You walk into one of Doha’s many restaurants with table service and what is generally one of the first questions you are asked?
Would you like water? Still or sparkling?
Without thinking, we order our preference (sparkling for me but I’m extra like that). but how many of us actually look at what that bottle, ordered without a second thought, adds to the bill?
Recently I shared a meal in a restaurant in a five star hotel in Doha. When the bill came I did a double, then a triple take.
Each of our dishes had come in around QR70 to QR75 each. Fair enough. The food was good. But a bottle of sparkling water – QR40. That’s US$11. For water. Sure it was imported San Pellegrino. But QR40 (and I won’t even mention the QR40 coffees – that’s another post).
Since then, I have been the water monitor. Another restaurant, not in a five star hotel but still with fine dining pretensions, the pricing was better but still high – QR20 for San Pellegrino. Another one with similar pedigree, QR30 for the same bottle.
I will pre-empt your protests – I should be less extravagant and order still water. But in many cases, options are just as expensive. And RARELY diners are offered local still water options, rather, the more expensive bottled ones.
Or – they are the same priced. Recently at a newly opened Japanese place (not in a hotel), the options were QR29 for a bottle of sparkling water…or QR29 for a bottle of still water.
And how many times have you been to a restaurant here and bottled water is already on the table – added to the bill later.
Sure, proximity to five stars and of course, high mall rents do up the ante. In more independent outlet you can pay between QR2 and QR7 for a small bottle of still water and QR10 to QR15 for the sparkling version.
Let’s not forget bars – I have had a situation, admittedly at a happy hour, where a bottle of water (or a diet beverage) cost just as much if not more than a glass of wine.
Let’s have a little perspective too. Business lunches (some of the best value dining options here) in this town usually run QR70 to QR90 for two and three courses. A popular eatery on The Pearl has a special offer at the moment for a soup, pizza and coffee or desert for Qr49. Just QR9 more than that bottle of sparkling water.
I applaud restaurants like the Santa Monica Breakfast Club and Evergreen Organics who offer free filtered water for patrons. As does Maison De Sushi – you are given a tall glass of water when seated and it’s regularly topped up (and it’s included). In many cafes around the world this is standard – order your food then help yourself. But the reality of life in Qatar, where we are dependent on bottled water, means this isn’t always possible in many smaller establishments.
According to Qatar’s Ministry of Development Planning and Statistics, residents consume 675 litres of water per capita per day, about twice the average consumption in the European Union. The most recent stats are from 2015.
Meanwhile, the Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute (QEERI), the average per capita consumption of water in Qatar is 600 liters (although these stats are a few years old – it’s probably even higher). Bottled water in Qatar meets 60 percent of the market demand – the point being that’s a very lucrative market.
I’m not immune to the realities of running a restaurant in this fickle town – rent, salaries etc so I get the need to put mark ups on some items. And yes, hotels are also expensive.
But some of these prices seem to me to be arbitrary and frankly, borderline extortionate.
So – what do you think dear reader? what’s the most you have paid for a bottle of water here?
I am keen to hear from both diners/consumers as well as those in the hospitality industry – I’m looking at all sides of the story.