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Walloon government breaks promise of free tap water in restaurants

14:43 04/03/2023

The Walloon government has broken its 2019 promise to ensure the free service of water in hotels, restaurants and cafés after concerted pushback from the catering industry.

The pledge, which was part of the government’s general policy statement released in 2019, was met with fierce opposition by both the bottled water and hospitality industry.

Philip Buisseret, secretary-general of the Belgian Water and Soft Drinks Industry association, said that the drop in revenue would be devastating to the sector.

“Spring water production companies are not subsidised,” he said. “Horeca [the hotel, restaurant and café industry] accounts for around 30% of total revenues for bottled water.”

Although tap water is provided free in restaurants in many other countries, including France, voices within Belgium’s hospitality sector protested that the ongoing economic turmoil facing the industry made the prospect of providing free water hard to swallow.

“For the majority of restaurants, offering water free of charge is not an option,” said Horeca Wallonia Federation president Luc Marchal.

“Various campaigns are already encouraging customers to consume fewer alcoholic beverages. So if we also deprive ourselves of the small margins generated on the sale of water ... the service is the same.

"Not to mention that we are in an unprecedented economic crisis that is impacting the profitability of our establishments.”

Walloon economy minister Willy Borsus confirmed that he had not taken any measures to honour the government’s promise – nor would any be forthcoming.

“It's up to horeca professionals to act and make their choice in the matter,” he said.

“Establishments that want to offer free water can of course do so. We are not forcing anything. Free does not exist: someone always pays for it at some point.”

Written by Paul Millar