DUBAI // Restaurants that refuse to sell local bottled water are to be listed on a website that offers diners a chance to fight back against exorbitantly priced imports.
The website, idrinklocal.com, has been set up by Jae Hwang and William Shintani, two brand consultants in Dubai.
The aim, they say, is to help consumers avoid paying more than they need to.
"The idea was borne from my wife, as she would attend social gatherings at cafes and restaurants," said Mr Shintani.
"She started noticing that there was barely any local water on the market. We decided to do something about it."
The site, launched last month, includes an interactive map that allows residents to see whether a particular restaurant sells local water.
Users can also add information about restaurants not listed.
Mr Hwang said a bottle of water "that has to come from Fiji, go to a distribution centre in the UK and get shipped back to the Middle East", will always cost more and have a much greater environmental impact than local water.
"Some places say it doesn't fit within their brand concept or that they are high-end dining, so local water doesn't work," he said.
"We wanted to know what we could do to address a concern that everybody conceptually understands as an issue, but something that we can make a difference in now."
In the UAE, many establishments refuse to stock cheaper local water, either because the margins are much lower or their supplier stops them from selling it.
"A lot of our customers ask about us providing locally bottled water but we serve only the imported Highland Spring," said a manager of a Dubai branch of The Noodle Factory, who wished to remain anonymous."We used to get Aqua Panna, which is also imported, but now I'm thinking of maybe splitting our stocks between local and imported water."
Bloomsbury's in Abu Dhabi's Al Wahda Mall charges Dh13 for a large bottle of Aqua Panna or Dh15 for a large bottle of San Pellegrino, while Starbucks sells a 300ml bottle of Highland Spring for Dh6.
"The imported water we serve is connected to a contract, so we cannot sell local water," said a waitress at Bloomsbury's.
Mirabel, in Abu Dhabi's Fotouh Al Khair Centre, sells large bottles of Evian for Dh21 and small for Dh14.
"We have a contract with the supplier," said Petgen Escobar, the head waiter at Mirabel. "It's a deal we have to stick to."
And so diners pay.
"These prices are insane when you can buy a bottle of local water for Dh2 to Dh3," said Marilyn Kerry, a resident in Abu Dhabi. "I personally don't even taste the difference so why should we pay for these set contracts?"
Even restaurants that do serve local water often give customers the more expensive imports unless they speak up.
"Everyone should be entitled to local water," said Omar Aker, a Palestinian resident of Dubai. "But many shops that sell local water usually serve you imported first.
"It's misleading to customers because they sometimes don't ask our preference."
The founders of the website have contacted the Ministry of Economy for government support. They also plan to expand the database to Abu Dhabi and other emirates if successful in Dubai.
"You need to do your little bit to help the world," said Mr Shintani. "We are all working here so we should really support the local companies and firms."