The Reason Water Usually Isn't Free At Restaurants In Europe

When traveling to a foreign country, there are a handful of obvious differences you can expect to encounter. You're probably prepared to navigate a foreign language, try new foods, and pay for your souvenirs in a different currency. But if your travels bring you to Europe, the water situation may throw you for a loop. At most restaurants, you have to pay for it.


While Americans are used to automatically being brought a complimentary glass of water before ordering their meal, in Europe, you have to ask for it. Refills aren't free either, which means every sip is costing you. The reason for this cultural difference is that Europeans have high standards when it comes to water, and bottled water is seen as the only way to go. According to European logic, the taste of tap water will ruin the taste of an otherwise delicious meal. And since bottled water costs restaurants more money than tap water, customers have to pay for it.

There's a way to get free water at European restaurants

Getting water for free at a European restaurant is actually possible. All you have to do is just ask for tap water instead of bottled water. But be wary, this isn't proper restaurant etiquette, nor is it always the safest idea. Restaurant tap water supplies in the United States are always evaluated by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration (per EPOS News) to ensure patrons can safely consume them, however, in many European countries, there's no such regulation, according to CNN Traveler. It isn't just that Europeans don't like the taste of tap water, restaurants in many countries also don't even have the luxury to serve it.


If you're planning to ask for tap water at a restaurant, make sure you're in a country that regulates it. A reliable indicator is the presence of public water fountains, like in Germany, Italy, and Belgium.

European water drinking habits

In addition to charging diners for water, European restaurants also serve it in much tinier glasses. Americans vacationing in Europe often find themselves in a constant state of thirst. A big reason for this is the difference in drinking habits. While the Mayo Clinic recommends that Americans are taught to drink between 2.7 to 3.7 liters of water a day, in Europe, that amount is slightly lower, only 1.5 to 2 liters, according to the European Commission. In America, this nationally recommended average has led to a culture of carrying around a water bottle and putting accessible drinking fountains in every public place.


The lower recommended water intake in Europe means it's easy to achieve hydration without public drinking fountains or refillable water bottles. Many Europeans also rely on alcohol, juice, and even vegetables like cucumber and tomatoes as a source of hydration. So when dining in a restaurant, water is the last thing on their minds, and if they have to pay for it, well, it's not like they'd be asking for refills.