Customers faced with a charge for the slicing and serving of a home-baked cake, on top of a bill racked up by a large group, have accused restaurateurs of profiteering

 

You can have your cake and eat it – but only if you pay "cakeage" for the privilege. The restaurant industry is divided over the increasingly common practice of imposing an extra charge on groups who want to end a celebratory birthday meal by presenting their own cake.

Most diners are familiar with "corkage", the fee charged by a restaurant for serving bottle of wine belonging to them. But customers faced with a charge for the slicing and serving of a home-baked cake, on top of a bill racked up by a large group, have accused restaurateurs of profiteering.

Karen Robinson brought a group of 18 people for her boyfriend's birthday at the Bolingbroke gastropub in Clapham, south London. She said: "We were having the set menu but when I checked I could bring a birthday cake to present at the end they said there would be a £2 cakeage charge per person. That's an extra £36 on the bill, which we thought was a bit unfair because we were already spending a fair amount."

Abi, who attended a birthday party at the Modern Pantry in Clerkenwell, east London, was "astounded" to receive a charge of £60 for two birthday cakes, which were served as dessert. "When we inquired why this charge was so high we were told that it was on the arrogant assumption that all diners would spend money on dessert," she wrote on a customer review website. "So not satisfied with patrons paying almost £50 per head the establishment felt they had to levy this farcical charge as well."

Restaurateurs who impose the charge say staff are required to present, serve and wash up after cakes are brought in by customers, while they lose the orders for a dessert from the menu.

Jessi, an employee at The Bolinbroke, said: "We do charge cakeage if it's an alternative to a dessert. It's a loss of revenue for the restaurant. But we serve the cake with ice cream and decoration which isn't bad for £2. And if there's a kids' party we usually waive it."

St John, the Michelin-starred restaurant in Smithfield, east London, charges "cakeage" of £7.40 per person if a birthday cake is served in place of a dessert. Trevor Gulliver, St John CEO, said: "You don't take your own food into Pizza Express and have an indoor picnic at their expense. Ten folk sharing a cake whilst pastry chefs fiddle is a similar situation."

However, the Joe Allen restaurant at Covent Garden, which prides itself on accommodating large groups, takes a different approach. A spokesman said the restaurant does not add cakeage because customers would not expect an additional charge.

Angela Hartnett, the Michelin-starred chef patron at Murano in Mayfair, warned restaurants against serving any cakes brought in by patrons. She said: "We wouldn't charge if someone wanted to bring a cake in but outside items wouldn't be allowed in under health and safety regulations. It sounds ridiculous, but what if a customer choked on a nut? The restaurateur would be responsible for everything eaten."

Richard Harden, co-editor of the Harden's Restaurant Guide, said: "It can be rather mean-spirited when a booking has brought in a large number of people. They may have ordered a lot of booze too."

The cake debate whose side are you on?

Karen Robinson

Customer, Bolingbroke gastropub

"The 'cakeage' put an extra £36 on the bill, which we thought was a bit unfair as we were already paying a fair amount of money"

Abi

Customer, Modern Pantry, Clerkenwell

"Not satisfied with patrons paying £50 a head, the restaurant felt it had to charge a farcical £60 on top to cut the cake"

Angela Hartnett

Chef patron, Murano

"We wouldn't charge, but outside items wouldn't be allowed under health and safety laws. What if someone choked?"

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