Calgary restaurant charges optional ‘small business support’ fee to offset costs

Calgary restaurant brings in controversial new surcharge
WATCH: A new surcharge at a downtown restaurant is leaving a bad taste in some Calgarians’ mouths. Here’s Gil Tucker on the fee that some find pretty hard to swallow.

A Calgary restaurant has taken an unorthodox approach to offset rising taxes and costs. Minas Brazilian Steakhouse began adding a four per cent “small business support fee” to bills Oct. 1.

Owner Carolina Lopez says the fee is optional, although it does not say that on the bill.

“We’ve been trying to explore how our business is going to deal with the impact of (the recent) minimum wage increase, or increases, that have already happened. So this is our way to offset those costs.

“We call it a small business support fee because we wanted to show our customers in a transparent way how we are being impacted,” Lopez said.

“The idea was to create a conversation with the customers. This fee is optional.”

The fee caught the attention of Calgarians after a photo of a receipt was posted to social news aggregation site Reddit.

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A “small business support fee” seen on a Calgary restaurant bill.
A “small business support fee” seen on a Calgary restaurant bill. Reddit user staaygold_

The Alberta government increased minimum wage to $13.60 an hour Oct. 1 as a part of the NDP government’s three-year plan to reach a $15-an-hour minimum wage by 2018.

READ MORE: Alberta minimum wage set to increase Sunday, becoming highest in Canada

Lopez told Global News she did not want increased business costs to affect the restaurant’s quality or service.

“Whatever we do is going to have an impact on the customers.”

Mary O’Sullivan-Andersen, president & CEO of Southern Alberta (and East Kootenay) Better Business Bureau said the fact the word “optional” is not on the menu could be misleading.

“We would encourage the business to actually print the word ‘optional’ there so that the patrons know that it is optional; they’re not required to pay it,” O’Sullivan-Andersen said.

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“We are counting on the fact that the servers or the staff will be letting the consumers know that it is optional, because it is really not there in small print at all.”

The restaurant owner said Wednesday she and her husband opened the restaurant three years ago, fulfilling a lifelong dream. Lopez told Global News they knew they would face increases to their bottom line and planned for that, but the costs have been growing faster than expected.

“We’ve had increases in property tax, business tax, increases in food prices, in liquor prices and on top of that we also have the (increases in) wages. That is all in a very short period of time.”

READ MORE: Economists dispute report suggesting Alberta minimum wage hike will cost 25K jobs

Lopez said they still want to be able to offer a place for their employees to work, and as a team they felt this kind of surcharge might be a way to show customers what impact these recent increases have on the cost of running business.

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She said they would certainly consider adding the word “optional” to the fee description.

Currently the four per cent is added automatically to the subtotal of the bill.

“All businesses have dealt with these costs in a different way,” Lopez said.

Lopez said they have had both positive and negative feedback on the new fee.