Sam Espensen, co-founder of Bristol Spirit in Redfield, Bristol, sparked a fierce debate online after she urged customers on Facebook to stop ordering free tap water with their meals.
A post on Wednesday 22 May – which has since been deleted – explained that missing out on drink sales meant she could not make enough money from diners.
Espensen said that her bar, which sells naturally-infused spirits as well as wines and beers, "cannot make a profit" when customers eat food from pop-ups without buying drinks.
She also revealed that she doesn't understand why so many customers come in to dine, but insist on sticking to tap water.
She vented: “If you come to Bristol Spirit and you only drink free tap water, we will not make enough money from your table to break even, let alone turn a profit.
"It feels like you are telling us you don’t value our business enough to buy a drink, which is the reason we exist."
Espensen was criticised for asking customers to be more aware of independent businesses, where she says drink sales make up a "hefty proportion" of overall trade.
We are trying to encourage companies to give free tap water in an effort to be more sustainable and produce less waste. This post seems out of touch and damaging to bigger issues. Increase prices and look at your business model if you're losing money when someone has water.— Wind Jammer (@wind_jamming) May 24, 2019
You are required by law to provide free tap water. Discouraging people from doing so can lose you your license. You have opted to go for a niche business, it hasn't worked and you are only able to get customers by serving food. Rethink your business model. Good Luck!— Nikos Christo (@NikosChristo) May 24, 2019
Some jumped to her defence, however.
I’ve worked in pubs and clubs and know the damage people drinking tap water in bars can do. Totally agree with @Bristol_Spirit, if you’re in a bar, using their facilities and sitting at their tables, buy a drink!— Matt Gibbs (@MrMattGibbs) May 28, 2019
If you want your bottle refilled with water, no problem!
I have no qualms with ordering free tap water in a bar.... but only if I've also ordered and paid for something else.— James O'Flynn (@jamesoflynn) May 28, 2019
The idea people think they can just sit in a bar for free is frankly bonkers.
Good on you for raising this.
Since the backlash, Espensen has hit back at her critics and exclusively told The Morning Advertiser the reasoning behind her statement.
“My original Facebook where I had, in the words of Hugh Grant, 'a mini tanty' after a particularly bad week in terms of water only drinkers, has blown up to get worldwide coverage," she explained.
“We have over 50 soft drink options at Bristol Spirit, including many healthier mocktails and sugar free options.
“But we are still seeing a significant amount of just water drinkers, whether they are eating food or not."
She added that if people continue ordering tap water, it will affect the wider bar and pub trade – which she said is contending with enough already.
“The only thing I would like to add is that despite becoming the unwilling face of tap water, I think it has opened the conversation up," she concluded.
“Just like the no shows issue, the more of us who comment that we do suffer from too many free water drinkers, the more public awareness there will be.”