It’s Wrong to Bring Your Own Drink to a Restaurant

I like to sip iced coffee when I drive. I am not sure that I like the coffee as much as I like crunching on the coffee-flavored ice, but for whatever reason, I like to have an iced coffee in the car. Of course, as a responsible frugalista, I would never admit to stopping at an expensive coffee shop to buy myself an iced coffee. Instead, I try to brew coffee, ice it at home, and then bring a nice big travel mug of it with me when I head out to run errands.

At the same time, if I were to have lunch in a coffee shop, I would never think of bringing my own iced coffee just to save money. If I am going to eat in a restaurant of any kind, I am going to buy my food and drink in the restaurant. I thought that to be such a basic concept that there could be no disagreement on that point. I learned otherwise last week.

I visited a local sandwich shop. Yes – I realize that it is less expensive to make a sandwich at home, but I wanted to eat out and enjoy a good book while someone else brought me lunch. Just because I like to save money does not mean I want to be buried with it. But, I digress.

As I mentioned, I went to a sandwich shop. Actually, it is a French bakery that I simply love. I ordered a delightful sandwich made with French bread flown in from Paris, fresh tomatoes, and wonderful mozzarella, all drizzled with a nutty olive oil and basil. Yummy! I also enjoyed a bottomless cup of outstanding coffee.

At the outdoor table adjacent to mine, another fellow sat down and ordered quiche. He declined a beverage, and proceeded to take two bottles of water out of a bag. He then drank his own water while he ate. I was appalled.

Although I fully recognize that bottled water is very expensive in restaurants, I also believe that if a person is willing to go to a restaurant, they should purchase their full meal at the restaurant. It takes a great deal of nerve to take up space in an eatery and then eat and drink the food and beverages of another vendor.

I feel the same way about bringing my own snacks to the cinema. Unless the cinema allows food and drink from the outside world, it is simply wrong to smuggle my own snacks and drinks into a movie. I am quite willing to tell my kids that we won’t be going to the snack bar, if that is the decision that I have made. I don’t need to save money by breaking the rules just so that I can have junk food – or even healthy food – in a place where I am not allowed to bring my own snacks.

What are the places that you think it is legitimate to bring in your own food and drink? What do you think of people bringing bags of their own snacks and drinks into places where they are prohibited?

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34 Responses to It’s Wrong to Bring Your Own Drink to a Restaurant

  1. Homebody says:

    Wow you are going to have a big carbon foot print eating bread flown over from Paris. Think globally, act locally.

    The only thing I do is bring my own snacks to the movies because all there is to choose from is sugar and fatty popcorn. I like plain almonds.

  2. Ann says:

    Hmmm. Must admit that I’ve never really thought about it.

    I wouldn’t bring my own drink into a restaurant, unless it’s an herbal tea bag ’cause I’m fighting a cold or something else…. and it wouldn’t surprise me if the restaurant charged me for the hot water! LOL I have run into restaurants which allow you to bring your own wine, but wouldn’t do it at a restaurant that serves wine.

    Movies can be a bit iffy. I’m on a restricted diet and the snacks offered don’t fit into it…. but I just generally figure that I’m not going to be snacking while I’m watching the film.

    On the other hand, I wouldn’t assume that the guy with the water was doing it to save money. Possibly his system is really sensitive to what can be in some tap water and only a specific brand of bottled suits him. I would have been curious to see what he would have said, if someone from the restuarant approached him.

    I’ve known people who travel with a small portable bar (about the size of a makeup case) to avoid the outrageous prices of those mini-bars in hotel rooms. I see absolutely nothing wrong with that! LOL

  3. Diane says:

    I confess. I’ve snuck waters into the movies. 4 kids + $4.00/each for a bottle of water that they either don’t drink or sip and then lose the cap so we can’t take it home and save it for later made me do it!

  4. Cali says:

    In the UK there are restaurants where you can eat and bring your own wine or other beverage and they charge you a corkage cost. Many people do bring their own alcohol and this is seen as perfectly acceptable.

