Restaurants generally pay $300 to $500 a month for rental fees and service, the trade-off for saving on water-bottle storage and costs of bottle disposal.
"I think it will take over in all restaurants eventually," said Stephen Starr, who offers filtered sparkling and still tap water at the Dandelion, his new Rittenhouse Square pub.
The multibillion market for water filtration is brimming with competitors - Natura, Everpure, Aquasana, Sidea - each touting methods of removing chlorine, certain minerals, and other impurities. (The idea of filtering water used for ice has been around for decades and is regulated by code in some municipalities.)
Robert Amar, who is setting up Fare, an eco-friendly restaurant due to open next month in Fairmount, settled on an Aquasana system to filter every drop of water entering the restaurant. "A lot of it is snake oil," he said of the claims made by some filter companies that their short-term ultraviolet filters zap contaminants.
Some restaurateurs, such as Marshall Green of Cafe Estelle near Northern Liberties, use a fairly simple, carbon-based Brita system attached to a tap both for drinking water and for water carbonated for Italian sodas.
The Vetri restaurants offer water at a flat price ($5 for the first bottle at Osteria and Amis, $7 at Vetri). "We started it years ago at Vetri because we didn't have the room to store all the bottles," said Marc Vetri. "Now, it's turned into the environmentally friendly way to serve water."
For patrons who insist upon a bottle of Italian water, "we keep a few bottles on hand," Vetri said.
Steve Cook also carbon-filters drinking water at his downtown restaurants Zahav, Xochitl, and Percy Street, and thinks little about it. "It's something we've always done," he said.
The Filtrete system at the new Farmers' Cabinet at 1113 Walnut St. is part of the show, as the water (still and sparkling) is dispensed from old-fashioned spigots behind one of the bars.
Jason Brooke said an Everpure carbon-filtering system was installed at Zavino, a bar and pizzeria at 13th and Sansom Streets that he manages, because "we have a major focus on quality ingredients, including water."
Then there's the Water Works restaurant on Kelly Drive next to the Art Museum. For five years, it has served filtered "Schuylkill punch" at no charge while selling a water list of 52 bottles. The economy may be soft, but a $22 bottle of Tasmanian Rain is a hot seller, said owner Michael Karloutsos. "I don't think people go to Water Works for the water list, but it is added value to the guest," he said.
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