Rising food prices have restaurant diners suffering from sticker shock. But while you might expect your local steakhouse to charge top dollar for its prime dry-aged filet mignon, hidden charges at both high- and low-end establishments could be contributing to your supersize tab.
OK, an extra ketchup packet may seem like a small request, but condiment enthusiasts, take note: Those foil envelopes freely given could be anything but freebies. As a cost-saving measure, many restaurant chains, including some McDonald’s franchises, no longer leave condiments out for the taking and instead include just a packet or two with each order. They’ll hand over more on request, but ask if they’re free before you pocket those packets—as much as a dollar might be tacked onto your bill without your realizing it.
Cosmo, a pan-Asian mega-buffet restaurant franchise in the U.K., made headlines last November when a Cosmo restaurant in Croydon, England, reportedly charged a mother £3 (about $4.75) to dine with her newborn baby on her lap. The branch’s Web site does specify that parents must pay £8 (about $13) for children under 150 centimeters tall (4’11”), and the absolute minimum for any guest is £3. Yet reports of a charge for an exclusively breast-fed (and lap-held) baby certainly raised a stir. This sort of fee for dining with infants in restaurants hasn’t crossed the Atlantic yet, as far as we know, but we can’t help but wonder which Stateside establishment will be first to charge an expectant mother for plate sharing.
Before you blow out those candles, you may want to wish for a bigger bank account when you find out how much the restaurant might be charging you to bring in your own cake. This cake-cutting fee, which can apply to any dessert brought in (whether or not it needs to be cut and plated), could cost you about $10 per person. Every slice adds to the bill, proving that you can’t always have your cake and eat it, too.
Most restaurants that sell wine will charge you at least a small corkage fee for skipping their cellar’s finest in favor of drinking your own bottle. It’s important to do your homework before you BYOB, as corkage fees vary by establishment. A quick call in advance will help you determine if bringing your own—rather than paying the restaurant’s markup—is worth your while. Expect to pay around $10 to $15 (and sometimes $75 or more) per bottle for the convenience of having your vino popped and poured tableside. By contrast, restaurateurs who don’t have a liquor license or don’t sell alcohol for religious reasons are often happy to open and pour your own wine gratis.
Californians might want to think twice the next time their local sub shop proprietor asks if they’d like their sandwiches toasted or otherwise heated. A sales tax that varies by county tacks on an added cost for warming up your cold cuts, meaning a ham and Swiss sandwich served at room temperature is cheaper than a ham and Swiss that’s nice and melty. Nicknamed the “Toasting Tax,” the fee is part of a state scheme taxing all hot prepared foods.
If you’re the kind of person who loves to have a taste of everything at a meal and share lots of different dishes, you may have to pay for that pleasure. To discourage patrons from going halvesies and encourage them to fork over the additional cash for a second entrée, some restaurants will tack on a surcharge for splitting one dish between two plates. Plate-sharing fees vary by restaurant (an extra $2 to $7 is not uncommon), so you may have to bust out your calculator to determine the better deal: paying the sharing charge or splurging for an entrée of your own.
Many restaurants will warn you in advance about their cancellation fee, but the amounts involved might make you think twice about changing your dining plans—even days in advance. Among New York’s high-end destinations, Per Se will charge up to $175 per person for reservations not canceled at least three days ahead, and Gordon Ramsay at the London Hotel charges $75 per person for reservations canceled less than two days in advance. Fancy eateries aren’t the only ones imposing the high-priced fine. Restaurants at Disney World in Orlando now charge $10 per guest for any reservations not canceled at least 24 hours in advance.