Customer spots hidden charge on Queensland café receipt: 'Not justified'

A Brisbane diner has questioned an unusual surcharge on a restaurant receipt after dining on the Sunshine Coast on Saturday.

After eating at the Bavarian Bier Café in Sunshine Plaza, Maroochydore the bill from the popular restaurant included an additional "industry service charge" which saw five per cent added to the customer's bill.

"Can anyone explain what the $5.35 industry service charge is?" the diner questioned on Reddit.

"I have not seen this hidden gem before," he added.

Bavarian Bier Cafe restaurant receipt surcharge.
The Brisbane diner was shocked by the additional 5 per cent surcharge added to their bill called an 'industry service charge'. Source: Bavarian Bier Cafe/Reddit

The total bill came to $112.35 which included two kids' cheeseburgers for $15 each and two additional meals. An extra salad was also included for $20.

While some argued the meal prices are already expensive enough, the "industry service charge" topped it off.

Many claimed the charge was unfair and even "illegal" and put it down to a "mandatory tip".

"Looks like just another way for Bavarian Bier Cafe to rip people off on their overpriced food and drinks," one person hit out in the comments.

"They’re forcing you to pay a tip which I believe is meant to be a choice in Australia," said another.

According to the company's website, a 10 per cent surcharge applies on Sundays, 15 per cent on public holidays and a 5 per cent service fee applies Monday to Saturday. However, it fails to explain what the surcharge covers.

Some people suggested it could be to cover staff wages on weekends when they're paid a penalty rate.

"A surcharge that applies every day of the week is deliberately deceptive," one person fumed.

Outdoor area at Bavarian Bier Cafe
The company said the charge 'is a result of strong inflation impacting the business' and is added to all orders made from Monday to Saturday. Source: Bavarian Bier Cafe

"At the very least it should be in obviously large text on the menu so you couldn't miss it. But, no pun intended, it doesn't pass the pub test. People shouldn't eat at places that do this."

Someone else said the added cost every day of the week makes the prices "feel fraudulent" while another argued, "the surcharges aren't illegal, just shady".

'Strong inflation' and Covid-19 to blame, company says

A spokesperson for the Pacific Hunter Group that operates the Bier Café told Yahoo News Australia the service fee "is a result of strong inflation impacting the business".

This includes the rising cost of food and beverage, utilities and cleaning costs, as well as industry wage rises "that far exceed inflation."

"Our business continues to be impacted by Covid-19 induced hospitality hardship," a company spokesperson said in a statement.

"The additional burden of soaring inflation and wage costs led to our tough decision to add the service charge to the menu across all our restaurants for an interim period."

The company pointed out that the charge is noted on their menus, but some people argued it should be displayed clearly around the restaurant.

It's not the first time a restaurant has charged extra on the bill with rising costs impacting the entire hospitality industry.

Experts chime in on 'unreasonable' surcharge

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."

Dr Jun Yao, Senior Lecturer in Marketing, Macquarie Business School, said this particular surcharge "cannot be justified."

"Consumers tend to be more tolerant when they can see the associative links between surcharges and rising costs, for example, an extra charge for lettuce we saw earlier this year. However, an 'Industry Service Surcharge' is nowhere near reasonable," she told Yahoo News Australia.

Professor Roberta Crouch, a marketing expert from Flinders University, agreed and 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 told Yahoo News Australia.

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.

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