Aussie diner stumped over fine print at bottom of restaurant menu

A Brisbane restaurant has left diners shocked and confused over a series of extra charges listed in fine print at the bottom of the menu.

A customer at El Camino Cantina in Southbank, Brisbane, noticed the charges and posted a photo to Reddit.

“Additional service fees every day of the week,” they wrote.

The fine print reveals a slew of extra charges that diners will be slugged with, including:

  • 10 per cent surcharge on Sundays

  • 5 per cent service fee on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays

  • 10 per cent surcharge for groups of 10 or more

El Camino's restaurant menu which shows additional fees at the bottom.
The fine print at the bottom includes the restaurant's service fees and additional charges, some which shocked diners. Source: Reddit

There are also fees for using credit cards, debit cards and ‘tap and go’, which are regularly applied at restaurants and stores.

The post quickly attracted more than 300 comments, with most viewers blown away by the seemingly excessive fees.

“That's such BS, service fees shouldn't be a thing. Include them in your price and stop deceiving customers!” one person said.

“Am I reading that right.... there is a service fee every single day of the week?” another said.

“A 10% fee for groups of 10+ ??!!” another wrote in shock, while someone else added that if that group were to dine on a Saturday they'd also be hit with an extra 5% charge, "and then if you pay by card, it's another fee".

Others went as far as vowing to never return to the restaurant.

El Camino Cantina is operated by Pacific Concepts, who told Yahoo News Australia the charges were necessary to cover higher wages and "soaring" inflation costs.

A margarita at El Camino Cantina restaurant
While customers love the restaurant's margaritas and sombreros, the extra charges have struck a nerve with some. Source: Trip Advisor

"Service charges are commonplace across the Australian hospitality industry and cover various costs incurred by businesses, including penalty rate wages on certain days and higher costs of operating at particular times," the spokesperson said.

"In addition, recent soaring inflation and minimum wage increases have added pressure to our business, which continues to be impacted by Covid-19 induced hospitality hardship. We are fully transparent about service charges, which are noted on our menus, websites, and receipts."

Pacific Concepts also run the Bavarian Bier Cafe and Fratelli Fresh.

In August, a diner at the Bavarian in Maroochydore, on the Sunshine Coast, complained of a strange $5.35 charge they spotted on their receipt that was listed as an 'industry service charge'.

"I have not seen this hidden gem before," the customer wrote on social media, asking if anyone knew what the charge was for.

Again, the answer came down to "strong inflation".

El camino cantina restaurant in southbank
El Camino Cantina's restaurant in South Brisbane. Source: Google Maps

Experts say charges are 'unjustified'

Griffith University marketing expert Dr Sara Thaichon told Yahoo News Australia adding a surcharge is legal as long as customers know about it before making any transaction.

"But it can be problematic from the customer perspective as it is often considered a sneaky tactic of restaurants, especially when customers are not expecting it in Australia where we do not have a tipping culture as the US," she said.

"While a voluntary tip is intended to go to the employees who provide the service, a service charge often goes directly to the business to cover the cost of the business such as the costs to provide the actual services or administrative costs."

Professor Roberta Crouch, a marketing expert from Flinders University, said proprietors would be "better off" just increasing their prices to accommodate the increased costs of some ingredients as opposed to charging an extra levy.

"A surcharge without explanation is never going to be greeted happily by most people, we like and expect to understand what we are paying for," she said.

She said that while "many people may not notice" a small charge added, a five per cent charge will most certainly go noticed, especially on a larger bill.

According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), surcharges on different days are allowed but must be prominently displayed on the menu.

“Restaurants, cafes and bistros that charge a surcharge on certain days do not need to provide you a separate menu or price list or have a separate price column with the surcharge included. However, the menu must include the words 'a surcharge of [percentage] applies on [the specified day or days]' and these words must be displayed at least as prominently as the most prominent price on the menu.”

The ACCC also states that businesses may be misleading customers if they “represent that an advertised price is the total price that you will have to pay when it is not”.

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