Adding another revenue source to balance out the slow economy, Florida restaurants are presenting bottled water as a more sophisticated beverage option.
From vitamin-enriched and sparkling, bottled water is viewed as the fastest-growing beverage, and industry-wide sales have increased 125 percent in the past decade, reports Palm Beach Post staff writer Alice Gregory.
With a decline in alcohol sales, restaurants are pushing water to boost their bottom line. And they are hiring hospitality experts like Ian Maksik of Lauderhill to teach servers how to sell and pour water.
A self-dubbed "professor of service" and hospitality consultant, Maksik says he has catered more than 17,000 weddings and trained hospitality staff in Salt Lake City for the recent Winter Olympics.
He has also opened 13 catering establishments and restaurants, and plans to open a hospitality school in October in Dania, Fla. Maksik says restaurants can bump up their sales simply by making a "fuss" over serving bottled water.
During their recent lunch at the Ritz Carlton's Restaurant in Manalapan, Florida, a waitress came to the table shared by Maksik and Gregory, and she immediately poured "Ritz water" (iced tap water) into their green goblets, without giving them a choice of Evian or Pellegrino, which were also available there.
The diners informed her of their preference for the $6 liter of Evian, which the waitress brought out in a frosty bottle, which she proceeded to pour unceremoniously, splashing a bit as she went, according to Gregory.
Believing presentation is the other half of selling water, Maksik instead teaches the twist-up-wipe method for pouring water, which eliminates the spillage factor. The waiter takes a folded napkin and holds it under the neck of the bottle. He pours, twists the bottle counter-clockwise as he finishes and uses the napkin to wipe up the lip of the bottle just as is done when pouring from a bottle of fine wine. The bottle is then placed in a wine bucket, and waiters refill diners' glasses at many upscale restaurants.
Some restaurants put on an even bigger show. The Ritz Carlton near Battery Park in New York has a water "sommelier," who displays six brands on silver coasters and describes each to diners, Gregory reported.
"People are demanding more healthful beverages," said Stephen Kay, vice president of communication for the Alexandria, Virginia-based International Bottled Water Association, which represents over 300 brands and 80 percent of the bottled water producers and distributors.
"They are more focused on fitness and nutrition, and bottled water fits that very neatly. They want calorie-free, alcohol-free, sugar-free beverages," he said.
In the year 2000, bottled water companies sold $5.7 billion worth of water. By 2004, the association predicts, bottled water will capture the second-most sales among all soft drinks.
Apparently, Florida consumers are some of the thirstiest, buying the third-largest amount of bottled water in 2000 behind California and Texas.