Yesterday, I was denied water. I could, of course, have bought a bottle. But silly me, I was under the illusion that paying 15 times the cost of a cup of lousy tea entitled me to a glass of water.

The slick coffee pub on Khader Nawaz Khan Road where this happened probably figured it was on to a good thing, by refusing customers ‘regular water,’ forcing them to buy mineral water at inflated rates. But the reason they gave? My waiter stood tall and proud, trilling, ‘we have none.” But how do you make coffee? “Oh, well… um… our water is only for making coffee.” So, like any self-respecting customer should do, I picked up my handbag and politely told them I’d go next door. At which point a glass of water magically materialised at my elbow. But not without the waiter muttering, “I’ve opened a bottle for you.”

Exorbitantly priced

In “Rude Food” by Vir Sanghvi, the writer says, “If a hotel can’t even purify its own water, then it should shut down its kitchen. Think about it: if the water is not safe, then can the food be safe?”

Yet, that bottle of grotesquely priced Evian is tantalisingly placed on the centre of the table at Five Star hotels, and if you’re in the middle of a particularly juicy gossip session, it’s only natural to reach over, miss the discreet ‘Not Complimentary’ tag and unthinkingly pour yourself a glass. When I was doing a recent interview at a posh city hotel, the waiter nonchalantly leaned over, unscrewed the bottle and poured it out. Of course, no one said anything because it was a business meeting, and the poor man footing the bill probably thought it would look cheap to protest.

While we’re on waiters, what’s with their obsession with Jumbo prawns? “Every time I go on a date, that’s what they recommend,’ groans a friend. ‘She orders it, and it’s about Rs. 900. And not even that great.” But we mustn’t be unfair. They also love lobster, salmon and lamb from New Zealand.

Away from the champagne route, things aren’t much better. I went to a popular sandwich joint with a friend and ordered a roast chicken sandwich. “Do you want bacon with that?” No. “How about turkey?” No. “Can I put in some pepperoni?” No. “Chicken Ham?” For heavens sake, do I look like the kind of person who sends Old MacDonald scuttling into a secret hideout with his entire animal farm every time he sees me approaching? Do I bite every passing goat? He looked subdued for a minute, and then brightened up, “Extra cheese?” No. “A cookie?” No. “A drink?” No.

Waiter’s recommendation

By the time we were done I was too tired to eat.

Back to the coffee shop, my friend ordered their ‘signature cold coffee: tall, light, refreshing.’ At which the waiter shuddered, “Oh, but it’s full of ice. Let me get you an ice-cream blended one instead.” If they’re so embarrassed about it, why is it on the menu anyway? She’s less difficult than me though, so she went with his recommendation, which had three scoops of ice cream, and was – of course – more expensive. His first question? “Do you want ice-cream with that?” Yes, I’m just dying to get big enough to have to be pushed through your doors with a lever. “Chocolate sauce? Caramel?”

It ended up tasting like someone had pulped a couple of Enrique Iglesias lyrics. Sweet enough to make your head ache.

At least the glass was brimming, though. At another place, I had to practically beg for the house coffee, (“have a cappuccino/ moccachino/ any-ccino instead with ice-cream/ whipped cream/ chocolate on top”), and when I finally got it, it was forty per cent coffee and sixty per cent foam. The waiter bashfully said there was nothing he could do about it. He was, however, nicer than the waiter at a wannabe French café who sneered at a friend because she sent an inedible dessert back to the kitchen. “That,” he snapped, “is what strawberry tastes like.”

It’s high time diners stand up for their rights. Choose a restaurant for the experience as well as the food. You’re paying for it, after all. You should have a good time. Not leave with a bad taste in your parched mouth.

The Reluctant Gourmet is no food connoisseur. But she’s learning, (and really working the treadmill). Food and wine snobs won’t find much fancy terminology here. (She can barely pronounce ‘Foie Gras’). But if you simply enjoy food and dining, and all the drama built around both, this weekly column could be your new best friend.

Keywords: paid water