Re: Hidden Charges in Restaurants

Your questions and comment on restaurants and dining out
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Should Restaurant menus show FULLY INCLUSIVE prices (i.e. include VAT)?

ABSOLUTELY
233
95%
YES
8
3%
NOT AN ISSUE
5
2%
NO
0
No votes
 
Total votes: 246

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Steve Wooler
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Hidden Charges in Restaurants (POLL)

Post by Steve Wooler » Tue Apr 22, 2014 12:09 pm

Some restaurants and cafés in Tobago do not include VAT in their displayed menu prices. A few restaurants also apply a compulsory service charge that is, in itself, subject to VAT. Assuming a 10% service charge and 15% VAT, the final bill can therefore be up to 26.5% higher than the stated menu prices.

No wonder, then, that so many visitors leave the restaurant feeling slightly cheated; feeling that an otherwise excellent experience has been tarnished. Visitors react by awarding the restaurant a low score in our RSR polls. Evidence of this can be seen in our real-time RSR ranking list (The Good, The Bad & The Ugly) where many of the restaurants that apply hidden charges are listed lower than their culinary reputation might otherwise suggest.

I appreciate that the owners of these restaurants will take exception to the term “hidden charges”. They will argue that the extra charges are mentioned on the menu, so are not hidden. We could argue forever about whether small italic text at the bottom of a menu constitutes ‘hidden’ or not. The fact is that there is no valid reason that VAT and compulsory services charges (where gratuities are not left to the discretion of the customer) should not be included in the menu prices. I would argue that showing the customer the exact price that they will pay is the ONLY honest way of doing business.

This practise does substantial harm to Tobago’s tourism reputation. It can only foster an impression that Tobago is a ‘rip-off’ destination.

Perhaps the time has come to 'out' the offenders and warn visitors. Perhaps I should consider modifying our Restaurants listings and adding a ‘Price Alert’ banner to all establishments that practise non-inclusive pricing. However, before doing so, I would a) like to solicit reader opinion, and b) gather a list of offending establishments.

Please share your opinion by voting in the poll at the top of this page. All votes are private and anonymous. For validation reasons, votes are restricted to members of the forum and non-registered readers will be unable to vote. This naturally limits the scope of the poll, but at least we will all know that the results are totally genuine, and without multiple votes by the same person. The poll is open to visitors and residents alike, but restaurant owners and employees are naturally asked to refrain from voting, for obvious reasons.

IMPORTANT NOTE: You will be unable to see the voting option until you log in to your forum account. So, please remember to LOG IN TO VOTE.

May I also ask readers, whether registered forum users or not, to let me know (steve@mytobago.infoemail) of any Tobago restaurant or café where they have noted hidden charges (VAT, taxes, service charge). Ideally, please send a cellphone photo of the bill or menu (we do not want to unfairly tag any establishment that is being fair to customers).

Naturally, all communication with me on this subject will remain anonymous and strictly confidential.

Thank you!
Steve Wooler
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Re: Hidden Charges in Restaurants

Post by Wendell Grosvenor » Tue Apr 22, 2014 12:16 pm

Steve, totally agree with your thoughts about tagging offenders. I have struggled with this in the past and shrugged it off. Usually from high-end (and delightful) restaurants. Happy to support you in your endeavours - sadly its too late for me this year, but there will be others. Loving MT - always have.
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Re: Hidden Charges in Restaurants (POLL)

Post by Clyde Alleyne » Tue Apr 22, 2014 1:22 pm

My experience with menu prices is that most restaurants in Tobago (and Trinidad, for that matter) do not show prices that are vat and service charge inclusive. So that is my expectation whenever I go to a restaurant, and therefore I am never shocked, upset, or surprised to see a separate charge for vat and service charge. Its just a matter of having expectations are realistic before you sit down. That said, restaurants can do a better job of stating clearly on their menus that vat and service charges are not included in the prices. I simply assume that they're not, so don't get surprised and fussed when I see the charges on the final bill.

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Re: Hidden Charges in Restaurants (POLL)

Post by RoseMaude » Tue Apr 22, 2014 1:23 pm

Good for you Steve,
It certainly would be helpful to know what one would expect to pay for a meal in a restaurant in Tobago without the shock of the vat at the end of the meal. Thank you. Regards, Sheila.

