You’ve probably heard about the furious debate over a $15 ‘cakeage’ fee, sparked by a Facebook post by Dr Leslie Tay of food blog, ieatishootipost.
After a birthday dinner at a pizza restaurant, the food blogger’s group was about to be charged a $15 ‘cakeage’ fee. The group decided to eat the cake at home instead. In his post, Dr Tay wrote: “Since when did this “anti-celebratory” practice start? I really hope this is not the new norm.”
Almost immediately, the post drew comments against the restaurant’s ‘cakeage’ policy.
“Boycott all restaurants that impose such charges!” Dorothy Ho insisted.
“Totally unacceptable!” wrote Phidelia Fernandez. “I would never ever patronise the restaurant ever!”
Daniel Kwan agreed, even considering such ‘cakeage’ fees as an imposition on patrons. The 40-year-old commented: “Unacceptable… we don’t need these restaurants here.”
Speaking to The Pride, Kwan insisted that he will stop patronising any restaurant that imposes such a charge. He explained: “This is not just about a cake, but about the experience and service we get. After spending so much at a restaurant, something like an additional ‘cakeage’ charge is not necessary.”
But are such comments fair to the restaurant, considering profit margins in the food and beverage industry are notoriously slim?
Speaking to The Pride, Sofi Sui, owner of Pasta Brava, said: “A group staying for dessert will take up an extra half hour, maybe even a whole hour.” And with typical dinner operating hours being from 6pm to 10pm, that’s a big chunk of time to cede without revenue.
From a restaurant owner’s perspective, diners are not just paying for food, but also space. When they bring their own cake, they are asking to use the restaurant’s utilities, labour, insurance and taxes for free, so a ‘cakeage’ fee is a necessary evil that helps defray these costs.
“The manager was very apologetic. But it was beyond his control as he was acting under instructions from headquarters,” Dr Tay told The Pride in an email. He also revealed that the restaurant was Peperoni Pizzeria, and added: “Since it was just a small cake, we decided to just bring it home to cut it.”
In his post, he mentioned that the fee burst the bubble on an otherwise joyous occasion. “The ‘cakeage’ fee was a bit of an unpleasant surprise,” he told The Pride, adding that he did not name the restaurant in his original post because it was not meant to shame anybody or any establishment.
“I wanted to start a conversation on ‘cakeage’ fees,” he explained.
But Dr Tay does not agree with the practice of ‘cakeage’ fees. In his post, he said: “I hope other restaurants can see the marketing opportunity in this and go the other direction and signal that they welcome birthday parties by even offering a free cake! After all, isn’t a restaurant’s real mission to create a positive dining experience for the customer?”
However, this may be too much to ask, as it will be an added cost that the restaurant would have to bear.
Speaking to Channel NewsAsia, David Marazzi, director of the Peperoni Group, said: “A corkage fee is an extra charge in a restaurant for opening, decanting, supplying stemware, and serving a bottle of wine that a guest may have brought in. ‘Cakeage’ fee is based on a similar concept which includes storing and chilling the cake, lighting up candles, presenting it, cutting it up into slices and serving it.
“Charging ‘cakeage’ fee is like charging corkage which is a flat fee,” said Marazzi.
He said that the restaurant has observed “on many occasions” that large birthday groups who bring in a cake tend not to order dessert, thus affecting the overall average bill and turnover rate of the table.
He added that “rising cost of labour and rising food cost have been taking its toll on the F&B industry”, and points out that a ‘cakeage’ fee is normal in other countries – a fact that many netizens who commented on the original ieatishootipost thread also corroborated.
Facebook user Alex Brown agreed that the ‘cakeage’ fee was not an unfair policy. He commented: “Perfectly reasonable – you are bringing your own food from outside and not buying from them. Should you be able to bring your own wine? How about your own mains?”
So if you want to have your cake and eat it, too, either be willing to fork out for a ‘cakeage’ fee, or do as Dr Tay did – bring it home to serve instead.