    I have to disagree about the cinema though I bring my own food and drink to the cinema because I just don’t like what they have to sell there, as well as I think its very much overpriced. 1 popcorn a drink and a bag of sweets would cost

  5. feministfinance says:

    I agree that generally it’s poor form to bring yourown drinks to a restaurant. But there are always circumstances in which I don’t think it applies. For example, if I’m out snd about with a to-go cup of coffee and I decide to stop in at a bakery I pass for a muffin? I think that the bakery would rather I buy their muffin and drink my own coffee than pass them by because I don’t want to get into trouble for bringing my own drink in from off-site. But if I followed your rule all the time, the bakery would lose out on my business, and I would lose out on a muffin (though I would have my delicious coffee). We are all happier when the rule against off-site drinks is flexible.

    I disgree strongly about the movie theater scenario, though. So does Rnady Cohen, writing in his Ethicist column in the NY Times. ( ). He wrote that column in 2001 and I still remember it whenever it comes p, so you can tell I msut really find it compelling. He says that just because you agree to do one thing (see a movie) does not mean that you agree to every rule the movie theater may decree, no matter how unreasonable or unrelated it is to the primary purpose of the estabilshment–seeing a movie. His guideline is that you should not smuggle things in that “contravene the ostensible function of a business”–so I should not smuggle in a muffin to eat when I choose to visit the bakery, or smuggle in a flask when I choose to drink at a bar.

  6. justsaying says:

    I don’t think it is always rude to bring a drink to a restaurant or cafe.

    I think it depends upon the place of business—-if I have bottled water and I am sitting outside, I don’t think it ruins the decorum to sip it. Now, if I brought in a super big gulp from 7-eleven to a michelin rated restaurant, then that would be tacky.

    Personally, I feel some people are a bit too focused on what “society” says they should do and act…some of this is based on very age-old nations from a different generation and a different, perhaps, higher income culture?

    Someone not wanting to spend $4 on a .50 cent bottle of water is not any of our business, to be honest. I would rather focus on the delicious bread and the lovely view! 🙂

    I will say that there are always extremes that are not appropriate—I think nothing of having my own drink (maybe a health drink) in a subway or mcdonalds. I would not bring out a 2-liter soda in a restaurant run by Wolfgang Puck.

  7. justsaying says:

    Additionally, I think if a person engages in being considerate when they are bringing in outside food or drinks, why should it be an issue?

    I agree that if people leave behind waste brought from outside of the restaurant, then that is not in “good form”.

  8. Stacey says:

    I agree with other comments about using common courtesy about when to bring your own beverage – such as not bringing your own coffee to a coffee shop. However in this case you observed, if the gentleman wanted water to drink, the restaurant would have probably given it to him for free. And maybe he prefers the bottled water instead of tap. I don’t feel that it is all that offensive.

  9. Analise says:

    There is no steadfast rule related to the practice of bringing your own drink. There are many factors in this equation.

    Most people who bring their own drinks are probably trying to save money, so I cannot condemn their actions. Live and let live. $2 for a bottle of water is a budget buster for some families and they should still be able to take their kids to the movies.

    My first allegiance is to my health rather than the bottom line of the cinema. I am already helping the cinema by buying a ticket. The popcorn at the movies is popped with coconut oil then loaded with salt… very bad for the arteries. We also avoid snacks loaded with sugar. So, like Homebody, I take a healthy snack and do not feel one bit guilty about it. Who are we hurting since no one is aware of our actions?

    I agree about not bringing your own drinks to a restaurant, especially when you can get a complimentary glass of water. In CA by law you must be provided with water in any restaurant. Even fast food places will give you a free cup for water (you have to ask because they will not offer)… it’s dispensed from the same machine as the sodas and the water is usually filtered.

    Too bad some restaurants charge such outrageous prices for their drinks. There must be a huge profit margin in drinks. Have you noticed that many do not even list their prices for drinks? Still, I always order Cheesecake’s ultimate margarita, even though it is more than my favorite salad. I don’t like paying so much for a drink but, it’s part of the experience.

