Coca-Cola has been working on a new sales technique for restaurants, called H2No“: a method to reduce what is known as “tap water incidence”.

Each time a glass of water is requested, waiters must emphasise the wide range of beverage selections available, including soft drinks, non-carbonated beverages and alcohol. Especially, no doubt, those produced by Coca-Cola.

Date: Tue, 04 Sep 2001 13:46:20 +0000
From: “Martin Adamson” (spam-protected)
To: (spam-protected)
Subject: Month-old story from forteana-l finally hits British press

Evening Standard – 4 September

Coke's war on water

by David Rowan

You've finally plucked up courage to ask a sniffy waiter for a glass of tap water and the worst you're expecting is a passing scowl of disapproval. So you had better hope he hasn't been trained by Coca-Cola in its latest corporate mission - Just Say No To H2O.

Concerned at the vast potential profits lost by diners not paying for liquid refreshment, the world's largest soft drinks company has been working with restaurants to teach staff "beverage suggestive selling techniques".

The plan - codename H2No - involves briefing staff to "influence" customers to reduce what is known as "tap water incidence". Each time a glass of water is requested, waiters must "emphasise the wide range of beverage selections available, including soft drinks, non-carbonated beverages and alcohol". Especially, no doubt, those produced by Coca-Cola.

The strategy appears to be working: at least one restaurant chain has reported higher profits since training serving staff in the H2No programme. The result, says Coca-Cola, is sending "a powerful message to the entire restaurant industry - less water and more beverage choices mean happier customers".

Details emerged when the company's website told of the plan, highlighting profits at The Olive Garden restaurant chain. Under the headline "The Olive Garden targets tap water and wins", the website says: "Many customers choose tap water not because they enjoy it, but because it is what they always have drunk in the past."

To encourage them to spend more money, the American chain developed a competition with Coca-Cola offering company merchandise and an allexpenses-paid trip to Atlanta to staff who met monthly targets. "When the contest was completed, almost all participating restaurants realised significant increases in beverage sales and reduced levels of tap water incidence," the company claims.

The corporation researched why customers might order tap water, and suggested what might make them choose something else. For the 30 per cent who cite weight or other health considerations, the best strategy, it says, is to offer lighter or noncarbonated alternatives.

For those who ask for water "because it's there", waiters should never offer a glass unless it is specifically requested, and then not before using "suggestive selling techniques" to promote drinks with a price.

A number of websites have criticised the strategy. On plastic.com one email reads: "Jesus guys, we know you're in it for the money, you don't have to pretend you actually care." Such criticisms have prompted Coca-Cola to take down web pages relating to H2No lest people "who aren't in a sales-related business" misunderstand its purpose. (A copy has, however, been stored at this address: www.stayfreemagazine.org/public/coke.html.) The company says the campaign, launched in the US, has not been extended to the UK.

London restaurateurs told about the scheme had little sympathy for Coca-Cola's campaign. "They're wrong about it improving the dining experience," insisted David Wilby, Antony Worrall Thompson's partner at Wiz in Notting Hill. "The way to give the customer a better experience is to give them what they want - we wouldn't raise an eyebrow if someone ordered tap water."

At The Savoy, Olivier Thomas, food and beverage manager, said: "We have no problem serving tap water and wouldn't think of charging for it." Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay also saw nothing embarrassing about asking for water. "I love tap water," he said, "in a really nice decantered jug". But he added: "It's only visiting chefs who ask for it."

Still, Coke's on to a winner whatever customers choose. It is selling tap water in pretty blue bottles under the brand name Dasani. The drink has been "enhanced with a special blend of minerals for a pure, fresh taste", but is otherwise straight from the local water supply. What tap water fans might call the real thing.

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