Hidden Restaurant Fees Are Getting Out of Hand

By: Lauren | Published: Jan 22, 2024

From service bills to utilities, airline tickets, and pretty much every other purchase these days, it seems like the final price is so much more than the original price tag said it would be.

And now, consumers have started to notice that these hidden fees are now appearing on their bills at restaurants, and some of these fees are almost too ridiculous to believe.

The Mystery of PUF Fees

One of the most elusive fees is called the PUF or “public user fee.” It’s popping up on restaurant bills more and more often, and although it’s usually only about 1% of the total, people want to know what they are paying for.

Empty parking lot with several trees

Source: Freepik

It turns out that some businesses add a PUF to fund the construction or upkeep of their parking lot, building, or even the roads customers take to get there. It’s typically enforced by the property developer, but customers pay the price.


Credit Card Fees Are the New Normal

While credit card fees have always been around, historically, restaurants have paid for them instead of asking the customer to do so.

Man holding a variety of credit cards

Source: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

However, these pesky 1.5%-3.5% fees are now more commonly added to the bill instead, and as so few people carry cash these days, it’s leaving restaurant-goers fairly annoyed.

Some Cards Change Even More

For customers of American Express, they may have to pay up to a 5% service fee to use their card at a restaurant.

A sign showing the American Express logo is seen outside of a restaurant

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In the past, restaurants have opted out of accepting American Express to avoid the high fees, but since customers are now paying, it’s less of an issue.

Servers Are Even Paying These Fees Now

Additionally, some restaurants are even forcing their waiters to pay the credit card fee on the charged tips they receive.

Customer hands server two $1 bills as a tip

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This can really add up over time; for example, if a server makes $500 a week in credit card tips, that may be as much as $70 a month. It’s one of the reasons why most servers far prefer cash tips.

The Cash “Discount”

Because people have expressed frustration for having to pay the credit card fees, some restaurants have started offering their customers a “cash discount,” essentially advertising that people will have to pay less if they skip the card.

Handwritten bill at a restaurant with a $20 bill

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But it’s actually not a discount at all since the only reason it’s less than it would be if they used a card to pay is because they don’t have to pay the credit card fee.


Resorts Are Adding More Fees Too

Typically, resorts are the worst for hidden fees. Between beach taxes, service fees, and required gratuity, the bill is often far more expensive than it was supposed to be.

Lounge chairs by the pool at a resort

Source: Freepik

Not to mention the fact that the majority of the time, these fees aren’t explained so consumers don’t know what they are paying for.


Many Restaurants Now Charge a Kitchen Fee

There’s another new fee circulating restaurants around the world called a “kitchen fee,” that is given to the chefs at the end of the shift.

Two chefs preparing pasta in a restaurant

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The idea behind the kitchen fee was to ensure chefs, who often make minimum wage, retain an income that’s closer to that of the servers who make quite a bit more thanks to tips. But again, that just means higher bills for the customers.


Customers Are Even Paying the Restaurant Itself

Some restaurants have added “employee recruitment and retention” fees to their bills, which are typically about 2.85%.

Sign outside a restaurant that reads “We Are Hiring”

Source: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

This fee goes directly into the restaurant’s account in order to help find and train new staff. And most consumers agree that it should really come out of the restaurant’s pocket, not their own.


The To-Go Box Fee

The majority of people have come to expect that they will have to pay extra if they order their food to go either via an app or over the phone.

Several to go boxes filled with food on a kitchen counter

Source: Freepik

But now, some restaurants are even charging customers extra if they want a to-go box to take home part of their meal they didn’t finish.


The Most Surprising Fee of All

And last, but certainly not least, is the most surprising new fee of them all. Some restaurants are officially adding a fee to any table with children.

Kids eat pizza at a restaurant

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In fact, one restaurant in Georgia supposedly added a whopping $50 because the children they were serving were so poorly behaved.


Restaurants Are Far More Expensive Than They Used to Be

With inflation on the rise and the cost of living increasing almost daily, it’s no surprise that menu items at most restaurants are also going up.

Dirty table in a restaurant with cash left for a tip

Source: Shutterstock

And with the many hidden fees and excessive tip expectations, going out to eat is more expensive than ever before. Some wonder if the industry will take a hit in the near future if they don’t make some serious changes.