Why the lack of ice in European restaurants?

Is it really that difficult to get a big glass of ice water in Europe? Or do my friends lie?

If so, why?

Europeans just aren’t as crazy for ice as Americans are. I spent a year or so in Northern Europe, and couldn’t get ice very easily. My host family never used it, and thought that ice-cold drinks were bad for the stomach–too shocking to the system (as they very well may be).

You could get ice in your drink at McDonald’s, but it wasn’t easy–people just didn’t see the need. I asked for a lot of ice in my drink on a hot day, and the girl just looked at me and said, “But the drink is cold.” I got about 6 tiny ice cubes in my drink–that was ‘a lot.’

Just a cultural difference, that’s all.

I spent two weeks in Lommel, Belgium about 15 years ago. As you say, no ice in the drinks and we wondered why? One of the locals stated that one reason was that ice is expensive. The recipe for ice is water and ENERGY. And the energy part is expensive.

Probably hasn’t changed much. Sure would like to go back though…

This is kind of a WAG, but I wonder if part of the reason for the “cultural difference” may be the ice industry. I’m under the impression that the U.S. developed much more of an ice business than Europe, partly because the warmer areas had access to excellent rail and warehousing facilities, and ice supplies were large. I remember reading that European visitors to the U.S. at the turn of the city found the ubiquitous, free class of ice water to be a symbol of America’s prosperity.

It’s probably also a question of personal preference since that’s what people are used to now. I’ve heard several european tourists say that they always had to remember to order their drinks “without ice” because otherwise it was too cold. In the days before free refills of soda became common in restaurants several of the europeans asked me “do restaurants do this so that you’ll order more than one glass and they can charge you more?”

On the other hand, they all appreciated the abundance of water fountains.

I just noticed that my last post was perhaps not very clearly expressed. The tourists were surmising that the restaurants put so much ice in order to have less actual liquid in the glass, thus forcing people to order a second beverage. But soda being so inexpensive to make, I doubt that their surmise was correct.

They also mock us for drinking ice-cold beer. Hey, at least we are cultured enough not to drink beer ON ice.

I think xtn has it right. I think our tastes have a lot to do with the early aggressive marketing in the american ice industry made possible by abundant supply and rail transport that kept prices reasonable. Meanwhile England was importing theirs from Norway which doesn’t sound quite as efficient.

There was a recent article on the american ice industry in the New Yorker that adressed this point.

Just chiming in to say that when I was in Europe ('90-93)it wasn’t difficult to get ice. You just had to remember to ask for it. And I suppose in the area where I lived, people must have been used to it because of the vicinity of two canadian and one american military base. And even away from base, I don’t remember getting any weird responses when asking for ice.

I don’t know if it’s the fault of the ice industry, but it certainly is a cultural thing. You are nt normally served ce in hotes or restaurants. The tw times I visited Ireland I hd to ask for it at hotels and at B & Bs, and I did not get ice at restaurants. Convenience stores and grocery stores did nt carry bags of ice as they do in the US, although they sold chilled soft drinks. If you went into an American fast food joint (like the Subways in Dublin) you would get a Coke crammed with ice, but not elsewhere.

In one of the Rumpole books, John Mortimer has Horace Rumpole talking about his daughter-in-law’s dangerous diet of iced water. For what it’s worth, this is not entirely alien to the US – I’ve encuntered the same aversion to iced drinks in rural Utah.

Must … be … civil! Not … the … Pit! Honest … typo … ! Thin veneer of civility … slipping!




I haven’t travelled at all in Europe beyond England, but while there recently my friends and I generally noticed a lack of Free Stuff that we are used to getting here. We didn’t get water at all in restaurants unless we asked for it, there were few water fountains anywhere, programs cost an extra pound or two when we went to plays, and our main dishes in restaurants did not have side dishes included. Perhaps the no-ice thing is just an extension of this general pattern.

I’ve never seen beer served on ice anywhere in Europe, ever. I live in Britain, and I’ve been to France, Germany and Holland multiple times, and also visited Spain, Belgium and Austria. Where are you getting this beer on ice idea from?

