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Bar Owner Complains Of People Drinking Tap Water – Oi! Where’s My Profits?

At first glance this seems like a most obstreperous demand. A bar owner in Bristol is complaining that people are drinking water – just tap water! – in her place. This means that there’s no profit to be had. So, order that fruit juice, that pint, to go with your meal.

At second glance this is just how the economics of the industry work and have done for a long, long, time. Someone coming in for a plate loses a restaurant money.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Bar owner says health-conscious customers who only order tap water are ruining her business[/perfectpullquote]

That is actually how it works.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””] Those who order tap water to go with their meal often feel virtuous, as it does not carry the hefty calorie count of a beer or the sugar of a glass of fruit juice. However, one bar owner in Bristol has lambasted health-conscious diners who prefer water with their food and said they are ruining her business. The co-founder of Bristol Spirit, Sam Espensen, has said that although the bar serves food, customers should all order drinks with their meal. She tweeted that at least 14 people only drank water at the bar last week, and wrote: “If you come to Bristol Spirit and only drink free tap water – we will not make enough money from your table to break even, let alone turn a profit. “If you just ask for tap water, it feels like you are telling us you don’t value our business enough to buy a drink, which is the reason we exist.” [/perfectpullquote]

This is an old rule of thumb, no more, from an experienced waitron unit.

The table that orders a starter, main and a bottle of wine – that just about breaks even for the restaurant. You can mix and match this a bit. Dessert instead of the starter, that sorta thing. But the costs of the building, the staff, the electricity, the stock that goes off, the cost of capital itself, all those things, mean that the basic restaurant experience just about covers its costs.

It’s the having the one thing extra that makes the money, the profit. A drink before the meal, having both a starter and a dessert to add to the main. The second bottle of wine, or the digestif with the coffee. This is why the waiter is so eager for you to have any one or more of these “extras”. The margin over food costs – food costs usually being around 30% of menu price – on those additions is exactly what provides a profit to the business that is the restaurant.

As to why, well, it’s the same reason that the menu prices of some well known item are going to be roughly the same across restaurants. Competition is fierce in the business. That means headline prices are pushed down to where they only just, if even that, cover costs. On exactly the same basis as Ryanair charging you spit for the seat and then a fortune for the air you breathe onboard. You get the punter in with the £20 for two steak dinners then hope like Hell they order the vanilla soup and also the vegetable ice cream in order to make your nut.

That’s just the way the business works. Although to be fair it’s unusual to see a restauranteur laying it out quite this baldly.

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Jonathan Harston
Jonathan Harston
4 years ago

That’s why I go to a local cafe where the only choice is whether to help yourself to sugar in your tea with your heaving full english. Specialise, specialise, specialise. Plus, it’s a local with no turrists. The sort of place my ex-wife would have sneered at.

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