I recently attended the annual Society of Hospital Medicine conference in Las Vegas.
As a proud hospital medicine doctor, this organization has grown exponentially over the last decade, and thousands of hospital physicians from across the nation descended on the city for a few days of great learning and networking opportunities. However, away from the conference, this being Vegas, there had to be some time for fun as well.
On Saturday evening, a group of us decided to visit a night club in one of Las Vegas’ most well-known hotels. My night club days probably ended when I finished medical school some years ago (I’m much more of a wine bar kind of person these days), but seeing as I was in Vegas: I thought, why not!
So there we found ourselves, in a night club dancing the night away. We had an amazing time, but the experience that most stuck with me actually occurred when, after a couple of drinks, I decided to hydrate myself. I went up to the bar and asked for some water. The barman went to get me some bottled water. Over the blaze of music, I told him I just wanted a glass of tap water. The barman shook his head and told me that they did not serve tap water. I was surprised, but thirsty, so said the bottled water would be fine in that case. He then proceeded to hand me a tiny 330 mL bottle of water. The cost? Almost $8: More than the alcoholic drinks I had purchased earlier! I was too parched, and it was too loud and late in the night to argue, so I just paid, and took the bottle.
As I turned around, lent over some railings and looked on at hundreds of people on the dance floor, sipping my water — I thought carefully about what had just happened, and felt a sense of anger. On my travels over the years, I’ve been to many restaurants and bars, and never once seen anything like this. Here we were, in a top Las Vegas hotel and casino, which makes millions upon millions of dollars a year. The club was full of young people, paying a good sum of money just to enter the club and then large amounts on alcoholic beverages — and they were refusing to serve their customers any drinking water. And when they did, they ripped people off outrageously with a minuscule $8 bottle.
Think about this as a health care issue too. As we all know, it is extremely important if one is drinking alcohol (as of course many young people do in Las Vegas) to keep yourself hydrated. There are a good amount of people who would simply refuse to buy a bottle of water that costs so much, and consequently remain dehydrated.
I’m quite middle of the road when it comes to politics, and believe strongly in a capitalist and free market business-friendly economy with low regulatory burdens and minimal government interference. But I take issue with those who completely begrudge or belittle the role of federal government in protecting people and making laws. If capitalism is left unchecked, the consequences are dire. Does anybody out there have any doubt that had it not been for federal protections, we would all still be living in an era of Victorian workhouses, where some of the wealthy unscrupulous elite in society would gladly have their workers (including children) working from dawn till dusk for a pittance? Government rules and regulations will always be needed to stop people being taken advantage of.
But back to Las Vegas, there should be a legal requirement for any institution that serves customers food or drinks (especially those with a liquor license), to offer free drinking water to their paying customers. It’s a matter of human health and safety, since water is the most basic substance we need for our survival.
I wonder how many thousands of places around the country are behaving like this and taking advantage of their customers? Why is more of an issue not being made of this rip-off tactic? What happened in that Las Vegas club is an affront to decent service and good customer care.
I felt so strongly about this, that I created a petition at Change.org, to request a federal law for restaurants, bars, and nightclubs to give their paying customers free tap water on request. It could be your relative next time, at a bachelor or bachelorette party in Las Vegas, who is being refused drinking water and being blatantly ripped off. Or simply yourself, who is being denied water by an institution you’ve already paid a decent sum of money to eat or drink in.
This is definitely something that happened in Vegas, that I don’t want to stay in Vegas. If you feel strongly about this as well, please sign and share this petition.
Suneel Dhand is an internal medicine physician and author of three books, including Thomas Jefferson: Lessons from a Secret Buddha. He is the founder and director, HealthITImprove, and blogs at his self-titled site, DocThinx.
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