When Chuck’s Roadhouse Bar and Grill opened up recently in the former Boston Pizza Shop on Great Northern Road, it brought something with it not seen in the restaurant industry in this city previously, a three percent surcharge applied on top of the regular cost of a bill.
It is not a hidden charge; it is clearly spelled out in the Roadhouse’s menu.
And it is not new to the Roadhouse brand. Chuck’s franchises have added a three per cent charge to each bill before taxes since 2015.
The idea behind the surcharge, we are told right on the menu, is to keep food quality high and prices low.
I first heard about the surcharge after Chuck’s arrived in the Sault, which pointed out a major oversight on my part. My wife Barbara, son Blake and myself ate at a Chuck’s Roadhouse in Guelph in early October and none of us noticed the note on the menu explaining the surcharge.
Not that it would have made any difference. We still would have eaten there. The addition to our $60-plus bill would have only turned out to be, if we had bothered to look, a bit upward of $1.80..
On our bill of $24.99 this Friday past in the Sault, the surcharge amounted to only 75 cents, not anywhere near enough to keep us from making future visits.
Chuck’s has applied a name to its surcharge, The HONEST TO GOODNESS fee.
“Let’s be honest,” it says in a subhead, continuing after some patting of itself on the back, with: “And, if we are being honest, then we need to tell you that for us to continue offering great deals, then something has to give. And we definitely don’t want that to be our quality . . . In order for us to continue providing fresh, fabulous food at incredible prices, we need to add three percent to all prices.”
Chuck’s is not alone in applying a surcharge, but where Chuck’s is applying it to keep regular prices down, others have different reasons. .
Back in May 2017, The Canadian Press reported that one Toronto eatery was instituting a small surcharge to help pay for health and dental benefits for its employees.
The news agency said the owners of Emma’s Country Kitchen had announced they would include an optional three per cent surcharge on customers’ cheques to go toward benefits for full-time workers. They argued the fee – which would amount to less than 50 cents on the average bill – would be more transparent than raising prices.
In Texas, Foreign & Domestic, in Austin’s North Loop, and Hoover’s Cooking, in Cherrywood, this year added a three percent health care surcharge to checks to cover the cost of sick leave and health insurance, Fox News reported.. Patrons can deny the charge, but its co-owner, Sarah Heard, said many opt not to.
“If we were to raise prices on our food, we would have to raise a dollar per item,” co-owner Nathan Lemley said. “Basically, this would be the least amount we could raise and that would actually cost the guest more,” he explained.
In 2016 some restaurants in Boston started adding a three percent kitchen appreciation fee to customers’ bills to lift the wages of kitchen workers, who don’t have the same access to tips that front-of-house workers do.
On the Sweet Cheeks menu there is a disclosure that reads in part:
We are implementing a three percent kitchen appreciation fee to the guest check that will directly benefit our back of house (BOH) team. The front of house (FOH) team members earn nearly three times more than their BOH counterparts. The kitchen appreciation fee will allow BOH employees to directly benefit from the top line of success of the restaurant.
“Everybody used to say, ‘I’ll never pay for baggage on an airline,’ ” said Bob Luz, president of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, “and now it’s just part of what we do.”
One story said as well as restaurants tacking on surcharges to supplement employees’ wages, pay for healthcare and cover the rising cost of doing business, they have even been applied in the fight against climate change.
And the Alamo Drafthouse in downtown Los Angeles adds a three percent to its bills when guests purchase food or drinks during a movie.
The surcharges naturally bring mixed reactions.
Some people commenting on the surcharges in the various cities supported them, others said they would simply reduce the amount of their tip to correspond with the amount of the surcharge.
“Instead of taking responsibility they are just downloading it to their customers,” Karen Hanna wrote on Emma’s Country Kitchen Facebook page, while Jeff Herrle countered, “Wow, truly remarkable commitment to a laudable ideal and for this to happen in a time when many employers are contributing to the problem of precarious work under the auspices of ‘savings’ and ‘competitiveness.’ Well done.”
A lot of restaurants used the increase in minimum wages as a reason for instituting the surcharge and this is not unreasonable as they had to recover the extra cost somehow.
And when you look at it, what does it matter whether the cost recovery, or in Chuck’s case holding down prices, is done through increasing the price of menu items or applying a surcharge, the latter being the simplest way of doing it.
Personally I prefer to have everything included in the price on the menu, with only HST and tip to come on top of that.
But if the food is good, three percent certainly isn’t going to keep me away.
However, one has to wonder what is going to happen in the future as the restaurant’s costs continue to climb. Something undoubtedly will have to give, an increase in prices or an increase in the surcharge.