Defending the Industry

Since May last year, restaurants and cafes around the country have been subjected to new legislation.The period of grace best owed to them was lifted recently, leaving many restaurateurs muttering darkly.

Essentially the change requires venues to print a separate list of higher public holiday or weekend pricing – as opposed to the general practice of stating in fine print or on signage that a surcharge applies. One restaurateur to whom I spoke ex- plained that the change ‘was designed to remove the small print extra charges that industries such as airlines, car companies and banks have been using for years to make prices on the ticket look better than they actually are’ but that ‘in the process restaurants have been caught up in the wash.’

Most people are familiar with the concept of fork- ing out slightly more for, say, coffee and cake on a Sunday than they might otherwise be required to do on a weekday. We know that, as an enticement to lure staff to work those days traditionally considered premium family time, they are paid more and as a result the venue must ask more of the customer in order to absorb that extra amount. It’s irritating, but customary.

What this change in law means is that now venues are obliged to either expensively and painstakingly ensure that they present two separate menus reflecting the different pricings to customers or, as many have elected to do, simply increase their prices across the board. The latter approach I found after speaking to a random representation of establishments seemed to be the more commonly adopted solution to the situation. So suddenly everything has become a little more expensive than it was anyway.

Some restaurants have delayed doing anything at all about the whole thing, despite the threat of infringement notices by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) – only to be abused by self-righteous, angry customers accusing them of operating illegally. Othershave been genuinely ignorant of the change in law because they may not be a member of organisations such as the Restaurant and Catering Association whichactintheirinterests. IcontactedJohnHart, Chief Executive Officer of the Association, who told me that ‘yes there are still businesses that are unaware of the changes – not the least of which non-members. We have put out various emails and magazine articles on the topic (with suggestions). We did try to stop this when it was up for consultation by Treasury on the basis that a menu can never state the full price as, by definition, it is a list of components of a meal. This was accepted as an anomaly and then ignored.’

And yet the more I thought about all this and the more restaurateurs with whom I spoke, the clearer it became that surfacing was another, larger issue. And that was that, no matter what the change was or how it would be dealt with, customers would complain: this merely has provided them with a new excuse.

Customers would complain because most of them have absolutely no idea that very few restaurants or cafes make any sort of profit whatsoever. That they feel a sense of entitlement toward complaining about being ripped off, as if their position as patrons (‘always right!’) endows them with a sinister power. Because the truth is, there are not many restaurateurs or cafe owners who sell up and sail off in their own private yachts. Notwith- standing the fact that, yes, there do exist places which charge outrageously and deliver little, which exploit their staff and operate unethically – on the whole the hospitality industry is run by passionate people with visions who wish to translate those visions into a lovely experience for their picky, difficult, overly critical customers.

About victoria

Author of the gastro-memoir 'Amore&Amaretti: A Tale of Love an Food in Tuscany', I am a Byron Shire-based food and travel writer, food columnist, cooking teacher, recipe editor and chef. Born in Canberra, ACT, I have a BA in languages although am only really passionate about the Italian one, in which I am fluent, having spent four years in Tuscany in my late twenties, and returning reasonably frequently ever since. Despite that, my partner of many years, a wonderful artist, clothes designer and aged carer, is half-Greek!
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