The Sense And Sensibility Of Surcharges

The last time you went out to the restaurant, you might have noticed a few surcharges on your receipt. Some you may agree with, others you may disagree. For the restaurant owner, all of these surcharges share a common goal: increasing profit. You may incur a few charges in your own restaurant. We hope this guide to surcharges can give you an idea of the positives and negatives of surcharges, and the variety of them in common usage. All surcharges can be debated, as Eatocracy has proven.


Condiments are, at their base, a very minor addition to your kitchen costs, and most likely do not incur many man-hours in preparation or cleaning. Depending on the demographic of your restaurant, this may be as cheap and unobtrusive as leaving a bottles of ketchup and mustard on every table-top and offering small cups of various accoutrements to freshly shaving parmesan for pizza, pastas, and salads.

When condiments are listed as a surcharge, it’s an encouragement for the consumer to try the dishes as-is. Why have faith in a chef if you’re just going to change up the recipe? Sushi legend Jiro would throw you out for dipping his sushi in soy sauce.

Most consumers, though, will see the surcharge as a restaurant being incredibly tight with their money. Why would you want to eat at a location that can’t spare a few cents of ketchup for my fries?

The debate is lengthy, and one we’ve discussed before. Charging for condiments has its positives and negatives.

Bringing Your Own Food/Drink

The fact of the matter is, for the most part, if any outside food or drink is brought into your restaurant, that’s a sale you won’t be making. Parents may bring a meal for their children, stating they’re picky eaters. For adult celebrations, consumers may bring in a bottle of wine or cake that they’d like to eat. If your restaurant sells desserts or drinks, you’d like them to eat your own, especially if they’ll be using your plates, cutlery, and glasses for the occasion.

A small surcharge may discourage the practice. At the same time, it may incur problems, especially if people have dietary restrictions or weren’t informed of the surcharge.

Tips For Large Parties

While tipping is not a requirement in America as much as death and taxes are, it’s a socially-expected custom of eating out. Many restaurant employees are paid on the basis that they’ll be tipped, and when handling a large party, that’s an immediate upgrade in the amount of work they’ll be doing. Such a “gratuity included” on a check allows an assurance that your staff will receive a tip that’s acceptable, and leave it up to the consumer to see if they want to add an extra tip.

The negative side of this is that there are people that oppose the concept of tipping, and will argue to have this surcharge removed. If there is particularly bad service, a customer may not want to tip at all, and not feel beholden even to the included tip.

Time And Reservations

Peak hours of the day might lead to crowding and such; a possible surcharge during the dinner hours may make seating more competitive. If you’d pay more to get into a packed club, you could pay more for a table during dinner. You could always reserve a table, but  canceling or bailing on a reservation could possibly incur a fine. For these situations, you may want to charge the surcharge up front, and not apply it to the dinner when they show up.