  10. Yes that is wrong. But you save a lot if you both order water in a restaurant, because they don’t charge you!

  11. disneysteve says:

    I’ve never been to any restaurant that wouldn’t serve me all the water I wanted free of charge, so I think bringing in your own bottled water is inappropriate.

    On the other hand, we always bring out own snacks to movie theaters, Broadway shows, etc. There is no way we are paying $4 or more for the same box of candy that we can get outside the theater for $1. Plus, I’ll often bring a healthier snack, like a bag of nuts or a granola bar, things that aren’t available at the theater.

    Perhaps I’m being too selective, but I don’t consider a theater and a restaurant to be the same. The restaurant is in the business of selling food and drink and I shouldn’t bring in my own. The theater is in the business of showing movies or plays so I see nothing wrong with bringing my own.

  12. Joan says:

    I’ve brought an apple with me into a coffee shop a couple times. First time I felt very self-conscious about it; second time, a little less so. They don’t sell anything but coffee, tea, and [undercooked] baked goods. Should I have gone somewhere else for my tea?

  13. Monkey Mama says:


    Water can be had free anywhere in Cali, yes. But there could be some reason that someone prefers bottled water. & heck if I would buy bottled water, anywhere. (I personally just ask for tap water, but don’t see what difference it really makes).

    If it was anything other than water, then you may have my side.

    Then again, I often bring my own soda to McDonald’s. Hadn’t really thought about it until this second. Thing is the management doesn’t care, so why should I? It’s just one I frequent often, and I hadn’t even thought twice. Though I don’t make it a general habit to bring in sodas to fast food places even. I usually buy the kids Happy Meals’ so they can play on the play structures. I wouldn’t eat their slop so don’t buy anything for myself. It’s just one of those things – but I know for a fact the management could care less that I bring in my own can of soda on occassion. IF they cared I would at least respect that.

  14. Scott A.Epler says:

    I hope that they are flying the French bread in via the Concorde But the water deal would be like Bringing a case of Mcro Brew into Sam Adams Brew House. Just Pathetic!!

  15. Robert says:

    What if you really, really like Dr. Pepper and the restaurant you’re at doesn’t serve it?

  16. Amber says:

    My grandmother got told off one time when we were eating at a fast food place and she had ordered a plain baked potato and then proceeded to put her own dressing on it. She wasn’t being frugal but rather was on a very strict diet and none of the toppings available for the baked potato were items she could eat. So she always mixed her own dressing at home and brought it with her. The next time we went into the restaurant though the manager apologized and said that as long as she was making a purchase at the restaurant it was fine to bring in her own stuff as well.

    As for the movie theater thing, quite honestly the prices are so high because that is where they make their money. The amount of the box office ticket price is minimal unless the movie stays for a really long time. I heard a theater owner talking about it in an interview once and it’s something like 80-90% of the box office take that they have to give back to the movie company the first couple weeks and then if the movie stays longer the percentages go down so yeah if a movie is in a theater for 8 weeks then they are actually making money off of it those last couple of weeks but not many movies stay that long.

    I try to avoid snacks at the movies all together, that mindless eating gets me into trouble whether it’s at the theater or at home in front of the tv. I generally carry a reusable water bottle with me and most places don’t mind me bringing it in, I may have to empty it before hand and fill at a water fountain but they offer the option of allowing it.

  17. I’d just order tap if I wanted water. He could have an issue with tap or fear for that matter, but bottled water is pretty much the same everywhere. Sounds like he’s being cheap. The entire cinema system is fowled up at this point. Too long of a discussion for this small space…but the bottom line is that its WAY to expensive to buy anything in the movies. But I usually can’t resist the popcorn.

  18. Denise T says:

    I admit to sneaking snacks into the movies, but only because I have gestational diabetes and am required to eat something with protein every two hours. Nothing at the snack bar fit the bill. Hubby had popcorn though.

  19. spicoli says:

    I’ve tried to bring food and drink into the cinema but I’ve often been told that I am not allowed to do so. Rather than toss my snack or beverage, I generally do not try anymore. Instead, I tell myself that I’ll grab lunch or dinner after the movie. I find that for the price of a large drink and large popcorn, I can buy a full meal at a decent restaurant.

