Good to see a discussion on free water (or the lack of) issue at restaurants being brought up in Straitstimes. Well I didn't quite read the article since I didn't subscribe to it, but someone told me about it and I was glad to hear about it. As some readers might know, I run a restaurant, and I do give free water. However, I wanna stress that if I am given a chance to open another restaurant, water will not be free.
And really why was water free in the beginning in my joint? Because of 1 factor, the Japanese curry which is my restaurant's mainstay, is deem to make pple "thirsty" and I was told by my Japanese Chef that Japanese would expect the water to be free at a Japanese restaurant. And since day one, we have pampered our customers with free water, or should I say, I've been paying for my customers to not purchase my other drinks. Ironically, it turns out many Japanese did end up ordering other drinks more often than not, usually beer. And Singaporeans, typicallly would be sitting there and looking annoyed if we did not serve them water while waiting for their friends. We typically even asked them "would you like a drink while waiting?" 8/10 times the answer would be "Can I just have ice water please?" Or "Warm water, not too hot". I refer to these customers as the "aquamen".
I do want to point out to customers in Singapore, who expects so many things to be free, that we are not running a charity. And they should see these "free" things not as a requirement but as an act of good will. Let us see what are the things that I provide for free in my restaurant and the hidden costs to me:
1) Free Water - Cold and warm.
Firstly we do have to pay for it. The fact that some huge restaurant have to hire staff specifically to handle these water issues, should serve as a wake up call that hey, we are already doing way beyond what we should. And secondly, again to point out, the cold water is cold because we have to pay for an ice maker and the electricity to run it. The same goes for warm/hot water. Water needs to be boiled, contained, and kept hot/warmed - and they all cost money.
2) "Service for extra 10-15 plates for my gang to celebrate birthday with a cake that I purchased elsewhere."
Guys, we lose sales for your "outside food". We're literally paying for you to buy your cake elsewhere and providing you with all the utencils and then also having to hire a staff to clean up your mess, and wash your plates after that. By the way, using a plate once for a stupid slice of cake and expecting us to clean it is a surefire way to make you look like an asshole. Sometimes this is a courtesy that we extend to customers who often overlook the kindness and see it as a requirement. Reminder, we are doing you a favor here, and you're not paying for it. We could jolly well charge you a "corkage" fee for your cake from outside instead of buying ours, but we had spoiled our own market.
3) "Extra seat - to put my precious bags cos they can't touch the floor." There are many, and I re-stress, many many customers who come into a restaurant and expecing to sit at a table for 4 when then there's only 2 of them. the reasons include 1) I want to put my bag on the chair 2) I want a bigger area to feel more comfortable 3) The restaurant is still empty what! You can afford to gimme that luxury! 4) I am a customer and I want to sit where I please!
Let me remind customers that, hey, when you are going to a restaurant, and especially those small family run types, they often don't have that many tables to provide you with such luxury. And a square or rectangular table can only provide combinations of table for 2 or 4, not 3. When you request to sit at a table for 4 when there's only 2 of you, you are effectively 1/2-ing the restaurant's capacity - as well as takings. If you call the restaurant petty for this, we call the customers unthoughful and selfish for this. And please don't make things worse by taking up a table for 4 and having 2 person sharing 1 dish. Final point, your freaking bag can be placed on the freaking floor.
Those who claim that "hey, I pay service charge, so water should be free". Sorry, if 10% of the service is to purely pay for the water or the drinks that you are buying, then I'd have to make the entire restaurant self service. Either that, I'll raise the service charge. For those who looks at the food and calculate how much margin we're making, please also put into perspective all the hidden costs that you can't see. If you think the 10% service charge that you pay can cover all of the above losses and expenses and opportunity costs, then you are seriously not being realistic. And truth be told, even if I provide you with free water and not charge you service charge, would you be kind enough to leave a 10-15% tip? Nope. Singaporeans are used to having things served on a silver platter to them and they think they deserve the best service in the world for every cent that they pay. But they also don't realize that, you shouldn't be expecting be served like a king, if you are not at a castle and if you are not paying like a king. We treat you like a customer and service you like a guest, not to be your slave. Expectations level have to be re-adjusted on both sides.
And if you realize, the above behaviors all point to being a rude and thoughtless person in general, not just a bad customer. And eventually, it is not just about being a a better or nicer customer, it is about being a nicer person. And any good restaurant love good customers - just as mine. ;) Actually just ask anyone who has run a restaurant, or worked as a waitress before, they will tell you that "angmohs" are better customers than Singaporean ones. And no, it is not because they spend more, but it because they are nicer people in general.