Mandate that businesses serve free water

In England and Wales, all licensed premises - such as restaurants, bars, clubs and other establishments that are open to the public - are required by law to provide free potable water to customers upon request.

In Singapore, however, the vast majority of restaurants, bars and clubsare legally able to refuse to serve customers tap water, let alone for free.

In my experience, many premises will say that it is not their policy to serve tap water, or "we can't ensure it's hygienic, so we serve bottled water only".

This is the case even as our Health Ministry starts a serious campaign to wean citizens off sweetened and aerated drinks, and towards drinking more water for better health outcomes, especially to combat diabetes.

The Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources has also spent huge sums of money to ensure that our tap water is safe, potable and always available.

Furthermore, there is an active drive towards reducing the use of plastic by consumers, as plastic water bottles are a major source of plastic waste.

Many premises will say that it is not their policy to serve tap water, or "we can't ensure it's hygienic, so we serve bottled water only". This is the case even as our Health Ministry starts a serious campaign to wean citizens off sweetened and aerated drinks, and towards drinking more water.

It is clear that the time has come for the Government to mandate that all licensed food and entertainment establishments serve free potable tap water on request to anyone who wants it - even if the person consumes only water.

The law can certainly provide for a small service charge for providing a clean glass, filling it and serving it, but the fee should be capped to avoid overcharging.

Establishments that understand the need to be customer-focused will realise that being generous with water is good for business. This practice will also pay dividends in boosting the Singapore brand in the eyes of global tourists.

I look to the Government to actively drive this positive initiative.

Rahul Patwardhan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 30, 2018, with the headline 'Mandate that businesses serve free water'. Print Edition | Subscribe