Edmonton café standing by $3.50 charge for lemon water after sour customer review

An Edmonton restaurant has been flooded with complaints after a customer — sour at being charged $3.50 for hot lemon water — posted a negative review online.

New York Bagel Cafe feeling the heat over its hot lemon water prices

In the public Facebook post titled "first world problem rant" an Edmonton woman complained about the $3.50 she was charged for a cup of hot water. (Shutterstock)

An Edmonton restaurant has been flooded with complaints after a customer — sour at an unexpected charge of $3.50 for hot lemon water — posted a negative review online.

"That customer brought a lot of anger to our little restaurant," said Melanie Skrypnyk, an employee at New York Bagel Cafe at 8430 Gateway Blvd. in Old Strathcona.

"It's been really surprising and really sad to see them intentionally trying to fuel this fire and going out of their way to incite online negativity and phone calls."

My eyes bug out of my head.-Kim Nguyen

The review in question was posted to Facebook by Kim Nguyen last week, along with a picture of her itemized receipt.

The restaurant says it removed the $3.50 charge for lemon water from the bill after the customer complained.

The Edmonton woman hadn't been to the café for 20 years. When she stepped inside and asked for a hot water to warm up, she never expected the added lemons would be so dear.

"We went there for brunch," Nguyen wrote. "The server (owner) sat us and took our drink order. I asked for hot water, and he asked if I wanted lemon with it. I said, 'Yes.'

"We get the bill. They charged me $3.50 for my hot water. My eyes bug out of my head." 

New York Bagel Cafe in Edmonton has faced an onslaught of bad reviews for charging customers $3.50 for organic lemon water. (Google Images)

In the public Facebook post titled "first world problem rant," Nguyen said she confronted a male and female manager about the unexpected charge, but was none too pleased with their response.

"I also tell him I've never been charged for hot water before," Nguyen wrote. "She adds the coffee machine works hard to make the hot water (they both make this point). I tell her that I'm not paying. She tells me I'm not welcome back. I tell her I'm not coming back."

The post has since garnered more than 500 comments and has been shared more than 1,100 times. The review has been copied on numerous sites including Yelp and TripAdvisor.

Nguyen said she has never posted a negative restaurant review online before but felt compelled to warn her friends about what happened. She never expected her post to go viral.

She felt the high price of the organic lemon water was hidden on purpose.

"I was just irritated. He up-sold me," she said. "It's their restaurant but if they're going to charge those prices, they need to be upfront about it.

"This is underhanded. They charged me for water and they should have told me." 

It's been demoralizing for staff to see the debate fester online, Skrypnyk said. A waitress and social media manager for the café, Skrypnyk said she was asked by the owners to speak on behalf of management.

She said the restaurant is a small, family-run business, dedicated to serving the highest quality, locally sourced ingredients.

Prices fairly reflect that dedication to quality, she said.

"There is a whole cost structure that goes into this business," she said. "What about almost every other restaurant that charges the same for sugar water that's bad for you and people pay it happily?

"People who really value organic, free-range dining experiences, creative food, artistic ambience — people who value that — we're there for them."

Skrypnyk said the restaurant has chosen to largely ignore the online complaints and will continue doing business as it always has.

They are not considering a change to their prices, she said.

"Quality and serving people food that is good for them is the No. 1 pillar of this restaurant, always has been, and always will be," Skrypnyk said.

"If it comes to the point where the market doesn't want that ... then maybe we'll move on. But this restaurant has been on Whyte Avenue since '82, since before it was Whyte Avenue."

Jennie Marshall, an Edmonton-based social media expert who works with restaurants, said restaurants that become the target of negative reviews online should address their critics head-on.

She said while the costs of operating a restaurant have gone up, operators need to be transparent with their customers about any unexpected charges — and admit when they get it wrong.

Consumers don't like feeling tricked and things can quickly escalate online, Marshall said, but a little public humility can go a long way in winning customers back.

"The power is with the consumer," she said. "People are willing to forgive places that admit fault. People like to see the restaurant cares."