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Would you pay $5 for house-filtered tap water? This restaurant hopes so

(Update: the information Canyon Creek gave us at time of writing wasn't correct. In an e-mail this afternoon, a spokesperson for the chain said they're charging $5 per bottle, with no unlimited refills. Which, seriously, is fairly outrageous.)

It's getting harder and harder to order a bottle of imported water in Canadian restaurants. Canyon Creek, the eight-location casual chophouse chain based in Southern Ontario, announced yesterday that it's taken pre-bottled water off its menus and will now offer house-filtered bottles instead. But in a catch that will no doubt rile at least a few of its guests, the company will now charge $5 per bottle for the filtered stuff. Is this gouging or a reasonable fee?

The company is far from the first to bill for house-filtered H2O.

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Restaurants across the country have different water policies, from offering house-filtered water for free, to charging $1 per table and up. Rouge, in Calgary, reportedly charges $6 per litre, which is more than many places bill for a bottle of the "premium" stuff with the multi-million dollar ad campaigns.

Other restaurateurs point out that even when there's no explicit charge for filtered water, guests pay for it one way or another; some places have merely added $0.25 to each menu item to cover the cost.

The economics of house-filtered water work out well for restaurateurs, of course. If it costs an average of $270 per month to rent a state-of-the-art filtration system in Canada, that money's easily recouped with even a nominal charge. Charging $6 per litre can suddenly seem a lot like gouging - something that plenty of diners around the globe have claimed.

But it's not quite that simple. It costs money- in the form of lost revenue - to take bottled water, with its generally extravagant mark-ups, off a restaurant menu. So restaurant owners need to make that back somehow, they say.

At Mildred's Temple Kitchen, in Toronto, they're not entirely subtle about it. A note on the restaurant's menu under the heading "Manifest-eau" reads:

"Potable Water is not ours to squander. The water served at Temple is local eau that has been traditionally filtered by Reverse Osmosis – to be clean, tasty and thirst quenching. Ordering shows your dedication to our planet and helps support the sustainable future of our lakes and water. Available in Still or Sparkling … 2.50 per person"

Is house-filtered water really better for the planet? There's little doubt it has a much lower environmental impact than shipping bottles from Europe, say, and then having to dispose of the empties as well. But as the City of Toronto has argued for several years, the best way to "show your dedication to our planet and help support the sustainable future of our lakes and water," is to drink the stuff that comes from the tap.

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Should restaurants charge guests for water they filter in house?

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Chris More

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