Tap water begins to gather elbow room in restaurant beverage orders

With a number of public campaigns against high-calorie drinks such as juice and soda, one might expect consumption of these beverages to have risen in recent years.

With a number of public campaigns against high-calorie drinks such as juice and soda, one might expect consumption of these beverages to have risen in recent years. However, at least among restaurants, consumers appear to be nudging out revenue-generating drinks in favor of tap water.

According to a report released this week by retail analytics firm the NPD Group, tap water orders currently represent 8 percent of the 50 billion beverage servings ordered at U.S. restaurants. Meanwhile, tap water servings have grown by 2.8 billion since 2006.

"Although the economy and high unemployment are factors in tap water's upswing and beverage servings declines, some beverages, like carbonated soft drinks were declining prior to the recession," said Bonnie Riggs, NPD restaurant industry analyst.

Much of the declines in beverage servings are tied to consumers' perceived relationship between price and value, Riggs added. For example, free refills were among a number of reasons survey respondents gave for ordering tap water instead of other drinks.

Consumers may also be more concerned about their health. A recent Zagat survey found a large majority of American food lovers like the idea of mandating that restaurants post their health department letter grades.