• Tue
  • Sep 23, 2014
  • Updated: 9:50am
NewsHong Kong

Diners find hidden restaurant charges hard to swallow

Restaurants urged to be more transparent on pricing as Consumer Council reports 13pc increase in complaints by dissatisfied diners

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 July, 2014, 4:15am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 July, 2014, 9:26am

Diners are finding unreasonable hidden charges in their restaurant bills increasingly hard to swallow, the consumer watchdog has found.

The Consumer Council recorded 423 complaints about restaurants in the first half of the year alone, a 13 per cent increase from the same period a year ago.

Practices complained about included prices being rounded up to whole numbers and charity donations being added without consent. Most involved negligible amounts of money, reflecting "strong consumer dissatisfaction over unfair trade practices rather than personal loss", the watchdog said.

One case highlighted in the watchdog's Choice magazine this month involved a diner who found his dim sum bill of HK$55.44, which included a 10 per cent service charge, to have been rounded up to HK$56.

He was told the company's computer system rounded all decimals to the nearest whole number. It was noted in small print at the entrance and on the dim sum price lists.

In another case, a complainant was charged an extra dollar on her bill for a charity donation she was not aware of or told about.

Professor Michael Hui King-man, chairman of the council's publicity and community relations committee, said the absence of specific legislation regulating the charging and billing practices in the trade allowed restaurants to set their own price and charging strategies.

But with the amended Trade Description Ordinance now extended to cover both goods and services, restaurants were at greater risk of breaching the "misleading omissions" statute in more serious cases, he said.

"As long as they are informed, many customers don't even mind because the amount is so small," Hui said.

"The thing about misleading omissions is whether the extent of it is enough to substantiate a charge under the ordinance." He urged restaurants to clearly display all prices and charges.

Yeung Wai-sing, chairman of the Association of Hong Kong Catering Services Management, said since the ordinance was amended last year, restaurants had been under greater pressure to comply for fear of penalties.

He said the rising number of complaints did not reflect more unscrupulous practices but rather, declining service standards in the local catering industry and a dire labour shortage.

"All information is provided on the menu. But these days, why would a waiter bother to explain to a customer in detail what the pricing scheme is when he also has to be the cashier, cleaner and server?" Yeung said.

He said catering service standards, even for restaurant managers, had declined to one of the "worst levels in East Asia".

By the end of last year, the Customs and Excise Department had received 1,303 complaints of false trade descriptions and 346 cases of misleading omissions.


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This article is now closed to comments

If the 10% service charge, that's 10% of the restaurant's revenue, goes for staff sharing, HK would not have needed import labor for restaurants. Nobody would quit.
@rpasea - while the rationale behind earning your wage through providing good service sounds good on paper, unfortunately, it doesn't work, there has been many occassions where wait staff were less than satisfactory while being on business trips to the US.
Sadly, I can't say that service or quality at restaurants in HK are that great either, as the lack of knowledge about the food they serve or the eagerness to ensure the customers gets a great experience is not something that staff prides themselves on.
One country that I have always found to have excellent service is Japan, where surprisingly, tips are not wanted as the attitude is that it is their duty to provide good service. In terms of service and attitudes of the workers, Hong Kong has much to learn.
While your intentions are noble, it’s unfortunate that your server is unlikely to be able to pocket those tips even if you gave it to him/her directly. Your server has probably already been warned that he/she will be fired if he/she pocket any tips. And eyes are everywhere in the restaurant.

I find it annoying that restaurants try to nickel-and-dime people with rounding and adding weird fees. But for whatever reason, we seem to just accept it. There’s one thing I really don’t like which happens at all Chinese dim sum restaurants:
They charge a “tea” fee for each person at the table. It’s an arbitrary amount that ranges from $3 to over $10. But then what’s the deal with the 10% service fee then? And they force you to have a tiny plate of disgusting salted peanuts and they charge you up to $15 for it. That’s only if your table only has 2 or 3 people. If you have more, they give you more plates of those peanuts! Oh, and the 10% service fee also applies to the “tea” fee and the peanut fee. That means, it’s possible that before ordering ANYTHING, your bill is already at triple digits.
I went to a Chinese restaurant in the Elements last week, they charged me $90 for a tiny "sour vegetable" appetitiser, we asked them to amend the bill immediately :(
Of course the 10% don't go to the serving staff which is why I don't add tips but gave cash directly to whoever is serving my table.
I hate the automatic 10% service charge most places impose. Does it really go to the service staff? I never add a tip when the 10% is added as I suspect it goes to the owner's pocket. Pay workers a living wage and let them earn their tips thru great service.
Too American for this crowd. You would cause nervous breakdowns if the culture had to work on Merritt Rewards and employers had to treat staff fairly. Better to cook organic at home with water filters and stay out if the dining scene or why not start an association that certifies; clean, green and fair employment practices that goes around reviewing restaurants? Independent of the GOV of course.


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