Europeans tend to drink lagers and weiss beers chilled (but not ice cold), and in Britain, bitters, ales and stouts are drunk at room temperature.

I’ve also never had problems getting water, a soft drink, or spirit-based drinks with ice. I’d say serving water with ice is less common in Northern Europe because it just doesn’t get that hot here! In the south of France and Spain, all the restaurants I’ve been to automatically put a large jug of iced water on the table, and any pub or bar will give you iced water if you ask them. Drinks from American-style outlets like McDonalds, or from cocktail bars are normally full of ice.

Being a European, and having traveled around a lot of Europe, and also having been in the US (San Diego). It is true that you don’t get as much “Free Stuff” i.e Refills of Coffee, soft drinks etc… But I can honestly say I’ve never had a problem getting Ice (just ask and you will receive!). Also, I’ve never had a problem getting free water or bread in any restaurant.

re: warm beer drinkers in Europe.

When I worked in room service at the Marriott O’Hare, There was a HUGE convention every year of European magazine people. They would reserve about a third of the whole place and we had STRICT instructions that all beer was to pulled out of the cooler at least 4 hours before we served it.

This used to freak me out. Then I was stationed in Germany for 10 years and actually got to the point where I’d drink warm Budweiser.

Hey! At least I don’t drink iced coffee!

I’ve spent time in England, Scotland, Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, and Poland. And had difficulty getting ice in every country - ranging from just sort of difficult in England, to impossible in Spain.

And I do often get an attitude when I ask for ice - even if I say I will pay for it, I will typically get a drink with one of two lonely cubes floating around in it.

I was told by one European that they don’t like to drink it that way because it is just too cold, and it made their teeth hurt because they were not used to it. I don’t know though - you can certainly get ice cream in lots of places.

So far, some interesting answers. I especially like the reasoning behind xtnjohnson’s ‘wild ass guess’. That makes sense to me, in an odd kind of way. It might also explain why the two countries have come up with such silly reasons for why they do it- i.e., Europeans belief that “ice-cold drinks [are] bad for the stomach”, for instance.

Is there any evidence to support xtn’s hypothesis?


It’s interesting that you bring that up. Back when I was a kid, I too believed that restaurants crammed ice into soft drinks to short the customer and raise some revenue. In a strange kind of way, I still believe it’s true today. Soft drinks are a cash-cow for restaurants and the like- it cost pennies to make. I wouldn’t be surprised if they did it to raise revenue.

But it still doesn’t answer why ice water would be served with a lone cube in Europe. Hmmm……

I’m going with the economic’s angle for now.

On a related topic, how have our European posters reacted to coming to the U.S. and being served a glass of ice with water? Was it as much of a shock to you as it was to those who have traveled from the U.S. to Europe? How did we try to explain the difference to you?

Thanks one and all.

This little “problem” isn’t limited to Europe only. Just south of our border (the U.S. border that is), the Mexicans are mostly anti-ice as well (well, I can’t speak for the northern border towns, but this is definitely true in central Mexico).

McDonald’s and Burger King generally put ice in their soft drinks – about the same amount as our own McD’s and B.K. do.

But any other restaurants usually give you just a glass bottle of warm Coca Cola (or other flavors of Coke-produced beverage). They usually will have ice if you ask, however.

To their credit, however, the beer is always cold.

I didn’t see the New Yorker article mentioned above, and it’s been bugging me where I first heard my WAG. The problem is that the ice trade is often noted in passing on other subjects - trains, urban history, etc. I don’t know of any books on the ice trade itself - I’m sure they exist, but I haven’t read them.

I think the source may either have been “Gotham,” or the “Encyclopedia of New York.” I’ll check when I get home tonight.

I doubt this is definitive, but it’s the rationale behind little/no ice when I was in London …

The owner of the pub I was in told me he just didn’t have space for an ice machine. He said the kitchen area was fairly small, and he opined that other older restaurants faced the same situation. I got the same general answer in a couple other restaurants.