Thursday, July 1, 2010

What Do You Think of Restaurants Charging for Splitting a Dish? Or, How I Became a Troublemaker

I became a troublemaker yesterday when I started a controversial thread on Serious Eats. Anyone with a Serious Eats account can initiate a topic.

It all started when a friend emailed me the menu to a restaurant in Beverly Hills that she wanted to try with me. I immediately noticed a note at the bottom of the menu stating there'd be a $3 charge for splitting a dish. I've seen this on menus before, from low key diners and delis to high end fancy shmancy restaurants and everything in between. But for some reason, while reading this menu from a friend, I got curious. I wondered if this split dish charge was really fair. I've never liked paying it. So what did I do? I went to a community of passionate foodies - Serious Eats - and started a thread on the topic. This is what I wrote:
What is your opinion of restaurants that charge for splitting a dish? I often read on menus that there is a $2 or $3 charge for splitting. Obviously they can't charge you for splitting if you are ordering your food to go, since they have no idea what you do with the food when you get home. But it's often the case when dining in. I'm sure restaurants have their reasons, but it feels a little bit like nickel and diming to me. Is my annoyance justified? Because I really don't like this extra charge!
In one day, there are already 31 comments! And some of them are heated, where I can see the fire under their tuchus, enraged at a fellow commenter, or the concept of charging for splitting a dish at all. Who knew this would spark such controversy!

I have to admit, when I posted my topic, I did not really think there were good reasons for the charge. But after reading some of the comments, I do understand a little bit better why restaurants choose to charge. Does that mean I have to like and support it? No. But I'm less in the dark about it. And yeah, maybe even a little more supportive.

Here are some of the arguments in favor of this charge:
  • When the restaurant splits the dish, they have to plate the dish twice and break up a beautiful plate presentation, which can be a challenge, require skill, and take extra time
  • Splitting dirties an extra dish
  • The restaurant needs to make money and your table of two is taking up space but only ordering food for one
  • Splitting a dish is no different than a corkage fee or cutting-a-cake fee
  • The restaurant might give you extra food on each of the two plates so you're actually getting more food than the original single dish
  • The waiter is serving two people, not one, and so you are being charged because the waiter is still attending to you, even if there is only one dish shared between two people
I'm sure there are plenty more arguments in favor of the charge that I forgot to mention. And there are tons of people on the other side of the coin who can't stand the charge.

One statement that's been made a couple of times in the comments is that those people (myself included) who do not like the charge are just cheap. I take offense at that. I am not cheap. If I don't want to pay the charge, it is because I do not think I am receiving anything of monetary value for the charge. If I am receiving a service, or using valuable restaurant resources in order to split a dish, then it should be more clear and I'd be just fine paying the fee.

To the argument that when you split a dish, each of the two plates is given extra food so that you are, in sum, getting more than the quantity of a single dish, I just don't find that a strong argument in favor of the charge. Yes, I'm getting more food than I asked for, but that's exactly the problem: I didn't ask for more. It's certainly generous of the restaurant to give me extra, but it's unsolicited and I do not want to pay the restaurant for freebies. They're not exactly "gifts," then. I am a generous tipper at restaurants when I think the service was sufficient, so my extra charge should be my prerogative and it should come in the form of a tip.

But at the end of the day, it's only $2 or $3 we're talking about and I'll survive. I just like to stir up trouble. Thank you, Serious Eats, for putting up with me.


Sharon said...

You're not a trouble maker. As someone who has worked in the restaurant world I definitely see both sides of the coin and think most arguments are valid. My husband and I often order an appetizer and an entree (for the entree course)then switch plates half way thru dinner. This way we get less food yet still get to taste more of the restaurant's offerings. If we want to create our own 'tasting menu' we'll do two appetizers/starters for the 1st course, an entree and appetizer for mains and then a dessert (or two) to finish up. the restaurant still makes money and we are exposed to more dishes making us (hopefully) more likely to come back. Regardless, we always take care of our waitstaff, especially if they were polite and attentive regardless of what we ordered...
This is always an interesting conversation to have!

Sarah said...

well... they gotta wash an extra plate and extra silverware!

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