Is it legal for Swiss restaurants to charge for tap water?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
Is it legal for Swiss restaurants to charge for tap water?
Tap-to-table: 40 francs. Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay

It is a common practice among restaurants in Switzerland to charge a fee for a carafe of water brought to a table. But sometimes its price is hard to swallow.


Zurich is Switzerland’s most expensive city, so it is perhaps reasonable that eating (and drinking) in a restaurant comes at a price.

But a group of friends dining recently at Osteria Sazio in the city centre were shocked to discover just how much their meal had cost.

As 20 Minutes daily newspaper reported on Wednesday, the group was, at least initially, pleasantly surprised at how (relatively)  inexpensive their food was — 14.50 francs for a pasta dish is a good price for downtown Zurich.

But that positive impression turned to anger when the bill was presented and it turned out that a 2-litre carafe of tap water they didn’t order but which was brought to their table at the beginning, cost 40 francs — that is, more than the meal itself.  

Thinking the restaurant had made a mistake, the group called the waitress back. She confirmed, however, that the price was correct; 40 francs for two litres of water.

“We were all shocked," one of the customers told the newspaper.

Rather than offer apologies — and a discount — for overpriced water, the restaurant’s manager didn’t budge.

Instead, he said that though the water did, indeed, come from the kitchen tap, it was filtered and chilled which, apparently, justified its price.

He also said that that if customers order wine with their meal, the water is free.

Additionally, the inflated water price compensates for inexpensive food, as well as for high rent and above-average salaries of his staff, the cost of both apparently being passed on to unsuspecting customers via the water.


Is this common?
Many restaurants in Switzerland charge for water, though commonly not more than 10 francs per litre, and often less than that.

The reason, according to Swissrest, an umbrella group for several hundred restaurants in the German-speaking area of Switzerland, is that water is “part of the hospitality service.”

"You get the water in a glass that has to be washed and replaced when broken, and you are dining in pleasant surroundings,” the group explains on its website.

Also, “the restaurant owner has to pay rent, plus heating and electricity costs."

Nevertheless, "many restaurants still serve tap water, in particular in conjunction with coffee or other orders, free as a gesture of goodwill for their guests."


Yes, but is this practice legal?
In 25 cantons it is.

Ticino is the only canton that has a law mandating restaurants to serve their guests a free glass of water with their main meals. 

You may argue that 40 francs is too much for a carafe of plain tap water, and you’d be right.

However, restaurants have a right to set their own prices on food and beverages they serve. So a 40-franc price tag may be unreasonable, but it is not illegal.

Still, Sara Stalder, director of the Consumer Protection Foundation, told 20 Minutes that Osteria Sazio must inform customers of this cost and let them decide if they want the carafe brought to their table or not.

“The price of water must also be mentioned on the menu," she noted, adding that 40 francs is nevertheless “excessive.”

“In the case of a restaurant like this Osteria, one cannot expect such absurd prices.”

Next time, thirsty customers would be better off just drinking — for free — from one of Zurich’s fresh-water fountains.

READ ALSO: Why the drinking water in Switzerland is the best in the world


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Shawn 2023/10/25 22:43
That’s robbery, unethical and dishonest.
Dave Lowin 2023/10/25 18:51
To me, the question is whether their prices for wine are reasonable, as I would expect that wine sales are a major part of the Osteria's business. I don't know whether this is mentioned anywhere on the menu or wine list. If not, it should be mentioned.

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