Dubai: It’s the same bottled water, same volume — but you can buy it for as little as Dh3 and up to almost Dh30 in Dubai.

The huge differences in the prices of bottled water when bought in cafes, restaurants and hotels compared to their prices in supermarkets and grocery stores is a big concern for many Dubai residents.

Why is a basic need such as drinking water, in this case in the bottled form and sourced locally, priced so exorbitantly in some eating establishments that it almost ends up as a luxury commodity? And given this prevalence, does it make consumers think twice before opting to drink water in pricier outlets?

For example, a 1.5-litre Arwa drinking water in a coffee shop in Barsha costs Dh3. The same 1.5-litre water bottle — in the same packaging — in a five-star hotel restaurant on Shaikh Zayed Road costs Dh27.99, including a 10 per cent service charge and a 10 per cent municipality fee.

This kind of price difference exists across many outlets and with regard to many brands of locally bottled water.

Calling for regulation

To begin with, let’s hear what the consumers have to say.

Dubai resident Zainab Al Beloushi says that while it is understandable that the pricing depends on the brand and the status of the outlet selling it, nevertheless, there should be a price limit for something as basic as drinking water, she believes.

“Sometimes, just one bottle of regular drinking water can cost between Dh20 and Dh24 [at different commercial food outlets],” said Al Beloushi, who works in Jebel Ali.

She believes this issue needs regulation. “We need someone to look into these things — to review how bottled water is being priced because it’s the most basic requirement. When we go out to eat, we also need to order a bottle of water, so it’s important not to hike up its price too much,” she added.

Sheeba Manu, Indian expatriate, concurs with Al Beloushi. Her family loves to eat out but the prices of local bottled water in restaurants sometimes can add a big expense to their budget.

“There’s a huge price difference [in bottled water at commercial outlets]. If you go to a smaller hotel, the bottled water sold there is much cheaper, but if you eat at five-star hotels, the prices are very high. We end up paying more than five to 10 times its actual price,” Manu, a banker, said.

 We understand that there’s branding on the bottle so there’s cost involved. But [to charge] Dh20 for a small bottle that does not cost even Dh1 outside is too much.”

 - Sheeba Manu | Indian


For instance, she got the shock of her life once when she bought a small bottle of water for her daughter at a restaurant in a hotel at The Palm.

Margins too high

“It cost Dh20,” said Manu. “We understand that there’s branding on the bottle so there’s cost involved. But Dh20 for a small bottle that does not cost even Dh1 outside is too much,” she said.

Like Manu’s daughter, Shella Tolentino’s daughter and godson also often ask for water to drink when they’re in malls. Given the price of bottled water in cafes and restaurants, Tolentino has taken to carrying along water bottles.

 “It’s a unique place … X-Park has been designed to offer different levels of difficulty to allow for personal progression and creative expression.”

 - Shella Tolentino | Filipina


“Bottled water usually costs between Dh20 to Dh30 in restaurants and a little below that in coffee shops. So now we make sure to bring our own water bottles, especially for the kids,” Tolentino said.

In fact, such is the restraint her family exercises when ordering bottled water in commercial outlets that they even settle for fruit juices as being more value for money.

“Once, we were dining at the at Burj Al Arab, and we were careful to order bottled water in a way that would just cover the needs of the 10 of us. In some instances, if the price of bottled water is similar to juices on the menu, we order the latter,” said Tolentino.

The big question is, should the prices of bottled water be regulated by the authorities or are commercial establishments free to pursue their own pricing policy?

Tomorrow: Dubai Economy’s comment on the pricing of bottled water being sold in the emirate.