Coming Soon to a Restaurant Near You: More Surcharges

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It seems that small businesses, many of them beset on all sides by taxes and regulations — more in some jurisdictions than in others — are resorting to creative ways to deal with narrowing profit margins. Some of those ways involve adding various surcharges onto the customer’s tab; some are calling these “hidden fees,” although, one must admit, it’s hard to hide a fee that is right on your restaurant or cafe bill. 

Some Australian establishments are getting a little carried away.

A furious diner has lashed out at the rising issue of “hidden surcharges” in restaurants after being stung with a $4 [$2.66 USD] transaction fee on their bill.

The disgruntled Australian took to social media to complain about the additional charge after it was added to their meal unexpectedly, claiming there was no signage warning of the extra fees for those paying by card.

With the additional charge, the meal – two serves of beef pepper rice and a Pepsi Max – came in at $40.97 [$27.28 USD], prompting the diner to ask: “Are EFTPOS fees and surcharges just normalized now?”

While these events took place in Australia, similar fees and charges are not uncommon here in the States. Our own favored Susitna Valley dining establishment is having to add a 3.5 percent credit card surcharge, as narrowing margins are forcing them to pass on the costs of the transaction; and Alaska isn’t exactly a heavily taxed state, especially out in “the Borough,” where there are no sales taxes.

But the “hidden surcharge” claim is a bit odd.

This trend is so common, it has been dubbed by Reddit users the “hidden surcharge trend,” with many agreeing it was a major concern.

“A few years ago, EFTPOS fees or any surcharges were displayed clearly at the counter,” the Reddit post read.

“In fact, staff would usually go out of their way to let us know if there was a surcharge, how much it was for, and why it was there.

While I’m not enamored of these fees, nor what made them necessary, it’s a bit hard to call them hidden fees. Sure, maybe the sign on the counter has come down, but it’s still on the bill; how many people don’t examine the bill before paying it? Too many, it would seem.

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One business establishment in the linked story, this one in Beaverton, Oregon, would appear to have been trying to send a message. In the attached video (which we sadly cannot embed here) there is a display of what appears to be a restaurant bill with a rather surprising fee noted, presenting an added $15 charge because, as the slip says, “You’re an A**hole.” Now, one would think that there has to be a story behind that. There was. The customer had forgotten the name of the cocktail he had ordered, which was called, you guessed it, “You’re an A**hole.”

Setting that tidbit aside for the moment: This is the kind of thing that happens when small, low-margin businesses are squeezed — by rising costs, by increased taxes, by increased regulation, and, yes, by increases in the minimum wage. As long as these trends continue — more taxes, more regulation, more interference — expect the fees and surcharges to increase, not decrease.

Happy dining!

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