It's not something I do anymore, but on my student times, when the money was more limited, and I needed to eat something when travelling, I used to save costs by drinking my own water before entering the restaurant and order meal only.

I'm perfectly aware that restaurants generally make money on drinks, not meals, and they expect you to order drink to the meal, but I was going to go cheap.

My question is, how "cheap" such behavior is and is it something that I should generally 'hide from my CV'? Or it's just a 'student thing'? Was it something against something customs (just like not tipping in the USA) or just a normal young person pattern?

This is particular about the continental Europe.

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    Did any of the restaurants have signs telling you to order drinks? I have never seen any of those and often do not want to drink with my dinner.
    – Willeke
    Jun 5, 2021 at 14:20
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    You can ask for tap water (where safe to drink) to accompany your meal. There should be no charge, and they would usually bring you a glass of water, or a carafe and an empty glass. Of course, if money is that tight, don't eat in a restaurant but buy ready-to-eat food from a supermarket. Jun 5, 2021 at 14:27
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    Why would you want to consider this to be worthy of being meantioned in your CV (Curriculum vitae) in the first place? That restaurants 'subsidize' there meals with higher prices for drinks is just as well known as that students live on a tight budget. It really nobody elses business. Jun 5, 2021 at 14:37
  • 1
    The biography only reveals the "nice" you? If you are socialising, tell people and see how they react. Good convo piece! Jun 5, 2021 at 16:24
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    Only drink (cheap) water and still use a table when the restaurant is overcrowded, is cheap. Jun 5, 2021 at 22:51

3 Answers 3


I'm perfectly aware that restaurants generally make money on drinks,

Restaurants make plenty of money on meals. Not ordering drinks or just staying with tap water (depending on country) is perfectly fine.

Many people don't drink alcohol and non-alcoholic drinks are often inexpensive and not something many restaurants care too much about, especially if they offer free refills.

  • 1
    I do not like the sweet taste of soft drinks spoiling the taste of my food and in the kind of places I eat those drinks often cost as much as the house wine or at least as beer when looking at the volume. Water is often the better and cheaper choice but not all the time.
    – Willeke
    Jun 5, 2021 at 19:44
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    That depends a lot on the country and local culture.
    – Hilmar
    Jun 5, 2021 at 20:06
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    @Willeke if one prefers to drink water and wishes not to appear cheap, one can usually order bottled water.
    – phoog
    Jun 5, 2021 at 21:41
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    @lambshaanxy: too bad. The local draft beer is really quite good ! :-)
    – Hilmar
    Jun 6, 2021 at 14:38
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    @Hilmar Don't worry, I didn't make that mistake again! Jun 7, 2021 at 5:50

when the money was more limited, and I needed to eat something when travelling, I used to save costs by drinking my own water before entering the restaurant and order meal only.

No need to do that in France: restaurants must serve water for free to their customers, as required by law (mirror 1, mirror 2). Not paying for water isn't seen as cheap, but typical.

  • The page doesn't exactly state that, it says that restaurants cannot charge for tap water, not that they must serve some.
    – Relaxed
    Jun 6, 2021 at 7:58
  • @Relaxed Thanks, good catch, let's check. (NB for people unfamiliar, which doesn't include relaxed: in practice, restaurants do serve water for free to their customers, I can't remember any exception in my >2 decades living in France) Jun 6, 2021 at 13:04
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    It's indeed so unusual that it can even make the news but it is not illegal. I have seen it in Michelin starred restaurants.
    – Relaxed
    Jun 6, 2021 at 22:15
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    You still need be carreful and explicity ask for 'tap water' (une carafe d'eau). If you just ask for 'water', you will almost always get bottled water.
    – dna
    Jun 7, 2021 at 14:14
  • @Relaxed just make sure I understood it correctly: do you think it is legal for a restaurant to refuse serving tap water free of charge if the customer asked for it? (assuming that the customer ordered a meal) Jun 7, 2021 at 16:56

It is perfectly fine. You do not even have to order an entire meal. Most restaurants will let people order just an appetizer, or desert, etc. Only once in traveling to 63 countries did I encounter a minimum order and that was in a very popular New York restaurant. We did not have to order drinks even just that the per-person order was above a minimum.

You are correct that drinks are a high source of income for restaurants since the cost-to-price ratio is higher on drinks than most other items and most drinks do not require much preparation, so cost little in labor but there are plenty of items that vary greatly in how much profit a restaurant makes on the item. Don't worry about not maximizing profit of the restaurant!

In several countries of the world you can order water at no cost, particularly where tap-water is safe. If it is not, then you will be charged for water. Then you need to watch price because I have seen places where the charge for beer was less than for water!

There are other local customs when you get served a drink without cost. For example, Chinese restaurants often bring tea as soon as you sit down before you order anything. They constantly make more tea and the cost-per-teapot is low, so this is complementary and you will not be charged for it later when the bill comes.

Be careful with other items appearing on your table before ordering though as in some unscrupulous tourist traps, this is a common tactic to inflate you bill. Always ask as soon as something appears so that you can refuse it and avoid a charge later.

In some places, the opposite is true. I never needed to buy water - even bottled - in Taiwan because almost every place gave out at least one water without charge. This happened on buses, gaz stations, hotels and even museums! Many times even cookies came along! They always specified is was a gift, probably due to my puzzled look!

  • Actually you do pay for the tea (usually 5 Chinese yuan or so per person), but you get charged even if you refuse the tea service, so it's more like a service charge.
    – xuq01
    Jun 9, 2021 at 10:23

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