A Calgary restaurant that tried to take a creative approach to offset rising costs and minimum wage increases has found itself facing more feedback than it would have preferred.
The Minas Brazilian Steakhouse in Calgary began adding a four per cent “small business support fee” to bills on Oct. 1, the same day that Alberta increased its minimum wage from $12.20 per hour, to $13.60 an hour.
One of the steakhouse’s owners, Carolina Lopez, says the idea behind the fee, posted at the bottom of every bill, was to let customers know in a transparent way that the restaurant were facing higher costs.
“We thought this would be a creative way to approach this,” Lopez told CTV’s Your Morning Thursday from Calgary.
For the first few days of the experiment, the move did generate the conversations with customers that the restaurant owners had hoped.
But when someone posted a photo of a receipt to the Reddit website, the fee was quickly met with backlash online from people calling the move unreal,” “shady” and worse.
“We received way more feedback and at a speed we were not expecting,” Lopez said.
Lopez concedes that perhaps they did not make it clear enough that the extra fee was optional. If customers did not want to pay the fee, they could let their servers know and the charge was quickly removed from their bills.
But Lopez said the restaurant really wanted to let customers know it was facing higher food costs and higher labour costs. She said perhaps it would have easier to simply increase prices, as other restaurants have done, but she says they were looking for a different way to approach the problem.
“We wanted to show our customers that although we don’t really want to raise our prices — we want to keep it affordable — we also need to do changes to keep our business open,” she said.
After several days of facing anger online, the restaurant chose to remove the tax from bills. But she says many customers have stopped in and shown that they are sympathetic to the restaurant’s dilemma.
“Our loyal customers have even come to voice their support the last couple of days,” she says.
Despite the negative reactions, Lopez says the restaurant “kind of reached our goal of trying to create some awareness of how hard running a small business is.”
For the moment, dropping the fee has left them “in a vulnerable position,” Lopez says. She and the other owners are still thinking about how to offset their higher costs and have still not decided what to do.
“The easiest and fastest approach would be just increasing the prices, but we haven’t yet made a decision,” she said.