'Cakeage' debate divides opinion among hospitality operators

08 April 2022 by
'Cakeage' debate divides opinion among hospitality operators

A Twitter debate over charging customers ‘cakeage' has divided opinion among hospitality operators, with some planning to review their cake fee policies as a result.

When TV scriptwriter Ivor Baddiel was told that it would cost £10 per head for him and his guests to have their own birthday cake at a restaurant, he took to Twitter to express his dismay. The tweet has since received over 27,000 likes and 500 replies, leading to a clash of views between chefs and their clients.

‘Cakeage', inspired by ‘corkage', the practice of asking customers to pay for bringing their own alcohol, is used in many dining rooms.

A team member at one well-known London restaurant told The Caterer it charged £12.50 ‘cakeage' per head. This tops the £9 per head rate at the now-closed Kaspar's Seafood Bar & Grill in the Savoy, which was dubbed one of the highest publicly-known cake fees in 2015.

A member of staff at London's rooftop restaurant Sushisamba said that they charge £7 per person across all their branches, because "we offer desserts and cakes in our restaurant".

Joe Cussens, managing director at the Bath Pub Company, operates four independent gastropubs which see customers bring in between five and 15 cakes per week. He said: "Restaurants and pubs' only source of income comes from selling food and drink to customers; to think it's ok to bring your own in and that to be fine and dandy is nonsense."

He added: "As a result [of the debate], we're going to review our policy which has been pretty relaxed and down to the individual manager.

"We've let people bring in cakes and haven't charged them, but with the tsunami of cost increases having come our way, I think we're going to have to introduce something."

It comes after CGA and Fourth's Business Leaders' Survey this week revealed that over nine in ten business leaders were concerned about inflation in food and drink prices.

Divided opinion

Emily Lewis, operations director at the Lewis Partnership, which owns three hospitality venues in Staffordshire, including the Moat House hotel and two-AA-rosette restaurant, said the group did not charge a ‘cakeage' fee.

"I personally think if you're not going to offer the service of providing a cake yourself, there's a bit of an argument there that you're just charging for the sake of it," she said.

Even though the restaurant might miss out on dessert sales, which range from £6 to £9 per dish, Lewis believed that the costs even out: "Ultimately, [guests] are probably there celebrating an occasion, so they might have gone for that slightly more expensive bottle of wine, or they might have had some appetisers to start off with.

"People are so price-sensitive with everything that's going on in the world; it's maybe not the time to be throwing more costs at customers."

Daniel Griffiths, director of Annie's Burger Shack in Nottingham, which opened in 2009, questioned what the high rates of ‘cakeage' were really for. He said: "When you lose a sale of a dessert, you haven't lost the retail price: you've lost the margin."

Referring to Baddiel's tweet, he added: "The issue with this is you've charged them £10 a head margin. The VAT comes off, the ingredient cost comes off, then it's probably a fiver. So where's the ten come from?"

Due to the extreme financial pressures that hoteliers, restaurateurs and pub owners are currently facing, operators are having to make a tough call when it comes to deciding which sacrifices to make in order to deliver a ‘hospitable' experience.

Griffiths said: "The one thing for sure is that the hospitality industry needs any sale it can make. Customers are going to have to understand that it is our job as retailers to make sure that people want to come in and spend money and have a good time.

"They are not going to come in and have a good time if they ring up and say ‘it's my partner's birthday', and you say ‘if you want to do that, it's £10 a head'. That is not how we solve the challenges of the restaurant trade."

Dave Critchley, executive chef at Chinese restaurant Lu Ban in Liverpool, said that it had been a "gruesome couple of years" for hospitality.

He said: "We're still in survival mode: the VAT is going up, the products are becoming unavailable – cooking oils, grains, even chicken will be affected.

"We're really going to have to be as accommodating as we can to ensure guests keep enjoying the experiences, and for me, throwing a few quid for a bit of cake isn't hospitality. I do get both sides of the equation, but I won't be charging ‘cakeage' in my restaurant."

Image: Maks Logvinov/Shutterstock

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