Sunday, March 4, 2012

Today's Special - Free Water

In a recent article about São Paulo's upcoming Restaurant Week (even in Portuguese, the term Restaurant Week is used in Brazil) one of the city's major newspapers, Folha de S. Paulo, highlighted a special offerings available to customers at three restaurants during the weeklong celebration - free water.

For readers of Flavors of Brazil  familiar only with North American restaurant culture, the idea that tap water might be anything other than free at a restaurant might come as a bit of a shock. Most North American restaurants will either automatically fill a table's water glass without charge, or even if they offer purchasing mineral water will accede to a customer's request for tap water free of charge. In European restaurants bottled water is the norm, although in most cases a carafe of fresh water will be provided upon request.

In Brazil, however, restaurant water is universally bottled and is charged for just as any other drink - beer, wine, juice or soft drink. Free tap water is not offered, partly because the vast majority of Brazilian restaurant patrons don't trust the safety of tap water and wouldn't drink it if offered.

In most Brazilian urban centers water that comes from the tap is technically safe to drink although it's often not particularly tasty. City health departments and water departments make regular tests and publish the result. (Outside of metropolitan areas, tap water is often NOT safe to drink). However, most Brazilian urbanites do not drink tap water at home. They either rely on filtration systems or on purchased bottled water for drinking at home - so naturally they wouldn't expect to be served tap water at a restaurant.

The cost of restaurant bottled water is usually about the same as soft drinks, and it's offered either still (sem gaz in Portuguese) or sparkling (com gaz). At more upmarket restaurants there is also the option of purchasing imported water, such as Perrier or San Pellegrino, but these are very expensive due to import duties and are normally only seen in expense-account restaurants.

The three São Paulo restaurants mentioned in the article, Marcelino Pan y Vino, Oryza and Zeffiro, will forego the customary charge for water from March 05 to 18 as part of the Restaurant Week promotional event. Perhaps savvy Paulistanos will flock to them to take advantage of the opportunity to fill up on free H2O. The restaurants obviously hope so.


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