Want Bread? Extra Lemon Wedges? Drink Refills? You Should Pay for Them

With restaurants struggling to stay afloat, why are customers still expecting freebies?

Cheddar Bay Biscuits

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Anyone who has gone out to eat in a restaurant in the last several months has probably noticed the prices are not what they used to be. They’re higher than Snoop Dogg on April 20. Rising food costs are hitting everyone and restaurants have no choice but to pass that expense onto customers which is why menu prices are creeping upward. Ever since Covid, restaurants seem to have a new struggle to overcome every few months, most of them financial. So, maybe it’s time customers start paying for that complimentary basket of bread that arrives at the table moments after sitting down.

When customers go to a restaurant, there are expectations about what they will and won’t be paying for. Of course the grilled salmon will have a price, as will the sides it comes with. Perhaps there is a solitary lemon wedge on the plate that was included in the price. But what if the customer asks for extra lemon, should it be free? One more wedge, fine, no charge. A second one? Okay, sure. But five wedges? That’s the equivalent of a whole lemon which can cost as much as $.89 each, so that should go onto the check right next to a side of green beans. 

A few years ago, there was a national lime shortage. The price skyrocketed  and restaurants started referring to limes as "green gold." Anyone who asked for limes for their Diet Coke during that darkest of times should have had to pay for them. A ramekin of mayonnaise is part of the deal when a hamburger is ordered, but if someone wants two additional ramekins of that most delicious of condiments to dip their fries into, add it to the check. Mayonnaise is made from eggs which are almost as valuable as the eggs laid by the goose at the top of the beanstalk. 

Charging for these items may seem like nickel-and-diming customers and you know what? It is. Restaurants should embrace charging for more things. There is no reason a customer should pay for one Coca-Cola and then get four free refills. The sugar caddy on the table that is filled with Splenda, Sugar in the Raw, Sweet’N Low, and Equal is an open invitation for customers to restock their own personal stash of sweeteners, so restaurants should give those out on request only. And let’s draw the line on the coffee and ice tea refills while we’re at it; two refills tops and then an additional charge. The only things that should be free in a restaurant are water, ice, and the witty repartee from their server. 

This notion of paying for something that has always been free might be hard to swallow for some customers, but these could be the same people who complain about the tipping system in this country. They routinely claim that restaurants should pay a higher salary to servers so customers don’t have to make up the difference, yet they still expect an unlimited supply of free Cheddar Bay Biscuits or breadsticks with their soup. If more Mexican restaurants suddenly started charging for chips and salsa, we’d have a customer uprising on our hands. Then again, maybe with the extra income from tortilla chips, the restaurant could afford to pay their servers more than $2.13 an hour. 

When a restaurant is struggling to stay afloat, charging for food would be a great way to get back into the black. Yes, customers will grumble about paying a few dollars for bread that used to be free. In fact, they might not order it all and choose a different appetizer instead which will probably cost more than the bread did which means the restaurant makes even more money. It’s time to say goodbye to complimentary bread.

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