    I also find that it is easier for women to bring drinks and snacks into a cinema. Men do not generally carry handbags in which to conceal the contraband!

  20. persephone says:

    I think it all depends on the restaurant and how much you are buying there. If I sit down at an outdoor cafe and I have a bottle of water that I am already sipping, I don’t mind finishing it as long as I am ordering a meal. Also, if a restaurant does not offer bottled water, I will usually order an iced tea and bring along a bottle of my own water.

    (Yes, I know that the iced tea is made with the same water that the restaurant would serve to me, but I have a bottled water hang up!)

  21. Annie Jones says:

    My thoughts on this are inconsistent. I probably would not bring my own bottled water or soda into a restaurant, but I’m not above ordering water, then flavoring it with the lemon and sugar the restaurant provides to make something like lemonade. Or flavoring it with my own drink flavoring, such as Crystal Light.

    Although we don’t eat fast food often, I have bought my granddaughter lunch from a fast burger joint and taken it with us into a different fast lunch place where I wanted to eat instead. No one has ever said anything about it.

    Similarly, when I worked oustside the home, if a group of co-workers were going out to lunch at a fast-food place, it was common for one or more of us to bring our homemade lunch in with us to eat with the rest of the group. We never had complaints from the restaurant for doing that.

    We still have drive-in movies here and would never dream of NOT packing our own drinks and snacks to the drive-in. That has carried over to the very few in-theater movies we see. I have no problem taking snacks or drinks with me into the theater.

    If there is a sign on the door that explicitly says “No Outside Food or Drink”, then I’ll make sure to comply.

  22. Rory says:

    You would hate Australia.

    Here is Perth, Western Australia, BYO (Bring Your Own) is the standard for most restaurants. Obtaining a license to serve alcohol is difficult and expensive, so most have a BYO license.

    If it’s a fancy place that does sell its own alcohol then they may charge $1-$2 corkage if you bring your own.

    It means you can go out mid-week, have a cheap meal and a great bottle of wine and not break the bank.

    We go out far more often (so the restaurant doesn’t lose out) and you can have exactly what you want.

    Customers don’t like feeling gouged or ripped-off (see all the comments about movie snack prices) so to be charged $25 for a $7 bottle of wine sucks, even if it is part of their cost recovery model.

    I’d prefer they made sustainable profits from their food and not cross-subsidize.

  23. I can’t agree with you on this one. I have an eleven year old daughter who has severe colon issues and has to drink a Polyethylene Glycol mix 6 times a day. Rather than mix it when we go out, we bring her drink in. It is colorless and to others appears to be water, unless we mix it in with juice or another beverage.

    We have had people make rude comments to us numerous times.

    Frankly, it makes me mad (after putting up with this for 4+ years now) and it really is no ones business but our own.

    How do you know this man doesn’t have the same issues? Or is perhaps sensitive to some of the things added to water, such as chlorine or flouride??

    No, its not “Wrong” at all times-different to you maybe, but not necessarly wrong.

  24. Mom-from Missouri (and others) ~ In my opinion, health concerns always take precedence over frugality. I agree completely that if there are compelling medical reasons to do so, it is entirely reasonable bring beverages and even food into restaurants or anywhere that you might be.

  25. Cindy M says:

    Can’t resist a comment here.
    Since I no longer attend the fancier movie places or chi-chi restaurants anymore, this is just not a problem for me. (If invited to do so, I’d just order water). I will these days occasionally hit the 2-dollar movie house and yes, I sure will quietly bring my own coffee in a thermos and a candy bar and could care less what anybody thinks of that. Nobody has ever said a word. Eating out for me these days is Wendy’s, Taco Bell or Captain D’s and yes, I do bring a can of pop if I do this. Nobody’s ever given me any grief over this and if anyone ever did, I’d probably tell them where to put it, sorry (I do always purchase food there). I frankly could care less what the guy in the other booth or movie house seat is doing as long as they aren’t psycho.

