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Unlike quite a few posters over on Flyertalk, I don’t have much of an issue with the Andaz West Hollywood as a property (we put friends up there on ‘guest of honor’ bookings reasonably frequently), but I’ve often railed against the ridiculous and indefensible destination fee that the property charges.
Sadly, that destination fee shows no sign of being removed (no surprise there!) and now it looks like a junk fee that first started to appear in California 4-5 years ago, is being smuggled on to dining checks at the Andaz’s Riot House restaurant.
The ‘Benefit Charge’ junk fee
I should start out by saying that I only *think* that this a new junk fee at the Andaz WeHo because I can’t be certain that it hasn’t been around for longer. I don’t make a point of visiting the property very often and when I do (to visit friends who are staying there) I don’t usually get to see a check from the restaurant or bar.
Last week, however, I joined a friend while he was having breakfast in the Andaz’s ‘Riot House’ restaurant and because the bill was accidentally presented to me while he was away from the table, I got a chance to see one of the Riot House’s checks for the first time in a few years.
Food at the Andaz is already overpriced (which is why we always make sure our friends that stay there get to enjoy my Globalist privileges), so once you add in the 18% service charge and California taxes, the check for a pretty standard breakfast (one juice, one latte, and one plate of food) can easily come to over $50 per person.
On top of those charges, however, now also comes a “benefit charge” which the Riot House is levying at 3%.
If you were basing your opinion only on the name this charge has been given, you could be forgiven for thinking that it relates to some kind of benevolent charge that ensures that the staff take home a fair wage.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case, and this soon becomes clear when you see the explanation at the bottom of the check (I think this may be a legal requirement in CA).
As you can see, the ‘Benefit Charge’ is clearly not something that gets shared out among the staff in the dining room and is, instead, a surcharge that the establishment is adding to supplement its earnings.
Leaving aside the fact that with the cost of breakfast items as they stand*, it’s highly unlikely that the Riot House/Andaz WeHo can’t afford to pay its staff and meet the demands of California’s minimum wage laws, what is this charge doing at the bottom of the check? If extra money is needed, why isn’t the cost incorporated into the price of the items on the menu?
The answer to that question is depressingly simple.
Just as hotels want to include as few costs as possible into the room rate that they display (so that they can fool people into believing that they’re cheaper than they really are), some dining establishments also want the best of both worlds.
They want to increase their revenue without scaring away customers.
Because restaurants know that the numbers that the customers are most likely to notice (and remember) are the ones on the menu and not the ones at the bottom of the check, they try very hard not to increase the cost of each menu item. Instead, they add a junk charge to the bottom of the check and hope that no one notices.
I could probably make a case for forgiving a small, “mom & pop’ establishment (where margins are super-tight and where menu items are affordable for most people) for adding this kind of surcharge because they probably need to demonstrate to their customers that any price increases are out of their hands.
For a restaurant in a supposedly high-end property that already overcharges for its food, however, this is completely unacceptable and it’s an insult to the intelligence of the restaurant’s customers.
Let me be clear. On the whole, this is not about the 3%. It’s about the way the 3% is being handled. It’s deceptive and unnecessarily crass.
This ‘benefit charge’ may not be as heinous a charge as the destination fee (which is total garbage), but it’s a fee designed to take advantage of customers and that’s why I hate it as much as I do. The sooner we get legislation to put an end to this the better!
*Before any taxes, gratuities, or surcharges, a small juice costs $7, a small latte costs $7, an omelette costs $22, eggs benedict cost $24, an Avocado Toast costs $26, and adding an extra item to a meal (like a couple of slices of smoked ham) costs a staggering $9.