- Readers upset about one local restaurant charging for tap water.
- Consumers are also upset that more businesses are charging customers to use credit cards.
- One reader says tip jars everywhere are too much.
A local restaurant has been charging customers for a cup of water — and causing quite a stir among consumers who are also upset about what they say are other grabs at their wallets, such as fees for using credit cards and tip requests beyond what they think is fair.
My colleague Alan Ashworth wrote a story a week ago about Wink’s, a Barberton drive-in, which has been charging 50 cents to customers for a cup of tap water. Restaurant co-owner Lisa Houck said she decided to charge for cups of tap water to recover its material costs, which include Styrofoam containers and straws. The cups with a Wink’s logo on it costs 40 cents each, she said.
Most consumers quoted in the story were not happy with the decision, saying tap water should be free and people didn’t like surprise extra charges. One customer stuck up for the practice, saying free water for a lot of people could add up, but she was also upset about more restaurants charging for credit cards.
Wink’s does not charge for credit card usage, though it is becoming more of a practice at many restaurants and stores locally and nationwide.
Credit card fees turn off customers
Last June, I wrote a column after consumers starting seeing businesses charging extra to use a credit card.
Consumers “don’t want to be nickeled and dimed for everything,” Ted Rossman, a senior industry analyst at Bankrate.com, told me at the time. “You don’t want to have a certain line for credit card processing and a line item for heating or air conditioning and the rent and the employee’s health insurance and using the bathroom. It gets kinda of silly at some point.”
A Morning Consult survey commissioned by American Express in 2021 showed 78% of consumers agree that a surcharge makes them feel like a business does not appreciate their purchase.
A similarly strong majority (77%) agreed if they have the option, they’ll take their business elsewhere rather than pay a surcharge, Rossman wrote in an article he shared on the subject.
A consumer, who is also a small-business owner, told me credit card charges have always been a cost of doing business and should not be passed on to customers.
But as a consumer, he’d rather the business raise the price of goods and let consumers decide if they want to pay for the goods instead of what he calls sneaking in surcharges for the use of credit cards.
After Ashworth’s story ran, he received more feedback. He shared some of them with me and I reached out to the readers for some more information and permission to use their comments in this column.
Mel Vye of the Portage Lakes area sent a spreadsheet with entries for 65 restaurants — mostly in the Akron area, but some out of state — detailing which ones charge credit card surcharges and the percentage.
I reached out to Vye to ask him if he stopped going to the restaurants that were charging the fees — and if he really liked spreadsheets or had a career that dealt with numbers.
Vye, a University of Akron professor emeritus of electronic engineering technology, said he has been keeping tabs on credit card charges for about nine months. He also keeps spreadsheets for utility and car data, he said.
“I do return to restaurants which charge for CC (credit card) use, but if given a choice would go to one which does not,” he explained. “I use a CC regardless of whether or not there is a charge. If there is a charge I tip less.
“Credit cards perform a service for restaurants and charge the restaurants for this service. To pass this service charge on to a customer is asking the customer to pay for some of the cost of running the restaurant,” he said.
Betty Lin-FisherCredit card surcharges leave bad taste for consumer
Lost business of long-time customer
Dave Cook of Norton and his wife have been going to Wink’s since 2016, when it was under previous ownership. The Cooks went for the weekly car drive-in shows, where they would look at the cars and then go inside for a meal, often with friends.
“How surprised we were (and perturbed) that we were charged for water and condiments. I Facebook messaged them and told them that we would never be back,” wrote Cook, who said his wife got charged 80 cents for barbecue sauce for some chicken tenders or nuggets. “Wink’s depends on the car crowd to stay alive. It is one thing to charge for water if someone simply walks in the door and all they want is water but when we spend a bit of money on a meal? They lost a good customer forever.”
I reached out to Houck, the co-owner, to see if she had changed her mind after feedback from the article. In Ashworth’s article she also said Wink’s will offer free tap water to customers who bring their own cup to Wink’s. She has also considered the use of cheaper plastic cups to avoid the need for a charge.
Houck said she is still considering those things and asked me to call back in an hour so she could check in at the restaurant. When I called back more than an hour later, I got her voicemail. I didn’t receive a return call by the next day and my deadline for a further update or to answer whether all condiments are an extra charge.
Cook says it doesn’t matter whether the policy will change to offer free water.
That’s “a moot point,” he said. “The damage is done.”
Tip jars everywhere is too much, consumer says
Carol Hoefler of Zanesville wrote to my colleague and said she and her husband were upset about tip jars being everywhere.
“They are at counters where we buy take-out, coffee cafes, movie theatre concession stands, and now at farm produce stands! Although we grow some of our own vegetables, we also patronize farm stands. We have been to several this season, and they have tip jars prominently displayed by the cash register,” Hoefler wrote. “All the employees do there is take our money, and they want a tip for that?
“We are generous tippers when the situation and service deserve it, but at farm stands, take-out counters, the movies, and take-out coffee places? Really, it is just too much! We don’t tip at those places, and I would think that those places would be embarrassed to put out tip jars.”
Too much?Water, credit card charges tap into well of discontent for local restaurants, customers
In a follow-up email, Hoefler said she and her husband don’t really do restaurant take-out or pickup, but if they do, “it’s more of a ‘Keep the change.’ ”
Hoefler added: “As I said in my other letter, we tip generously inside restaurants for good service. (I have great empathy with hard-working servers as I worked as a “waitress” between high school and college and remember how hard it can be.)”
Take-out fee draws bad reaction from customers
Another Beacon Journal colleague, George Thomas, told me he started tipping 20% during the COVID-19 pandemic for take-out and continues to do so, though he knows others don’t. But in early August, Thomas got upset when he was charged a take-out fee at Buffalo Wild Wings.
The fee was 99 cents, but Thomas said he should not be charged “for the privilege of taking out their food. It’s sincerely getting ridiculous.”
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It was over the top, said Thomas, who covers sports breaking and trending news and movies and some entertainment news for the Beacon.
“It was only a buck, but it was the principle of the matter,” he told me. “I could be wrong, I could be right, but it’s been my creeping feeling that many corporations have taken advantage of ‘inflation.’ I know supply chain caused significant issues, but…”
The Buffalo Wild Wings take-out fee drew harsh online criticism — and a reversal.
In a story on Today.com, a Buffalo Wild Wings spokesperson in June said the 99-cent fee was part of a test in certain locations. But that test would be ending by the end of the summer. The restaurant was also the subject of a class-action suit this summer because of the take-out fee.
Beacon Journal staff reporter Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or firstname.lastname@example.org.