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Can restaurants legally charge more on public holidays?

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Every week we will break down, debunk and demystify your rights as a shopper in Australia. This week we are looking at the practice of restaurants and cafes adding surcharges to their menus for weekend trade.

We all know life is getting more expensive than ever before, and how important it is to stretch every dollar you make.

That's why each week we'll answer a question surrounding what shoppers are – and aren't – entitled to when dealing with retailers, restaurants and manufacturers.

MONEY MATTERS: Is it legal for a shop to refuse cash as payment?

Ripped off on a weekend?

Hi there,

I've been reading your Money Matters column and have been thinking about my local cafe.

I was there recently on a weekend and was shocked to discover on the menu that there was a 10 per cent surcharge on ALL prices for weekends and public holidays.

It wasn't a public holiday, it was just a normal weekend! Surely this isn't legal?

MONEY MATTERS: Is it legal for a shop to only accept cash as payment?

The short answer is that it is legal – as long as the customer knows about it.

Most of us know that for most businesses, it costs more money to be open on weekends and public holidays due to the increased wages that must be paid to staff.

Businesses can legally handle these costs in a number of ways: they can wear the costs on the chin and hope increased patronage will cover it, they can charge a surcharge on their normal prices, or they can just increase their margins every day to cover for it.

Fundamentally a business can charge whatever they like – provided the consumer is well aware of the upfront costs before entering into a "transaction" (even on something as minor as buying a coffee).

MONEY MATTERS: How to get a refund if you've lost the box

According to Australia's consumer watchdog, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, there is one specific rule: businesses can't sneakily hide their surcharges on the menu.

"Restaurants, cafes and bistros that charge a surcharge on certain days do not need to provide you a separate menu or price list or have a separate price column with the surcharge included," the ACCC says. 

"However, the menu must include the words 'a surcharge of [percentage] applies on [the specified day or days]' and these words must be displayed at least as prominently as the most prominent price on the menu."

There is no limit as to what the percentage of the surcharge may be.

Do you have a consumer question you want answered? You can get in touch with reporter Stuart Marsh at smarsh@nine.com.au.

The information provided on this website is general in nature only and does not constitute personal financial advice. The information has been prepared without taking into account your personal objectives, financial situation or needs. Before acting on any information on this website you should consider the appropriateness of the information having regard to your objectives, financial situation and needs.



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