Money for nothing at eateries

PETALING JAYA: With increasing costs, coffee shops in the Klang Valley are imposing various charges on customers who try to cut corners while dining in.

Among the charges are a “corkage fee” for those who bring their own liquor and a surcharge for not ordering a drink.

Petaling Jaya Coffeeshop Association secretary Cheah Poo Kuang said that some members impose a corkage on patrons who come with their own beer or liquor instead of stopping them from bringing the drinks, because they did not want to upset them.

“The association has no control over this so it’s up to members to decide. Most of our members do not allow such requests but we do not rule out other isolated kopitiam that do,” he said here yesterday.

Cheah, who runs a kopitiam in Petaling Jaya, said his shop does not allow customers to bring their own alcohol to avoid possible misunderstanding with the authorities in the event of a spot check or raid.

“Kopitiams need a separate licence to sell and serve alcohol. Since we do not have that, we will likely get into trouble if there’s a check by the Customs enforcers,” he said.

He noted that the corkage fee should not be seen as “pure earnings” for operators.

“Customers should understand that the corkage includes the ice and mineral water they usually request to go with their drinks while they occupy a table for hours.

“There have been instances when customers kept asking for more mineral water. So, they had to state clearly that the corkage fee only comes with two bottles of water and unlimited ice. Anything extra would be chargeable,” he said.

Since it is not the norm for coffee shops to reject customers, Cheah said the corkage is a way of discouraging patrons from coming with their own alcohol and instead, going to places more suitable for drinking.

As for the surcharge, Cheah said it was uncommon in the Klang Valley.

“Kopitiam operators collect rent from stalls in their shop. So even if customers do not order a drink, we are okay with it.

“The economy is still not so good now. It’s not right to impose such a surcharge,” he said, adding that those in Penang may want to stimulate spending or have their own reasons.

He said when customers order something else they like such as a coffee, teh tarik or fruit juice, instead of paying RM1 for plain water or surcharge, at least operators can make some profit.

“When we have the volume in orders, we still have sales even if the profit margin is small. It’ll be a win-win situation,” he said.

Malaysia-Singapore Coffee Shop Proprietors Association president Wong Teu Hoon said the corkage fee, despite being rare, was a “reasonable and fair” charge.

“If a customer brings a bottle of alcohol, usually we will provide them with ice and two bottles of mineral water. Then they will drink at the table for the entire afternoon or night with free-flow of ice.

“The corkage fee is reasonable and fair as it comes with the service,” he said.

Wong, whose restaurant business is based in Melaka, said that coffee shops with corkage charges are more common in big cities and almost non-existent in the historical city.

He said that the surcharge for not ordering a drink could be an isolated incident, as it is rare practice for most food and beverage operators.

“For the kopitiam to do so, maybe the rental is very high. The operator must have his own reasons or struggles,” he added.

Malaysian Muslim Restaurant Owners Association president Datuk Jawahar Ali Taib Khan said that the surcharge imposed on patrons that brought their meals to the restaurant is not practical.

“Personally, I think that imposing a surcharge is not practical.

“However, there are some restaurant owners that do this (and it would be their call) ... it would be unfair to the restaurant if a customer uses their service but does not purchase anything,” he said.

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