There’s different levels of water service at restaurants. For the largest guarantee of cleanliness and safety, prepackaged water bottles are good enough, but unless you also sell bottles of soft drinks, it may look a little out of place on the menu (you do get to charge for this water, though, unlike the common mindset that poured water is free). On the other side, you have fresh poured water from a bottle or pitcher, hopefully filtered.
Filtering takes care of impurities, microscopic problems, and may simply just remove taste that’s not intended beyond H2O and fluoride that’s added to tap water.
If you go for fresh-poured water, though, you might be accidentally adding germs to the drink. The same goes for sweet tea and even some diet soft drinks. The Huffington Post reports on a study done on 76 lemons at 21 restaurants. 70% of the lemons tested (swabbing the rinds as soon as the drinks arrived) showed microbial growth, and while lemons may feature some antimicrobial properties, these microbes may have been added only recently in the preparation process. Theories could not be confirmed, but speculation leads to the contamination coming from staff, or even cross-contamination with raw meat or poultry.
Another study commissioned by ABC News reveals that a certain type of matter may be on the lemons that you want nowhere near your mouth.
One of the most frequently occurring contaminants in the test results was fecal matter. Half of the lemon wedges tested were tainted with human waste. How does fecal matter get on lemons in the first place? Cameras caught restaurant workers grabbing lemons with their bare hands, reaching in again and again without gloves or tongs. If they haven’t washed their hands well after using the bathroom, germs spread.
Reportedly, there’s a small “but distinct” risk at actually getting sick from these microbes.
How can you completely avoid this risk? You could possibly offer lemon juice in a bottle (an item that’s sold in any grocery store), or just make sure that your staff are all on the same page when it comes to lemons. Scrub and clean them like any other fruit or vegetable you would use in your restaurant, and cut them with a clean knife. If a customer asks for water, ask them if they want a lemon; not all will. Instead of putting the lemon directly in the drink, a small platter of lemons would work. Customers can then squeeze the lemon juice into the drink without the rind every touching the water, and if they want more lemons, they don’t have to bother the waitstaff; they’ve got a plate of them ready to go.
In a world of hand-santizers and antimicrobial soaps, customers will be looking for any reason to not trust the food and drink you serve; don’t let them think your lemons are at fault.