Photo: itonggg (iStock)

She’s calling it Watergate. Sam Espensen, owner of Bristol Spirit tasting room in Redfield, Bristol, in the U.K., likely didn’t realize the sensation she’d cause when last week she tweeted a complaint about customers who only order free tap water at her bar. Her since-deleted tweet sparked a fierce debate about non-drinkers, hospitality, and a bar’s bottom line. She’s says she’s even received death threats over her stance.

As with so many conflagrations these days, it all began with a tweet, a screenshot of which the Daily Mail and Metro UK posted. “We have 26 covers in a sitting,” Espensen wrote, “and in the last week we’ve had at least 14 people just drink water.” She notes that because her tasting room hosts food pop-ups, most of the money from food sales goes to those vendors, not to her tasting room. “We are a bar not a restaurant. If you don’t want to drink alcohol, we have an excellent range of low sugar mocktails and non alcoholic alternatives.”

Sky News followed up with Espensen, who stands by her message despite some backlash. She says that while there’s nothing wrong with abstaining from alcohol and drinking water, patrons must realize that the bar still pays its servers, pays rent, and maintains the facility in which those non-paying customers are drinking.

“If 10% of those people are only drinking tap water and you extrapolate that over a year, it’s actually quite a significant impact on a business like ours,” she told Sky News. She says she’d prefer customers at least order a soft drink, if not a pricier mocktail.

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As The Takeout’s own Salty Waitress has stated, ordering only water is fine… at a restaurant. You’re there to eat the food, and a few customers abstaining from alcohol likely won’t bring the whole place down. But a bar or brewery taproom or spirits tasting room has a business model built on your consumption of alcohol. If they’re not drinking alcohol while they’re there, guests should consider ordering a soft drink or mocktail, or ceding their seat to a paying customer.