, is that the British-born crusade has yet to jump across the pond to the U.S.

If American restaurateurs are smart, they’ll try to contain the movement to Europe, like Mad Cow Disease, or the popularity of Jerry Lewis. Over there, a group calling itself the Consumer Council for Water—CCWater, for short—is arguing that patrons should forego the higher ticket of bottled waters, not only for the sake of economic sense, but also for ecological reasons. When you pop for a liter of spring water, you end up not only with dirty water glasses, but also a bottle that has to be channeled to a landfill.

What’s more, the group suggests, bottled water can be wasteful. With H20 diminishing in supply, it’s far more appropriate to drink as you go, glass by glass, instead of consuming in liter-sized increments that may not be entirely consumed.

The group isn’t a bunch of yahoos, as you can tell from a visit to its site, Its larger goal is conserving water, and it cites indications that 76 percent of British consumers don’t believe water companies do enough to conserve. It’s presumably speaking there about utilities, not water bottlers. But it’s just a slight extension to include those parties in their scope.

CCWater realizes that one of the major difficulties in getting consumers to specify tap water instead of the bottled variety is the stigma involved. Patrons are embarrassed about going with the free stuff because they’re afraid it’ll make them look cheap and uncouth.

But no one wants to look like a fool, either. And that’s how patrons might feel if they discover they’re paying as much for their water as they might for an entrée or dessert.

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