Beyond the pale When I was in London last month, I received a pleasant surprise. At every restaurant, as soon as we sat down, the wait staff would ask, "Sparkling or still?"

When I'm in Hong Kong, I almost always answer, "Tap is fine."

This time, I was on unfamiliar territory, so I'd usually reply, "Still, please."

At several restaurants, the wait staff would then bring over a carafe of the City of London's finest tap water, which had been filtered in-house. If we requested sparkling, it was the same water, carbonated.

What a great idea; I hope it catches on in Hong Kong.

We all know that restaurants sell bottled water because it's an easy way to make money. I don't mind that; if they don't turn a profit, they'll close (nobody starts a restaurant for altruistic reasons). But I have, on occasion, been refused tap water, and this insistence on bottled water is petty. Yes, I can afford to spend HK$60 (or more) on bottled water, but it's annoying to be forced to do so.

A bottle of water that retails for HK$3 (and restaurants pay less than retail prices) is normally marked up 20 times or more. I've been to places where as soon as you finish one bottle of water, the staff start pouring the next without asking if this is OK - and it's not, at least for me.

It's not just the price, though. Plastic and glass bottles can be recycled, but often are not, and they're added to our overflowing landfills.

Filtering and carbonating water is not expensive. Restaurants could make up for the loss in revenue from selling bottled water by slightly increasing the price of their food or other drinks. It's fine to have bottled water on hand for the customers who demand it, but the staff should explain that the filtered water is safe to drink - all Hong Kong tap water is said to be potable.

In the end, they'll make the same amount of money, but without putting a bad taste in customers' mouths before they've started the meal.