Soon you'll have to request water at a Tampa Bay restaurant

Water, water, everywhere — but only if they ask.

That's the new policy for Tampa Bay eateries, says the board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, which voted this week to ask restaurant owners to only serve guests water on request.

The policy wouldn't take effect for a couple weeks, but as the area enters a dry spell, local restaurateurs disagree on what effect the drought-driven measure will have on business. Some say it could rock the boat of consumer-expected service. Other say it's a wash.

"It's kind of like a staple. You go to a restaurant and you automatically get water," said Paul Bonanno, the head chef of Italian restaurant Bernini of Ybor. "It's just part of good service."

Bonanno said he and others at his restaurant had heard rumors of the changes. His take? Good for business, bad for consumers.

"It will force people to spend more money on drinks, and with what's going on right now that's kind of a bad thing," he said. "Seriously, they're cutting down on water now? What's next?"

Other local managers said the water policy would bring its own benefits.

"As a guest, if you want water you'll get water, so that won't change," said Tom Heyder, the kitchen manager of Tampa tropical restaurant Bahama Breeze. "In reality I think it's a good thing. It helps to reduce waste and reduces a step from the service standpoint."

Carson Kohlmetz, the general manager of a Village Inn in Carrollwood, said his restaurant could experience a boom in other beverages.

"We would rather sell you a coffee or orange juice than a water," Kohlmetz said with a laugh.

Katherine Hill, the manager of the Hooters restaurant on Hillsborough Avenue, said the new rule won't change much. Beer and bottled water are big sellers already.

"We're a full liquor bar. We have beer. That's generally what people come in here for," she said.

Many restaurants said the notion of serving water only upon request is already standard practice.

"For years we'd automatically put water and lemon in front of people, but so many people don't use it," said Linda James, a dining room manager at Fourth Street Shrimp Store in St. Petersburg. "It just got to be a common sense thing."

James, who said employees stopped the longtime practice several months ago, said giving out only requested water has cut down on waste and made more sense from a business standpoint.

"We just realized it was a good idea," she said. "Just one of the little things you can do to cut costs."

Robyn Felix, spokeswoman for the water management district, said the agency launched a voluntary conservation program for restaurants last May.

The program, which primarily encourages restaurants to only serve requested water, also suggests restaurants replace spray valves and install low volume faucets and toilets.

About 100 restaurants are already enrolled. Restaurants get free materials to educate their employees and display to customers.

It is unclear exactly how much water will be saved if all restaurants abide by the new rules, which will be in place until June 30.

But for every glass of water taken to a table, two are used to wash out the dish later.

"Are we going to save a billion gallons? Probably not," Felix said. "But it's also a great educational tool."

Drew Harwell can be reached at dharwell@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3386.

Soon you'll have to request water at a Tampa Bay restaurant 02/25/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 25, 2009 9:08pm]

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