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Re: Hidden Charges in Restaurants (POLL)

Post by Claude » Tue Apr 22, 2014 1:40 pm

I think for Trinbagonians its common to show prices without VAT and it`s not a problem for them. But concerning foreigners especially in Tobago it should be normal to let them know what they have to pay. Tobagonians who do business with foreigners should use the foreign system. It`s one of the most important things in tourism to built up an atmosphere of confidence. BR, Joachim

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Re: Hidden Charges in Restaurants (POLL)

Post by Charlotte Keene » Tue Apr 22, 2014 1:51 pm

It is certainly very misleading for us foreigners when prices do not include VAT and also do not indicate whether or not service charge has been included. However sometimes service has been charged and a gap is left on the credit card payment slip for the customer to add a tip (this is an issue in UK as well) this seems to be asking for payment twice for the same thing; it is also misleading when the restaurant gives its prices in US$ only, while accepting TT$. I do not understand why they do this.
Having said this we love most of the restaurants in Tobago and have had lots of good meals, so no serious complaints, just the odd niggle.

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Re: Hidden Charges in Restaurants (POLL)

Post by CBGood » Tue Apr 22, 2014 2:50 pm

absolutely

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Re: Hidden Charges in Restaurants (POLL)

Post by Richard B » Tue Apr 22, 2014 2:51 pm

Prices should include VAT but service charge should be upto the patron or clearly stated on the menu that it will be added.

That said when sales tax was introduced in South Africa some retailers added at the till so displayed ex-tax price, others added to the ticket so displayed inclusive prices. That made things fun.

So while I'd prefer prices to be "inclusive" they can be exclusive if they are clear that prices don't include such additions and that should be very clear not in small print at the bottom of the last page.

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Re: Hidden Charges in Restaurants (POLL)

Post by Guy Burn » Tue Apr 22, 2014 3:44 pm

Absolutely, all charges should be included and shown. I've lived in the US since 1986 and it still irritates enormously that the shown prices here do not include taxes and any service.

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Re: Hidden Charges in Restaurants (POLL)

Post by Sharon Keeler » Tue Apr 22, 2014 3:50 pm

Mixed feeling on this. In the US, there is a food tax that varies according to state so we are used to paying up to 10% tax. When a service charge is included it should be stated on the menu.

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Re: Hidden Charges in Restaurants (POLL)

Post by Ulli Jenisch » Tue Apr 22, 2014 5:11 pm

Hi, I'm living in Tobago since many years and sad to say the prices of restaurants by now are way beyond anything somebody living there on an average income can afford. However: sometimes I have to go for businesss reasons and no, I never found any restaurant where the VAT and service charge was NOT stated. BUT: it's normally written at the bottom of the menu list, sometimes quite small, so that a foreign visitor might easily overlook it. Otherwise I see nothing extraordinary in this fact. It's very common in many European countries as well e.g. in Italy. In Italy you pay also a "pane e coperto" charge (which means you have to pay for the cutlery and the bread which comes automatically with the food you ordered.)
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Re: Hidden Charges in Restaurants (POLL)

Post by Peter Westbury » Tue Apr 22, 2014 6:44 pm

I usually make a point of asking the serving staff how much of the 10% they actually receive. It varies from zero through most often only a part to the occasional all of the 10%. If the service has been really good I indicate that they would have got more than the 10% if the management had not been so dictatorial and presumptuous.

Please, restauranteurs, be HONEST. A $100 dish is not $126.50. I love this country and live here. Please stop this nonsense and respect the majority of your customers.

A bar in one of the largest hotel on the island change 10% to serve you a beer; rather curiously they declinde to allow me to serve myself!

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Re: Hidden Charges in Restaurants (POLL)

Post by Ronald » Tue Apr 22, 2014 11:06 pm

As Sharon say, in some countries VAT is not on the list as it can be different from state to state, so I don´t think peoples from US has a problem.
In Europe I belive VAT mostly is included in the price, sometimes even the minimum service charge.

But when the price here sometimes is in USD and not in TTD, than there´s an other problem. What exchange rate USD-TTD does the restaurant have? I really don´t think that is written into the menu, so most likely the customer get a bad exchange rate.

If the service is included but the bill also has a section for extra service, than I use to give some extra if both food and servive was good, otherwise not. I do the same at home in Sweden.
One can also use that to show the restaurant that their food/service was really bad. In the 80s and 90s I was often working outside Sweden, and if the food or service was bad, than I use to pay as much as possible of the bill in cash with all smaller coins I had in my pocket! I was not welcome there again!

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Re: Hidden Charges in Restaurants (POLL)

Post by Helmark » Wed Apr 23, 2014 2:53 am

Absolutely!
Why not show the price incl. 15% VAT, then nobody will be surprised when they get the Bill. Forget about the service charge. If you like the service you get, hand the waiter the tip personally. If you are not satisfied with the service, sorry no tip. It might bring the waiter up on the marks in the future.
My philosophy is: If you treat your customer in a nice and polite way, you will always have the customer.
Regards
A resident

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Re: Hidden Charges in Restaurants (POLL)

Post by Steve Wooler » Wed Apr 23, 2014 11:23 am

Many thanks to everyone for their votes and comment, both here and the 20-30 people who have contacted me personally.