  26. Jeremy says:

    In Thailand they have an amazing attitude towards this. People will actually come to your restaurant, sit and watch the TV (football), use your toilet and facilities, but they bring their own food and drinks.

    Many local Thai restaurant owners, to my astonishment, seemed perfectly happy with this, just before they went bankrupt.

  27. Dee says:

    this is so very petty. So what if a guy brings his own water, he isn’t disturbing anyone, and bought a sandwhich. If I owned the establishment, I would be happy he felt comfortable to do so and buy my sandwich, rather than going elsewhere. If he is comfortable, maybe he will come back and buy another sandwich on another day, but If I were a snob about it, then he probably wouldn’t come back, and who has lost on that one.

    Another issue is when my husb and I want to share a meal because both of us do not need to consume the quantities served. we do this regularly, and at a few lower end hamburger shops were told they would charge us $2 to cut the burger in half. We said, ok, then don’t cut it and don’t bring an extra plate. wasn’t going to happen. So we no longer eat there. that in my opinion is poor customer service, so they got their $2 once, but not again from us. A little service like that makes a big difference to me. I always think if I were the owner, I would be doing everything I could to encourage people to want to come here vs going down the street, so how hard is it to cut a burger in half?? Or just simply provide an extra plate.I’m sure that has ran alot of people off that have figured out that they do not need to eat massive meals when they dine out.

    Something that is appalling is parents who bring their young children to a eatery and allow them to scream and yell and argue all to the misery of others who then cannot enjoy their meals. THAT is appalling. I have left my food, or had them box it up for me just to escape this nerve racking noise. Parents should never allow their children to disturb others in a restaurant. It’s not that I don’t like children, I do very much, and had four of my own. They were never allowed to do that. If there was a problem we took them outside, so as to not disturb others. seems like common courtesy, to not inflict that on people while they are trying to enjoy a nice usually expensive meal. So ya, bring your own water by all means, just don’t disturb others with your uncontrolled kids, or constant loud talking on the cell. If you can’t control them then thats what McDonald’s is for, not a nice quiet restaurant.

    I believe that management should assist people with this as well when things are out of control, and people are miserable. I would rather offend the parents of the offending kids than loose all of the other customers who don’t want to hear it.

    Would I sneak food into a theater, probably would just go without, or may bring in something healthy if I really needed it, otherwise I may buy the stupid popcorn. If I had health issues, yes I most definitely would. Again, don’t think it a big issue.

    If theaters don’t like this practice then they should figure out what the public wants and accommodate that such as adding more healthy selection and lowering prices. Thats is what the free market is all about. then people would probably be glad to buy from them, but trying to strong arm people into buying their food while seeing a movie obviously isn’t going to work so well. Not that I don’t want them to make money ~ thats what business is all about and I’m all for it, but customers shouldn’t feel that they have no choices, and feel like they have been taken to the cleaners with the prices.

  28. mahanda says:

    this i agree with, i will not bring my own drink in anywhere (seattle’s water is not too bad so have free water usually) and i either eat before the movier or after.

  29. cindy says:

    I was in Downtown Los Angeles for lunch with friends after a meeting and tried to go into a restaurant but the security person at the door told me I could not go in because he saw a bottle of water in my bag. I was so upset. I was not intending to not purchase a drink in the restaurant. I came from a meeting and the water is something I keep with me where ever I go because I had shingles 3 years ago and ever since I have a dry throat. I could start coughing at any time. I do not think it was right that he looked into my bag and told me this. He claims it is a law with the Alcohol and Beverage Control Board of California. I don’t believe it. Needless to say I went somewhere else, ordered my full meal and drink too.

  30. Syragar says:

    I TOTALLY disagree with this post. One of my friends has to be extremely careful about what he drinks, and he can’t have tap water. He has to bring his own bottled water with him so he can have something to drink. It doesn’t matter if the water at the restaurant is free… it’s tap water so he can’t have it. He has to buy his water from somewhere else in order to have something to drink with his meal. If the restaurant won’t allow him to enter with his water, they don’t get his business. It’s as simple as that.

