London On Tap targets restaurants with carafe contest

If you have ever felt embarrassed asking for a glass of tap water in a restaurant, don’t worry, you are not alone. Up to one in five of us are too nervous to request tap water in restaurants, hotels and bars, according to the National Consumer Council.

But as part of its London On Tap campaign, Thames Water is hoping to take the stigma out of ordering tap water by enlisting the help of designers to create a restaurant-quality carafe.

‘We are asking restaurants to slightly alter their behaviour,’ explains London On Tap project manager Andrea Riding. ‘When a diner sits down, instead of the waiter asking whether they would like sparkling or still water – which implies mineral – they will automatically bring a carafe of tap water, without being asked.’

Paris has been promoting tap water in restaurants since 2005, with the help of a Pierre Cardin-commissioned carafe. For the London version, Thames Water is offering £5000 to the winning designer and promising to make at least 100 000 carafes. The competition is open to designers, makers and design students.

‘We considered approaching a big-name designer, but dismissed the idea as it fails to tap into London’s creativity,’ says Riding. ‘By making this competition local, we can capitalise on the creativity of designers in London and capture the vibe of the city.’

She adds, ‘I hope that a design student at the Chelsea College of Arts & Design is reading about this at the same time as Anthony Gormley in his King’s Cross studio, and that they both want to enter their designs.’

The brief is fairly open, but the carafe – an open-topped container with a flared lip – must be made out of glass, which Thames Water considers to be the most sustainable material. Designers must also allow space for branding.

‘We are still deciding what sort of branding it will carry, but the carafe is not a marketing tool for Thames Water or the London Mayor,’ says Riding. ‘Restaurateurs might not take to it if it features certain marques.’

Hoping for about six to ten ‘great carafe ideas’ to shortlist, the organisers are next week sending out 1500 application forms to designers and makers across London, and are inviting others to apply on-line at from 12 May.

All shortlisted entries will be prototyped and announced in early September, with the ultimate winner will be decided in December. An exhibition of all the shortlisted entries and some notable longlisters will then go on display at City Hall.

The organisers believe that once restaurateurs see the winning carafe, they will be keen to buy into the idea. Thames Water is using one of its rostered consultancies, branding group OPX, to help co-ordinate the campaign.

‘We are hitting the big names in the restaurant trade at the moment, including Pizza Express,’ says OPX strategy director Frances Jackson. ‘But since this is a non-profit-making venture, the restaurant take-up campaign is likely to be fairly low-key in terms of physical output.’

One of the project’s greatest supporters – and a member of the judging panel – is restaurateur Aldo Zilli. He enraged gourmets earlier this year after loudly banishing mineral water from his menu at Zilli Fish in Soho, but has since relented by agreeing to reintroduce sparkling water.

Riding confides, ‘For me personally, success will mean walking into my favourite restaurant in Stoke Newington, and, along with bread and butter, having our iconic London On Tap carafe placed alongside them, without me even asking.’

London On Tap partners and sponsors

Thames Water – funding and running the programme
OPX – graphic design consultancy running publicity campaign and co-ordinating competition
Crafts Council – compiling list of designers, makers and design students to invite to enter the competition
London Remade – organisation promoting recycling in the capital
Water Aid – long-term Thames Water partner and beneficiary of all profits from the sale of the carafes

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