A flabbergasted customer says she won't be returning to a renowned Australian restaurant after being charged with an unexpected $71 service fee – but management has defended the "regrettable" charge to Yahoo, suggesting diners should get used to it.
Diner Claire O’Donnell was enjoying a night out with friends at Perth's Rockpool Bar and Grill until it was time to pay, The West Australian reported. It was then she noticed the five per cent service charge as part of her $1,491 bill.
Taking to the Perth Foodies Facebook group, the woman expressed her disbelief saying she would no longer be dining at the venue "in principle" as the hidden fee was an "utter disgrace". She soon found out others felt the same way.
One diner reportedly shared their Rockpool receipt in the comments, which showed a $449 service fee on an almost $5,000 meal. Ms O’Donnell was told by staff the fee had been introduced during Covid.
Rockpool discloses service fee on their menus
Rockpool, which first opened by chef Neil Perry in Sydney in 1989, does subtly disclose the service fees at the bottom of their menu — something Ms O’Donnell claimed to have not seen.
All three restaurants in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth charge a five per cent service fee on Monday to Saturday, 10 per cent on Sundays and to groups of eight or more, as well as 15 per cent on public holidays.
"Service charges are commonplace across the Australian hospitality industry and cover various costs incurred by businesses, including penalty rate wages on particular days, higher costs of operating under particular circumstances, and the rising day-to-day costs of running a restaurant," a Rockpool spokesperson told Yahoo News Australia.
"As the costs of doing business rises, restaurants are increasingly passing on these costs – regretfully so. We are fully transparent about service charges, which are noted on our website, menus, and receipts."
Customers need to be made aware of subtle fees
Griffith University marketing expert Dr Sara Thaichon previously told Yahoo News Australia that adding such a surcharge for service 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."
Meanwhile Professor Roberta Crouch, a marketing expert from Flinders University, argued 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 in September.
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