Regulars at one of Perth’s best-known cafes are up in arms about the charge imposed on water, with some threatening to withdraw their patronage, as Julie-anne Sprague discovered.

ONE of the most frequently asked questions posted on the Department of Racing, Gaming and Liquor site is whether licensed premises are required to provide water, free of charge, under the Liquor Licensing Act.

It’s an issue that has struck a sore point with some of Oriel Cafe Brasserie customers, who have recently completed a survey about Oriel’s policy of charging $1.50 for a 330ml bottle of Evian, introduced seven months ago.

The department’s website states: “As part of Responsible Server Practices licensees are required to ensure that there is food and non-alcoholic beverages available, but the Act does not prohibit the licensee from imposing a charge for the provision of water etc.”

While the legislation does not stipulate water must, or should, be free of charge, some of Oriel’s consumers certainly think it should be.

Oriel proprietor Loretta Evangelisti says that, while 90 per cent of the respondents surveyed oppose having to pay for water, the cafe will continue to charge for it.

“Seven months ago we started charging for water at a subsidised rate. We decided to do that based on evaluations we did on the cost to serve people water,” she says.

“We based the cost on the average time to deliver it and fixed costs and not including the glass and water.

“The cost of the water is not as expensive as the cost of taking the order, using the ice machine etc.”

Ms Evangelisti says it costs Oriel around $2.96 to service a glass of water to each consumer, and that in summer the cafe services about 20,000 to 30,000 glasses of water a week.

While Ms Evangelisti concedes that many businesses do not charge for water, she says the unique nature of her business requires her to put reasonable prices on water.

“We often get early morning athletes in here who come and read the paper and just get water, often two to three glasses, and then they leave,” Ms Evangelisti says.

“Our overheads and running costs are different to other establishments, and at night time we would have to hire more staff simply to service the water demand.”

She says she prefers to be up front about Oriel’s costs rather than absorbing them into the general menu.

“Instead of putting coffee and drinks up across the board we decided to subsidise water. We don’t want to penalise the people ordering other things,” Ms Evangelisti says.

The 70 respondents to the Oriel survey were from a wide range of industries, from housewives to accountants, and across many age brackets.

And even though some big spending customers have commented that they will not return to the cafe as long as they are charged for water, Ms Evangelisti says she will continue to charge a subsidised fee to keep a sufficient staffing structure.

“If we started serving water free of charge it would mean I would have to look at putting on less staff and cutting down hours in the kitchen,” she says.

Ms Evangelisti is also considering the fate of Oriel’s 24-hour operation after new increases to the award rate this week.

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