I Would Like to Drink More Than a Thimble of Water at a Restaurant, Please

Give me a bucket with a straw, honestly. I’ll drink it.

Glasses of water

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It’s been almost two decades since I moved from Alabama up to the Northeast, and most of the cultural confusion I initially have is long in the past. I understand “online” doesn’t always mean on the internet, and that if pizza is good, you probably don’t need to dunk it in ranch dressing. (If you want to, then go for it, no ranch shaming in my house.) But here is a mystery that I still can’t solve: Why are the cups in restaurants so dang small?

Every restaurant is different, I realize this. But I’ve noticed that when I sit down at a restaurant in New York and ask for water — tap is fine! — I’ll get a cute little glass tumbler that can hold, at most, six ounces of water. (These Duralex Picardie glasses are everywhere and only fit 3.25 fluid ounces, or 5.25 at the larger size.) I’ll finish the water almost immediately, necessitating the poor waitstaff to either continually refill the water, or to give up and leave a pitcher or carafe on the table. 

I’m not trying to be difficult. I just try to keep hydrated, particularly if I’m drinking alcohol with my meal. But also when I’m drinking caffeine! Or when it’s over 80 degrees! Why use these teeny-tiny thimble-sized tumblers instead of a pint glass, or at least a vessel that holds an actual cup (like eight ounces, buddy boy) of water? If the kitchen is open and I’m sipping at my whimsically and irritatingly tiny amount of water, I’ll often glimpse folks in the back of the house slurping water from quart containers and feel incredibly jealous. 

When I’ve raised this gripe to friends, some of them point out that the very small water glass is perhaps strategic as well as aesthetic. The idea, they say, is for you to order a different drink that costs money instead of satiating your thirst with just plain, free water. Which, fair. Restaurants have their bottom lines, I get that. I love a tiny glass for a gentle cocktail, or a splash of wine, or even a neat pour of whiskey. It’s practical and modern, and avoids the potential pitfalls of stemware. 

But the thing is that I’m almost never just drinking water. I’m a beverage maximalist, which means that the water is always in concert with at least one other beverage, either something caffeinated or alcoholic or lightly bubbly, depending on the time of day and my mood. The extra large water is part of the beverage triumvirate, allowing you to pace your sips between the other more flavorful options. You need it to slow your roll, to prevent hyper-caffeination or accidental drunkenness, and also to cleanse your palate. If paying an extra couple bucks would ensure that my water would be free-flowing in enormous vessels, I would gladly cough up.  

I also, admittedly, prefer ice water to a room temperature beverage. I know ice is a whole other matter — the hierarchy of shapes and densities, the crunchiness-to-meltiness quotient, the energy involved to freeze those delicious sweet cubes. To me, the ideal water accoutrement to a meal is a giant vat of ice water, preferably infused with that god of the frozen world, pebble ice. The giant plastic tumblers that barbecue restaurants in Alabama use are perfect. Give me a Yankee Stadium novelty cup level of water. Give me one of those XXXL movie theater soda cups, but just full of ice water. Give me a bucket with a straw, honestly. I’ll drink it.  

You would think that as giant water bottles became more fashionable, the larger water glass would follow. Not so. At home, I drink water from a half-gallon sized water bottle that stays so delightfully cool that I can leave it overnight and return to my desk to find the water still icy. Despite the half-gallon inspirational quote-emblazoned bottles becoming a staple of the workplace, the tiny water glass persists. I understand that an enormous plastic tumbler doesn’t match the aesthetics of every restaurant or cafe — truly I do. (Although did you know you can just buy a sleeve of red, 20-ounce, pizzeria-style plastic tumblers and drink from them at home all the time? True.) But all I’m asking is an upgrade to something larger than a snifter. Please? Your girl is thirsty.

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