"After 15 years of living in Belgium, I almost got used to the situation in Belgian cafés and restaurants where you are obliged to buy bottled water," organiser Sarah Ehrlich told The Brussels Times. "At first I was astonished when I was refused, then maybe irritated, and then acceptance set in," she added.
During a recent visit to Bruges with a friend from England, Ehrlich was once again confronted with the lack of water. “My friend asked for a glass of tap water, and when it was refused, I recognised that look of bafflement and astonishment.”
To gauge if others felt the same way, Ehrlich has set up a Facebook page and is encouraging others to share places that provide free tap water. Less than two weeks after the creation of the group, nearly 2000 followers have become involved, and the number keeps growing.
In some countries, it is very common to be offered tap water in the restaurant, said Christian Legros, Director of Belgaqua. This habit is not very popular yet in Belgium, he added.
The industry argues that water cannot be served for free because bringing it to the table means an additional workload, but this explanation does not sound convincing, added Legros.
According to industry, however, the choice is a matter of livelihood.
There is no free tap water or table water, in Belgium, argued Paul van Havere, President of the Belgian Restaurants Association. It is a principle that has always been anchored in the sector, he added.
Under current law, the state does not require restaurateurs to offer tap water.
If they did, it would represent a significant loss of income, said van Havere. “What we are asking for as restaurateurs is a reduction in VAT on non-alcoholic beverages from 21 to 12%,” he added.
Regardless of the reason for the lack of tap water, things have to change, said Ehrlich who is currently speaking with Belgian chain cafes to get them on board with the movement.
"My motive is not to judge people who want to continue drinking bottled water, and I'm not asking restaurants to stop selling bottled water," said Ehrlich. I don't just want the option of still or sparkling water. I want still, sparkling or tap, she added.
The next plan for the group is to produce eco-friendly stickers which will be handed out to places which provide free tap water. They will be distributed for free, and will hopefully be ready within the month, said Ehrlich.
Additionally, the group has created a map of establishments which already provide tap water to clients.
The Brussels Times