    Although I don’t have the same problem with the water… and I don’t mind the free water I can get from restaurants… I still have a concern of my own. I’m supposed to eliminate high fructose corn syrup from my diet… and I can’t stand the taste of diet drinks. Try finding any non-diet soft drinks in restaurants that do NOT have HFCS in them. You can’t find them! I buy special soft drinks that use sugar instead of HFCS. They usually cost a little bit more than your standard cola, but that’s what I can drink. I took a can of soda to Applebees one time. Upon seeing the can, the waitress informed me they have soft drinks with free refills. I asked her if they had any without HFCS because I’m not supposed to have that in my diet. She said she had “diet” drinks… I told her I don’t like the taste of diet sodas, and I want a soft drink to enjoy with my meal. They had no problem with that, so they got my business.

    I can see where this would be rude in a “fancy” restaurant… where the dress code is formal. But for the average restaurant or fast food chain, I don’t see it as a problem at all. Some people have certain beverage preferences or diet requirements. So long as they are buying a meal from them, the restaurant shouldn’t care. If they do, they don’t deserve their business.

  31. Ann says:

    There are reasons for these rules. It stems from the fact that the restaurant is responsible for what you consume while there. If you start bringing in your own drinks, topping and food and get sick we may be liable. Cross contamination is also possible if the server is cleaning up contaminated food from an unknown source.

    Beverages are a little more lax. If it is sealed when you bring it in, not offered at the restaurant and you are polite about it, it shouldn’t be a problem especially if it is health related. There really isn’t an obvious line though. I once had a table that needed a special tea because the lady was breast feeding, but I had to bring out hot water, lemons, extra sugar, glasses of ice and more hot water all in separate trips so all 3 people at the table could make this tea free of charge. I have also had a man bring in liquor in an open container. Just be polite and understanding and hopefully the restaurant will be too.

  32. J.Bug says:

    I don’t see what the big deal about the water bottle was. People should be able to bring water bottles wherever they go. In most places, water bottles are the only things excepted because you need it to survive. It’s not like he would have paid for water anyway. It’s free and the law requires it to be free. They usually give you tap water, so in my opinion, the water bottle is not a big deal at all.

    For lunch, I went to CPK one day and ordered pasta and then went to Panera Bread and ordered a bagel and ice tea (so I could study there since they had wifi). I asked the manager if it was okay to eat my pasta there along with their food in their establishment and she said it was perfectly okay. I stayed long enough that I ended up ordering dinner there as well. The employees were nice to me. One even came up to me and asked me how my day was going, what was I studying for, what school I went to, etc. They didn’t have a problem with it, so I don’t understand why customers would have a problem with another customer’s business. Who cares what they do? It’s not your right to. Just mind your own business.

  33. Dan the lamb says:

    4 Real- You are such a #@$!!!!! Bring your own drink and food to a restaurant, movie theater, football/basketball game, whatever as long as somebody in your party buys something!!!! What do u think you are Miss Posh Spice! The restaurant, if anything, should feel blessed to even have customers who are still willing to buy their overpriced crap!

  34. Fe2o3ez says:

    Wow, did you hit a nerve with this post. Frankly, I dont care either way. I think it belongs on one of those John Quinones “What would you do?” shows, though. I would be curious to see:

    1. whether the gentleman in question would still pull out his bottles if he were eating inside a restaurant as opposed to the – typically more casual – outdoor setting.

    2. Say the guy never pulled out the water but instead ordered a pastry and drink from your French bakery. Moments later, his companion arrives with a coffee and danish from a competing bakery and sits there to have breakfast with him.

    3. how would people here react if the setting was a steakhouse with an amazing wine list, but a couple arrives with their own bottle of wine, because it holds some significance to their relationship and they are celebrating an anniversary?

    4. is it ok to bring snacks into a grocery store for a child to munch on during an extended shopping trip? What if it is the adult that is doing the munching? If the adult were drinking a soda on their way in the store, are they allowed to finish it during their shopping?

    Boy this is fun…

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