Sydney is already a pretty expensive place to get a drink in… But a few venues have been caught red-handed using some cheeky price-gouging tactics that have had even the most cashed-up Sydneysiders crying foul.
It’s no secret that Sydney’s an expensive city. One only needs to go to the local pub to realise how expensive Sydney truly is: these days, the average price of a schooner of beer is around $12… Which is three times more expensive than it was twenty years ago, for comparison.
What’s particularly cheeky is that some pubs seem to be charging “late night surcharges” – such as The Oxford Hotel in Darlinghurst, which has been put on blast by Sydneysiders after being exposed on Reddit’s /r/sydney.
“I bought a jug on Newtowner at 9:18 pm for $24.36 and when it was my round next at 10:37 pm, the price charged was $33.50,” a Redditor has revealed – a whopping 37% increase.
“I paid for it not looking at the price but Apple Pay has notifications when you pay for things and I noticed the price difference in the notifications. When I asked the same staff member who served me he said there was a late-night surcharge after 10pm… There’s no signage to notify anyone of the fee after 10pm. I’ve never even heard of this practice in Australia.”/u/Mat145
Naturally, people are up in arms about this cheeky surcharge, and The Oxford Hotel has been ruthlessly review-bombed this week after this story broke. Redditors have had some choice comments, too.
“Maybe the venue just expects that by 10:30 the punters will be too drunk to notice,” one cynically quipped, while another expressed their amazement: “Holy crap. A self-inflicted lockout law?”
Another commenter weighed in that “from [my] experience as a bartender, so so many bars will bump their booze prices up at 10 pm and midnight to ‘help pay for staff loading’, but won’t actually pay their staff penalty rates… just a little bit of extra money for the big wigs.”
Indeed, late-night surcharges are (surprisingly) legal, and increasingly commonplace. However, surcharges need to be printed on menus and/or made clear to customers: The Oxford Hotel, however, does not have the surcharge mentioned anywhere at the venue or online.
This isn’t the only dodgy behaviour from Sydney venues that’s been exposed on Reddit lately, either. Another Sydney local was shocked to find that, after a meal at the NOLA Smokehouse and Bar at Barangaroo’s Crown Towers, the restaurant charged them a “discretionary” 10% gratuity (i.e. tip) by default.
It gets worse: when called out about it online, NOLA responded that “the gratuity fee is a mandatory charge” and that it’s “standard practice in the hospitality industry”.
Now, in my personal experience, I’ve never come across a bar in Sydney that charges a late-night surcharge or a restaurant that charges a mandatory tip. Maybe I’m just lucky.
I do remember very distinctly that Essen, a German restaurant on Broadway that closed a few years ago, really tried to get tips going. The waitresses, who were often German students, would do this big song and dance about handing you an iPad when you go to pay for your meal with three different tip options on it, and would dramatically turn around not to look at what you inputted.
It really bothered me, because not only does Australia not have a tipping culture, but Germany doesn’t either. So why are you trying to get me to tip – especially at a greasy spoon on Broadway? Maybe that’s why it shut down. Good riddance, I say…
It feels like Sydney – and Australia’s – nightlife culture is becoming increasingly Americanised. From the proliferation of American-style sports bars that barely show local sports and instead mostly broadcast American sports, to things like these mandatory tips and late-night surcharges, it feels like we’re losing our unique (and more egalitarian) nightlife culture.
No doubt, the hospitality industry has had a tough few years during COVID (and lockout laws before that), but these sorts of scummy behaviours really need to be rooted out and got rid of.