Why Restaurants in Jakarta Should Serve Free Water

By Jakarta100bars
Do you know that restaurants make their highest margins on bottled water?
Very few restaurants in Jakarta will offer free water to their clients. And even if you are willing to pay, more and more venues will only give you a tiny 330ml bottle instead of at least 500ml so you may need to buy a second one to quench your thirst.

I've promised myself to boycott any places using this trick as I believe it is an indication of poor customer service. Unfortunately, it is so common that I may have to blacklist all the restaurants in Jakarta if I want to abide by that rule.

Would you pay to use a restaurant's toilets or parking space?

I don't visit restaurants to buy water. I have water at home or I can buy it easily in any convenience store. I go to restaurants to eat food that I cannot cook myself. Incidentally, I need to drink because that's a natural and healthy part of any meal. It is not a choice but a necessity. 

It is the same reason I would not pay for using the toilets or for parking (and you probably wouldn't either). All are a peripheral activities that a restaurant should include as part of their services.

Is it too expensive to serve free water in Jakarta?

Tap water is normally free in most countries I've been to, provided you order a meal of course. In France or Italy for instance, you will get free water and free bread pretty much anywhere.

Restaurants owners in Jakarta would argue that it would be more costly here because there is no drinkable tap water. That's a poor excuse: A 19-liter gallon of Aqua costs 15,000rp, so it would amount to approximately 400rp per person drinking half a liter. To cover their cost, they could just add a reasonable surcharge of a few thousand rupiah.

What can justify a 1,500% markup?

The only reason you are not served free water is that those restaurants want to force you to pay for drinks. A small aqua bottle costs a little over Rp1,000 and can be sold up to 15,000rp. That's a 90% margin. I have to admit that it's hard to resist such easy money.

Yet, even if restaurants make some profit, this policy is short sighted. Customers are not stupid and they are aware of what they end up paying. They know that the dish advertised at 65,000rp++ may finally cost well over 100,000rp once the drinks and the 21% tax and service have been added. The result: Restaurants are losing business because of their greed.

Look how fast venues are opening and closing down in Jakarta. It sometimes takes less than 6 months for the full cycle to happen. In most cases, people visit a place after it opens just to try it, but they don't come back because they are not getting enough value for their rupiahs.

Based on my experience, if a restaurant wants to survive more than 5 years in Jakarta, it needs at least one of the following:
- A popular brand name or a powerful network of clients (Union, Ismaya)
- A long term lease or, even better, ownership of the building (Otel Lobby)
- A captive clientele due to its strategic location (hotel restaurants)
- Money from corruption or from illegal activities
- Exceptional customer satisfaction

If you own a restaurant and you don't belong to one of the first 4 categories, you need to start thinking immediately about how you can provide customers with the satisfaction they are looking for. How about not cheating them? Remember that this is not Bali but Jakarta where repeat visits based on trust are a crucial part of success.

Last but not least, here is another obvious reason for not serving bottled water:
Littered Double Six Beach in Bali (Seminyak)

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