The weight of opinion makes it clear that we were right to raise the issue. I notified all registered forum members through an admin mailing. It is rewarding to see that less than 24 hours after the first mailing, more than 5% of our membership has voted already. In fact, to preserve server resources, we have been sending out the notifications in small batches. The last batch has only just gone out.

May I clarify a couple of points raised in replies above and in emails I’ve received.

I am based in the UK and this website was primarily founded as an information resource for British visitors to Tobago. We welcome readers from other countries, but the site was never intended for domestic Trinidadian holidaymakers, who have a very different perspective on things.

With this in mind, and bearing in mind that Brits are Tobago’s largest demographic overseas visitor group, restaurant owners need to bear in mind that UK retail businesses HAVE TO display VAT-inclusive prices. They can only show/quote/display VAT-exclusive prices if they only trade with other businesses. When UK businesses break these regulations, they can be prosecuted under deception laws. So, most Brits know it is an offense not to display VAT-inclusive prices and therefore do not expect it when they go elsewhere. This is true of many other European countries. Yes, America is different – but State taxes are very much lower than VAT and operate in a very different way, making the tax-exclusive principle a lot more justifiable.

I am unaware of any valid reason for restaurants to display VAT-exclusive menu prices. I have raised this question with many restaurant owners and none has offered a plausible answer. So, why do it? The bottom line is that it is done to deceive. It is done to make the customer think that goods are cheaper than they really are. If a business owner has such contempt for the customer, then they don’t deserve our business. If they are dishonest in their marketing, then how can one trust them in the kitchen?

Finally, I am sorry if I did not make myself clear in the opening post. I am NOT advocating that service charges should be compulsory and included in the menu price. I despise the practise. What I am saying is that IF a restaurant applies a compulsory/fixed service charge, then – and only then – should it be included in the menu price.

If the menu tells me that my chosen dish costs $100, then I expect to pay $100. Not a cent more. Of course, this does not include any gratuity that I might chose to leave the waiting staff in appreciation of their good service.

Incidentally, I would suggest that customers always pay gratuities in cash. Gratuities included in a credit card payment seldom get to the staff concerned (even here in the UK). Also, with regard to the fixed service charge levied on meals by some restaurants in Tobago, discussion with members of their staff reveal that these charges seldom, if ever, get to the waiting staff. They are invariably ‘cover charges’ applied by the establishment and gratuities will still be expected over and above the charge.
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Re: Hidden Charges in Restaurants (POLL)

Post by Jack Hargreaves » Wed Apr 23, 2014 12:39 pm

High Steve, To be honest, in a total of twelve weeks over six trips, and eating out a lot, mostly in Castara, we have never actually seen a menu! If we have asked for price it has been given with a "this much" price and we have never been asked to pay more.
I suspect that most of the places we eat are not registered for VAT or any other form of tax! Having said that I must say that we have never had tummy upsets or not been pleased with what we have been served, and have never felt ripped of.
I hav'nt worked out how vote in your survey, so I would like to use you as my proxy and vote for the top one on your list.
Cheers Jack

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Re: Re: Hidden Charges in Restaurants

Post by Ninas » Wed Apr 23, 2014 3:54 pm

Jack, if you´re logged in on the forum you should be able to vote. According to my experience, if you are not logged in you can´t cast a vote.

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Re: Re: Hidden Charges in Restaurants

Post by Steve Wooler » Wed Apr 23, 2014 4:02 pm

Hi Jack

Sorry for the delay in replying, but I've been out most of the day. Ninas is absolutely right. If you aren't logged in, you won't see the options to vote - you will only see the current results of the poll.

Yes, menus are a rarity in Castara. In fact Castara Retreats Restaurant is the only establishment to offer one at each table, so to speak. None of the restaurants in Castara are VAT registered, so hidden charges are not an issue there.
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Re: Re: Hidden Charges in Restaurants

Post by Jack Hargreaves » Wed Apr 23, 2014 5:47 pm

Steve & Ninas, Thanks. Voting done. Jack

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Re: Hidden Charges in Restaurants

Post by Frank and Mina » Sat Apr 26, 2014 9:56 pm

Thanks for the email reminder that we are members, Steve.

We've been a bit quiet on here recently as we couldn't do Tobago this winter, mainly because of a house here letting in the excessive rainwater during January and February. We just never got around to booking a flight. Now it's not too bad here, so less incentive to get away.

I''ve voted 'Not an issue' because we don't move in Tobago restaurant circles. Mina loves cooking and finds every tropical ingredient she needs in Scarborough Market. She even treats the landlady to a decent curry. We sometimes see other visitors in the market too!

Missed Tobago, especially at carnival time. I am sure that in our absence 'She has become more beautiful' as the government crest proclaims, despite the horror stories told on a much loved news site.

Interesting discussion, nevertheless.

Best regards,

Frank

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