Please sign in to post.

Tap water in Italy

This question has probably been posted before but I was not able to find it.

We are currently traveling in Italy. I am finding that more often than not, waiters are asking if we want water and if I say yes to "acqua naturale," then we are brought a bottle of water and are charged accordingly. It is simply not possible to have the waiter bring one a glass of tap water in Italy? If it is possible, any suggestions for how to go about it?

(I am tempted to act like Jack Nicholson in the famous "5 Easy Pieces" diner scene where he tells the waitress how to bring him a side of wheat toast. Seriously -- I don't want to pull any international faux pas but I also don't want to pay for something that is oh so plentiful in the bathrooms of the hotels where we are so nicely accommodated.)

Many thanks for any enlightenment.

Posted by
7735 posts

Italians virtually never drink tap water, esp. at restaurants. You can ask for acqua al rubinetto (tap water) if you want, but be prepared for some serious stinkeye because it truly is considered a faux pas. It's also true that some tap water in parts of Italy tastes funny and you risk ruining your dinner, even though it's perfectly safe to drink.

We just treat it as part of the cost of eating out, much like we consider tipping here in the US. Since you don't need to tip in Italy anywhere near the amount expected in the US, this works for us.

Posted by
11977 posts

Waiters will not serve you tap water at the table like in North America.
You must order water (bottled water) and you can order either naturale (still/not sparkling) or gassata (carbonated/sparkling).

It's not that tap water in Italy isn't good (although Italians rarely drink it even at home), it's just that it's not the custom to drink it in restaurants.

Bottled water is not as expensive as it is in restaurants in the US, so go ahead and splurge. Consider it like a "corking fee" type of expense.

Posted by
7735 posts

Let me add, don't be surprised if the waiters refuse to serve you tap water. Service in Italy is not like service in the US. The customer in Italy is NOT always right. I've heard of one waiter who was asked by some Germans (at dinner) if they could have some butter. His response: "When you come back for breakfast."

Posted by
11613 posts

It depends on the area. I've been to some cities in Italy where a carafe of tap water will be recommended by the wait staff (most recently happened at several restaurants in Rieti).

Posted by
767 posts

Bottled water on the streets is cheaper but it can be a little more expensive in the restaurant. Buy a bottle of water on the street and then just fill that up using tap water and street fountains. Binge drink on that and when you get to the restaurant, skip the water, or just order a small bottle and sip.

Posted by
31029 posts

boop,

As the others have mentioned, obtaining tap water at restaurants is somewhat uncommon in Italy even if you ask. On a couple of occasions, I've tried an "experiment" by asking for tap water but the request is usually forgotten, requires multiple requests or doesn't arrive until I'm well into the meal. I've concluded that it's simply much easier just to accept the fact that I'll be buying at least a 500 mL bottle if I want water. It's not really that expensive so I'm not too concerned. You may enjoy reading THIS article, which provides one view of that issue. There's a separate link in the article titled "Italians usually drink bottled water".

This is much the same as the practice of paying the coperto, which is also common. I just accept it as part of travel in Italy and don't worry about it.

Enjoy your trip!

Posted by
4833 posts

I actually like the bottled water as a part of eating in Italy, and for the euro or two it usually costs, would not think of trying to ask for tap water, but that's me, I consider it to be part of the experience and like bread, it not only rounds out the meal, but helps lengthen it into a true meal. If I really do not want the water, I stick to wine.

It may be worth noting, in relation to the comment above about some restaurants offering "tap" water, that some restaurants are installing filtration systems, some with carbonation, serving purified water either in an open bottle or carafe. Not sure if all charge, I know we did get water this way in Rome, don;t recall if it was on the bill.

Posted by
7735 posts

Paul, now that you mention it, I also remember getting served some purified water in Rome. They served it in beautiful cobalt blue carafes with an explanatory card on the table.

Posted by
20686 posts

They don't use a lot of ice for drinks especially water. If you can get tap water it will be at best cool to warm. The bottle water will be chilled. IMO, for a euro or two it is not worth fessing about.

Posted by
40 posts

Thanks to everyone for their great (and sometimes amusing) responses!! Sorry I have not replied earlier but I used to get e-mail notifications when I got responses to posts but for some reason, I did not for this one. (Or maybe they wound up in my spam folder.)

I guess I won't even go into the whole bread thing ... ;-) (meaning how they always put a basket of sliced bread on the table and then charge you for it.)

Posted by
964 posts

The bread- well, I don't often eat bread and don't enjoy it with a meal, so when it is brought to the table, I always tell them (with a smile) that I don't want it, and it has never been a problem.

Posted by
1127 posts

Italy seems to like their liquids served closed. Fountain drinks are rare (except for fast food establishments), sodas are typically served in cans brought to the table closed. Bottled water is brought to the table closed. Even when I order juice or a beer the bottle is opened in front of me and poured into a glass. Wine by the glass is the only thing I can think of that is served open.

Posted by
11977 posts

Mio caro Quirite,
You in Rome have been gifted with wonderful great tasting tap water.
Not so in Florence. We weren't so lucky. Our water was never that great.
My father, to save money, would often go get water at nearby springs with big jugs and then bottle it.
More recently he just bought bottled water at the grocery stores.
Then, about 10-15 years ago the Florence Water Agency started treating water with a new method that involved ozone and osmosis. They then opened some public fountains on their premises that had that treated water and also carbonated water. Since my parents lived right across the street from the water sanitation plant, my dad would go every day with his jug and get that free water, as did many neighbors. It is the same water that is now delivered to people's taps, but somehow it was better from those fountains. I heard it was due to the pipes that spoiled the taste a bit.

