Huck's Rant: Should surcharges be off the menu?

With the vast majority of diners feeling, well, negatively about surcharges, coupled with the fact restaurants are all about perception of value and lasting impressions, Anthony Huckstep suggests it’s time to re-think the manner in which surcharges are administered.

Surcharges leave a bad taste in my mouth. I was once slugged four different types on one bill, and I’ve not been back to that restaurant since. I understand margins are thinner than Donald Trump’s skin, but getting slapped across the face with wet surcharge fish after a great meal feels like watching your favourite football team lose in the last-gasp moments of the final. All that enjoyment is ripped from the jaws of victory and replaced with a bitter pill of defeat.

From Sundays to public holiday surcharges (if you’re charging these but not paying your staff penalty rates, you should be shut down) to suggested gratuity, group booking surcharges and credit card fees, hell, before you know it the bill is so high you’d think you had an extra companion at your table.

“With prices like these I bet you don’t get many customers.”

“Sir, with prices like these we don’t need many.”

“Well, I’m on a tight budget, do you have a leftovers menu?”

Coughing up for surcharges is the cost of going out but it’s the way they are administered that bothers me.

Large groups are, of course, much more of a challenge for the wait staff, but a surcharge is not the way to compensate.

No doubt some things are harder and some things are easier when serving larger groups, so it evens itself out. But if it’s a problem, put the costs into your menu structure. Many restaurants nowadays will only offer set menus to large groups as a way of making service for the floor staff and chefs smoother and faster.

This eliminates the diners who only order a $12 starter; it means diners all get their meals at once, usually with the table brimming with shared side dishes; and the bill’s much easier for us to divide at the end. It just makes sense, and low and behold, diners will perceive their meal as good value.

Next, there’s suggested gratuity. Though standard on bills in other parts of the world, we don’t have that engrained tipping culture thanks to better award wages. Therefore, if you want a tip, don’t put it on a bill as a suggested payment. I’ve experienced enough appalling service to know I’ll be making the call on whether I add extra money to the bill, not you.

Finally, the worst surcharge of all: credit card surcharges. Restaurateurs will tell you it's a direct cost passed on by the credit card companies who charge the percentage for the transaction.

But my problem is not the charge itself, but the fact it’s on most bills before the customer has indicated how they’d like to pay – a sneaky assumption they’ll be paying by card, that most cash payers will miss. I pay cash sometimes, and provided I see the charge, it can be a complete pain to request the surcharge be taken off my bill.

But quite frankly, most people pay by card these days, it’s just how the world works. So why not weave the cost into your menu, rather than slugging guests at the end?

Anyway, the truth is I don’t mind many of these extra costs, but don’t you think it has a more positive impact by being worked into the menu costings? Rather than loading up the bill at the end with more dot points, therefore altering one’s perception of the dining experience.