Stallholders at Wollongong's Eat Street Thursday night food markets have expressed frustration they aren't allowed to sell water or soft drink under a council policy of non-competition.
While the market features dozens of food trucks or stalls, selling a range of cuisine from hot dogs, to Spanish chorizo, to dumplings, a customer can't buy a drink to wash it down at any of the stalls.
The reason is that Wollongong City Council demands they not sell mass-produced beverages, be it water, soft drinks or tea. This is so they don't compete with the food and drink businesses that are tenants of the mall.
One stallholder told the Mercury it was one business in particular whose patronage was being protected.
"The 7-11 complains, and so we're not allowed to sell them", he said.
"Challenge it and you're not invited back. It's Foragers [market] but it's council who sets the rule."
The same rules apply to the Friday Forage lunch time market.
Both Crown St mall events are operated by markets business Foragers, but the rules over drinks are set by council in its hire agreement.
The no-drinks situation is one issue - along with a lack of seating - that sparks negative comments complaints among the generally-positive reviews of the markets online.
In a statement, Wollongong City Council confirmed the policy was part of its mall usage policy and hire agreement - but stallholders were able to make or brew their own drinks for sale.
"The Crown Street Mall Thursday night Eat Street market focuses on handcrafted and homemade products and foods," a spokesman said.
"Each food stall is encouraged to provide a unique offer which can include creating and selling their own beverages.
"Council’s policy doesn’t allow food stall owners to sell beverages that are mass produced, such as coffee/tea and canned/bottled commercial drinks as the aim of this market is to complement what is currently available within the mall's retail outlets."
One stallholder said the situation is similar at the Chatswood market.