Posted by
26 posts

buy water in a liter from a grocery store. Carry it with you right to the lunch or dinner table. Then order the wine at the table. It's cheaper than the water anyway.

Posted by
11613 posts

@Christine, do you bring beverages into retaurants in Philadelphia?

Posted by
390 posts

I just realized, I don't drink tap water in restaurants, but I do always enjoy the water at the free fountains all around town! Tastes great!

Posted by
7735 posts

Christine, that would take some serious "coglioni" to bring your own water into a restaurant. I can't imagine that it would endear you to the staff.

Posted by
40 posts

Thanks, Quirte, for the information about being charged for bread in Lazio. I may, out of curiosity, look through my receipts to see if I was charged for bread.

Posted by
23728 posts

generally they are both on the same line, "Pane e coperto".

Posted by
843 posts

The water was rather an inexpensive luxury that we enjoyed ordering at restaurants in Italy. We'd order one sparking and one still, and indulged. I trust others more in the know as to whether it is a faux pas, but since no one else seemed to be ordering tap water at restaurants, we figured it was not the way to go. Order it by the liter (I kinda figured this is their "house" water).

Posted by
7735 posts

There is the occasional restaurant that will use the bottled water charge to gouge their customers, but that's been pretty rare in my experience. The worst was a place in Verona where we stopped for lunch. They charged 2 euros for a tiny 1/2 liter bottle. The waiter apologized in advance when we asked for water and told us how much it would be in case we wanted to change our minds.

Posted by
11977 posts

Below is the menu of one of my favorite restaurants in Florence. It's not the cheapest restaurant but very reasonable. A 0.75 liter bottle of sparkling mineral water is only 2 euro. The house wine (also 0.750 liter) is only 9 euro. Since in the United States an equivalent restaurant will mark up the wine at least 400% and charge you no less than $30 for the cheapest wine, I don't think one should make a stink about the Italian practice of not bringing free tap water to the table. Those couple of euro for the water is a way for the restaurant to cover its costs, and so it's the 2 euro cover charge. If they eliminated those practices, restaurants would simply mark up their wine (or their food) more, exactly like they do in America.

I suggest everybody to print this menu and take it with you next time you go to an Italian restaurant (or any) restaurant in America, then compare it with the menu there. Since in the US prices are shown before tax and tip you can assume that prices in dollars are the same as the euro here because for tax and tip you need to multiply dollar prices times 1.25 at least.

You will find out that even with the mineral water and the cover charge, the restaurants in Italy are quite a bargain, especially if you are the type who orders wine.

http://www.trattoriaicchecece.com/menu.pdf

Posted by
23728 posts

That's a tasty looking menu... even if it has a menu turistico that doesn't much appeal.

In Firenze at the right time of year I often like a Ribollita. Do they do that better or is the pasta e fagioli better?

I do take your point about the overall price.

One thing I have noticed in the last couple of years is that the price of water is going up, and the quantity is going up. Where before, In Rome, Venice, Milan and others as well as Florence, if I ordered un litro I would get un litro, now more often than not it is 75 dl. And I wouldn't ever expect to pay €2 for 500 ml. hmmmm....

Posted by
12 posts

Roberto, I totally agree. I found the markup for wine, etc. to be reasonable in Italy compared to what I'm used to in the states, so I didn't see the point fretting about the water. I quite enjoy drinking sparkling water anyway.

Posted by
40 posts

Roberto -- you make a good point about the wine. Not always, but often enough, we have found the wine to be a great value on our trip so far. It's frequently better tasting than the wine I get at home and you get more of it for your money.

From an environmental point of view, tons of bottles, especially plastic ones, do not make any sense to me. I have seen some recycling facilities but not a lot.

As far as "fretting" about the expense is concerned: I am desirous of going with the cultural norm; that's why I posted this question in the first place.

Posted by
4 posts

Do NOT drink tap water. While traveling in Italy my husband was very careful to only drink bottled water. Then one day ran out, and drank tap water. He ended up so sick for 4 days after that. Imodium AD and Peptopismol wouldn't even touch it!

Posted by
11977 posts

Tap water in Italy is very safe.

The fact that most Italian restaurants won't normally serve it at the table, has nothing to do with safety. It has to do with the fact that they want to make some money from the sale of bottled water. Just like all restaurants in America will charge you a corking fee if you bring your own wine.

The husband of the previous poster probably got sick for reasons totally unrelated to the water he drank. I got sick in the US many times after eating out, that doesn't mean it was because water in the US is unsafe.

Let us stop inaccurate and terrorist postings on this board.

Thank you.

Posted by
516 posts

Drank tap water in Italy many times from all different cities. Never got sick. I would be more worried about the cancer toxins in plastic bottles of water that have been heated up past 90 degrees. Water in plastic bottles once heated up to 90 degrees releases the toxins from the plastic right into the water. In warm weather I would be very careful.

Some things in Italy you hardly ever see: butter served with bread, tap water, ice, and servers are very different than in the US. Once they bring the food they don't come back to the table until you ask for the bill.

Posted by
40 posts

LaRae, I actually found the lack of ice and being left alone to eat in peace to be very refreshing. Neither hubby nor I like ice in our acqua and they often overdo the ice the U.S. And who wants to be asked "How's everything tasting?" when you are right in the middle of masticating?