Cafes - how to set up a water bottle refill station

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A water bottle refill station in your business highlights your sustainability commitment and supports a culture of reuse in your community.


It can also increase loyalty, increase your customer base (especially if you promote it) and you can monetise it by charging for refills and selling reusable bottles.


We've been setting up refill networks across Australia and have put together this guide of options for establishing your station, as well as some key considerations for success.



Refill station options


Water jug

  • Minimal upfront cost

  • May be filtered or unfiltered tap water

  • Suitable for counter service only

Considerations

  • Staff to refill or prepare multiple jugs

  • Staff to prepare and refill ice

  • Space on counter or table

  • Space in existing fridge



Water container

  • Minimal upfront cost ($20-50 from homestores)

  • Stand optional - less preferred for safety reasons

  • Suitable for counter and self-service

  • May be filtered or unfiltered tap water, or branded water

Considerations

  • Staff to refill or prepare multiple containers

  • Staff to prepare and refill ice

  • Space on counter or table

  • Staff/customer safety when refilling



Water cooler

  • Barrels can be delivered by a branded water company and refilled and reused

  • Typically there is hire charge for stand (refundable) and costs per barrel

Considerations

  • Space

  • Minimal staffing needed for upkeep

  • Staff/customer safety when loading barrel

  • Upfront costs

  • May be able to charge customers for refills



Bench-top water filter

  • A range of options at low upfront costs ($100 - $250) are available from hardware stores or online

  • Does NOT require installation by a plumber

Considerations

  • Connects to existing tap, so will need to be within close proximity to water infrastructure

  • Requires minimal bench space

  • Ongoing filter replacement, costs vary by brand

  • Suitable for refilling reusable table water bottles



Plumbed tap

  • May be counter service (staff controlled) or self-service depending on placement

  • May be filtered, chilled or unfiltered water

  • Variety of tap styles and prices available

Considerations

  • Needs connection by a plumber

  • Space/access considerations if self-service

  • No requirement for staff to refill

  • May be able to charge customers for refills

  • Suitable for refilling reusable table water bottles



Fountain with bottle refill tap

  • May be counter-service (staff controlled) or self service, depending on placement

Considerations

  • Connects to existing tap, so will need to be within close proximity to water infrastructure

  • Higher upfront and ongoing maintenance costs, including refrigeration and filtration

  • Customer refill safety inherent in design

  • May be able to charge customers for refills

  • Suitable for refilling reusable table water bottles



On-tap water system

  • A variety of branded system are available including Purezza, Verve Water and Zip Water - contact their Head Office for local supplier details

  • Connects to existing water infrastructure

Considerations

  • Monthly rental or outright purchase options available, including maintenance

  • Optional chilled, filtered and/or sparkling water

  • Can charge customers for refills

  • Often accompanied with branded reusable table water bottles


Local plumbing companies

  • Local plumbers and water filtration companies offer a range of options to suit your requirements & budget



Key considerations for success



Budget/costs


By far the cheapest option is to provide refills straight from your tap. However, a refill station is more successful when it is attractive to use- this could mean a container or jug at the very minimum.


Consider other costs, such as staffing, time and resources and ongoing maintenance.



Attractiveness


Having a refill station that is attractive to use is the key to its ongoing success. By this, we don't just mean it's nice to look at (though that's a good start).


Thanks to clever marketing from beverage companies, tap water can bring up negative perceptions on quality. Informing customers about where your water comes from (whether tap or not) provides transparency to overcome barriers. A sign outlining the type of refills offered will suffice, whether the station is visible or not.


You can also offer filtered tap water, chilling it and/or making it sparkling.



Access and safety


Ensure your refill station is located in a visible, safe and accessible location, considering the needs of staff to maintain it, as well as customer access and safety.

Ensure refill stations are secure and at an appropriate height to support refills to minimise the risk of bumps and spills.



Hygiene


You may be concerned about maintaining hygiene around refill stations. A ‘no touch’ policy between tap and the bottle could be adopted, or the station could be staff controlled. Choosing taps which easily support contactless refills can assist.



Counter or self-service


The advantage of counter-service is that you control and monitor access, ensuring a high standard of hygiene and the ability to charge for refills. The downside is staff time to provide this.


Self-service will require space with easy access, and hygiene may be less in your control.



Pricing structures (free, chargeable and/or customers only)


Many cafes already provide free table water for dine-in customers, but may sell single-use packaged water for takeaway.


You can support free refills for your takeaway customers, and/or sell reusable bottles with free refills in store. Alternatively, you could charge for all refills at an affordable rate, whether BYO or bottles purchased in-store. This is more viable if you provide chilled, filtered or sparkling water.



Selling reusable water bottles in-store


There are many options, such as stainless steel, glass or plastic (although this is less preferred). These can be branded or unbranded. A few options offered at different price points is more attractive for purchase.


A very simple option is to purchase plain glass bottles from commercial hospitality or homeware stores for a few dollars and sell these at a reasonable price point, encouraging your customer to reuse .




Encouraging reusables


Ensure to sign your station properly to encourage your customers to utilise it - we have free signage you can download.


Download this guide as a PDF Factsheet


Please note: we don't benefit commercially from any brands or products we suggest..