Calgary Brazilian steakhouse grilled over 'business support fee' added to customer bills

The owners of Minas Brazillian Steakhouse in Calgary have added a four per cent "small business support fee" to customers' bills on the same day Alberta's minimum wage hike took effect.

Minas Brazillian Steakhouse says it wanted to be transparent about 4% fee

Carolina Lopez, owner of Minas Brazilian Steakhouse, says the so-called small business support fee is the restaurant's way of trying offset rising costs associated with Alberta's rise in minimum wage. (Kate Adach/CBC)

A new charge at a downtown Calgary restaurant has left a bad taste in some diners' mouths.

The owners of Minas Brazillian Steakhouse have added a four per cent charge, which they call a "small business support fee," to customers' bills.

The fee was put in place on Oct. 1 — the day Alberta's minimum wage increased to $13.60 an hour. The province plans to raise the minimum wage again next year to $15 an hour.

Owner Carolina Lopez said the added fee was the restaurant's way of being transparent with customers about the rising cost of doing business.

"We've had increases in property tax, business tax, increases in food price, in liquor price and then on top of that we also have the wages," Lopez said, adding the increased taxes and minimum wage hikes have been a lot to manage in a short period of time.

"We thought, well maybe if we show the customers directly on the bill, that would be a good way to do it," she said.

Fee is 'optional'

The idea, Lopez said, was to create a conversation with customers. She said despite the fact the small business support fee is automatically added to every bill, paying it is optional.

The four per cent increase is currently marked in the fine print of the restaurant's menu, but customers who see the charge and object are able to have the fee removed.

Only four customers have objected to paying the fee so far, said Minas front manager Renan Rabelo.

A bill posted by a Minas customer online sparked online criticism of restaurant's fee. (staaygold_/Reddit)

One customer, who paid the fee without noticing, posted the bill online, which sparked criticism of the restaurant in a discussion forum. 

Lopez said after hearing of the mixed reviews, the restaurant is considering revising its approach.

"It's something that we have to discuss as a team and see how can we move forward. But I definitely hope that the customers and the community support what we're doing," she said.

Customers 'free to vote with their feet'

Amber Ruddy, the Alberta director of provincial affairs for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said it's understandable that business owners would want to recoup rising costs, and at the end of the day, prices are bound to rise with these new government policies.

"I think these line items are trying to get to that transparency element to let their customers know the bills are going up," she said.

"If customers don't like that approach, there are other businesses and they are free to vote with their feet and go to another business that they support the pricing structure."

With files from Kate Adach


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