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Water Today Title December 11, 2017

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Related Stories
Sabrina Doyle looks into the Health Protection and Promotion Act 2009
No Free Glass of Water at this Pizza Chain in Toronto 2011
Free Glass of water Ottawa 2014

Can I have a glass of Water, please?
by J Dechene - 11/1/2008

It's a beautiful Fall Saturday here in Ottawa, Canada. I am heading out to the Byward Market in downtown Ottawa. It's 1 pm. As on most Saturdays, the market is busy. My quest is simple. Find out if any of the restaurants, stands and fast food joints in the area will refuse to give me a glass of water.

On my way, I hit the fast food outlets on Rideau and Dalhousie; Gabriel's Pizza, Pita Pit, Subway, Bubble Tea, McDonald's...to my surprise not one of them refuses, although at Pita Pit, I am welcome to the tap but they have no cups; same thing next door at Gabriel's Pizza, but, there, I am even offered a free bottle of water.

So far so good. I try sit-down restaurants. Shafali's Indian restaurant on Dalhousie is small and bustling...I march in and state my purpose. Yes for sure, I can have a glass of water. Same thing at Dunn's Deli and Lone Star. Ok, let's see if my luck holds up in higher-end restaurants. Palais Imperial, Mangia, no problem; Stella's on Clarence...the pretty young bartender shoots me a disdainful look, but agrees to fill my humble order.

Further down the street at Mexicali Rosa's I divulge my ploy to the guy behind the bar. "Nobody would refuse to give a glass of water", he says.

OK then, off to the heart of the market, where the farmers are selling what is left of their summer crops...and maple syrup. On my way, I stop at Zak's Diner, it's crowded, I make my way to the counter... the glass of iced water I am given is as big as the portions patrons are wolfing down.

Inside the main market building, I head for Oh-Ya Cafe,a busy little mediteranean grill; the glass is washed and handed to me with ice. I finally hit Beaver Tails and Lois-and-Frima's food stands at the corner of William; yes and yes. "Hey, this is Ottawa, we're friendly folks" says the kid at Lois when informed of my quest.

Well there you go. A perfect score. 15 out of 15 minus the no cup guy. Worse cup of water? Subway; really tepid. Tallest and coldest glass? Palais Royal.

I decide to head down east on Rideau, wondering if it's my mild-mannered air of respectability that is a factor here. Would glasses of water be offered so willingly to the homeless ? I find Tom where he usually is, between the Liquor Store and Loeb's supermarket.

"If you went into a restaurant and asked for a glass of water, would they give you one?"I ask him.
"It's against the law not to, he says."They can't refuse you a glass of water or the use of their washrooms. I would not say this if I didn't know"

I don't know ...after searching the Web, all I know is that it is against the law in Arizona to refuse a glass of water. So maybe, folks are just nice up here in boring old Ottawa. Nice to know.

A Glass of water on the house
By Sabrina Doyle- 5/6/09
The sun beat down as I biked downtown looking for the chilly air conditioning of the nearest fast food concession, seeking the refreshing relief of water.

I wasn't just thirsty; Water Today had sent me out to get the scoop on whether or not fast food outlets would agree to give me a cup of water without buying anything from the menu. In light of the growing criticism of bottled water, and with water becoming something of a human right, we were curious about how these views would play out in real life. It was expected that I would return disappointed and dehydrated.

In fact, I found that most restaurants consider it a courtesy to give a person a free cup of water, but there are no provincial regulations that require them to serve non-paying customers.

Unless there is a municipal by-law that governs the issue - which Ottawa does not have - it is generally at the restaurant's discretion, said Stephanie Jones, Ontario office of the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association.

"Customer service and cost would be the main factors in any decision making process," she said.

Ronda Abdou, a manager for the McDonald's at Billings Bridge, said that it is policy at all of the McDonald's restaurants to serve anyone a cup of water. If it was really busy, paying customers would take precedence, she said, but the person would still receive a small McFlurry cup filled to the brim.

Of the 18 fast food restaurants that I surveyed, spanning Tim Hortons, McDonald's, Subway, Wendy's, Harvey's, Booster Juice, New York Fries, A&W, KFC, Burger King, Pizza Hut, and Pizza Pizza, the latter was the only one to decline me a cup of water.

Pizza Pizza traditionally does not carry cups or glasses in any of their restaurants, said Yvonne, a Pizza Pizza customer service representative. She said that glasses could break and get into the food, and that cups are bad for the environment. However, the restaurants do have bottled water available for purchase, along with other beverages.

"I've never heard of an employee not offering a customer a bottle of water if they had something stuck in their throat," she said.

The Health Protection and Promotion Act, which governs food premises regulations in Ontario, states that every restaurant should have "a supply of potable water adequate for the operation of the premises," but does not outline that this water be available for free public distribution and consumption.

"You have to look at it from their perspective," said Don Longchamps, a professor of hotel law at Algonquin College. If a person is not paying and is just hanging around the restaurant, then they can become a liability and a risk to the establishment.

Most employees were stumped by the question of whether or not it was ingrained in restaurant policy to give out free cups of water to random passersby. Regardless of whether or not they were supposed to, many hesitated for a second before finding a cup and filling it.

Policies are made when the situation demands it, so if a lot of people started asking for just water, then making policies about the issue would probably become more of a concern, said Jones.

The restaurant doesn't get many people who just ask for water, one Harvey's cashier observed. "I don't see why it would be a problem," she said with a shrug, "It's only water."

So for now, with copious amounts of H2O sloshing about in my belly, I can happily conclude that a free glass of water will likely be available on your next summer outing.

Sabrina Doyle twitter.com/sabrina_jade

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