Ask Aunt Chelsea, Feb. 20, 2013
Dear Aunt Chelsea,
Occasionally, I find myself up in Hell’s Kitchen walking back from a play or from a B&H shopping spree. Recently, I stopped at the Bread Factory at 43rd and Ninth Avenue and ordered a slice of their specialty pizza pie. Finding it a little dry, I asked for a cup of water. He pointed at the cooler and said that water was only available to buy.
I was confused. Aren’t eateries required to have free water for customers?
Dry mouthed in Hell’s Kitchen
Hmm…how best to respond to this problem borne of privilege? I’ve been catching royal H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks lately from readers (coddling helicopter parents mostly, I suspect) for dressing down certain letter-writers instead of breaking out my pom poms and giving them an unconditional cheer.
So take what you wish from my little tough love missive and let the rest of it wash off your back like the stench of failure from a fifth place track and field ribbon.
Ah, my dear specialty pizza-ordering pal…As old Aunt Chelsea sees it, anyone who can afford to see a play and go on a shopping spree is perfectly capable of supporting our local merchants by springing for their own water. Having established that little golden rule, I must say your general tone of righteous indignation falls on deaf ears.
That said, there is a bothersome social justice/common courtesy aspect to your inquiry that continues to stick in my craw like a poppyseed in my dentures. When you say “He pointed at the cooler,” is that a colloquialism for refrigerated storage shelf, or a water cooler? If a shelf, then of course one must pay — but if it’s a water cooler, I’m pitching a tent in your camp.
Now keep in mind that Aunt Chelsea is many things…but she’s not a lawyer, and has no desire to turn this column into a depository for questions best answered by dipping her toes into the complex lake of NYC rules and regulations. Therefore, I can’t really say if eateries are “required to have free water for customers” — but I do know that the inviting gurgle of a water cooler (or “bubbler” as we used to call them in my youth) has “free drink” written all over it. Not literally, of course, but you get my point. To make a long answer short (an impossible task at this point), a store with a water cooler and little paper cups should not treat it as a piggy bank — and a customer with plenty of coinage in his piggy bank has no business shaking down a store for free water. Just enjoy the pizza pie…and put a Poland Springs on your bill!