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Soapbox Article 5: Mysterious Charges

Soapbox Prices - Craft Beer Bar iBrew

Is tax included? Is there a table charge? Write it on the board.

After being fed up with poor servings of craft beer and prices, another rant has reared its ugly head – table charges and other mysterious prices. Now, I know that drinking beer in bars is more expensive than drinking at home – impulse-buying of special bottles, tabs to settle and such- and I don’t mind paying a thousand yen a pint (UK pint of course or thereabouts), as long as I get the amount of beer I pay for and not a ridiculous amount of head on top.

But something needs to be mentioned about the dreaded table charge, an often-used form of taxation by bars for letting you sit down in their establishment. More often than not, the first thing you know of a table charge is when you are kindly given some small snack, known as otōshi in the Kanto area or tsukidashi in the Kansai area, when you sit down. “Oh, how nice” you might think, if you are new to Japan. Then the bill comes up and you’re faced with an extra mysterious charge of three to five hundred yen. Welcome to Japan.

Why is there a table charge? Well, essentially you are “borrowing” a seat from the establishment and they’re charging you for that time of rental. Don’t want to pay it? Well, you can’t stand up and drink, as they will ask you to leave. Don’t want go into the bar? Where do you go instead, if you don’t know whether there is a table charge or not?

Some bars, such as Craft Beer Market among other places, offset the price of the cheap beer with a table charge tacked on to the end of the beer. So that one cheap beer you’ve had for 780yen has suddenly become 1,100yen because you sat down in the bar. Now, unless you have three beers to offset that cost, then the evening cost a little bit more than it should. Multiply that by the members in your group and the evening can suddenly shoot up in price, especially if tax isn’t included in the price of the beer. Want to find places that don’t have table charges? Look here.

Soapbox Prices - Bill

I could have sworn these beers were 830yen when they were advertised? And a table charge?!

And let’s not get started on the lack of inclusion of tax in some places. In April 2014, the DPJ decided to raise consumption tax from 5% to 8%, then once again up to 10% in October 2015, though the latter has been delayed until October 2017. In the past, listed prices have included tax so there were no nasty surprises at the end of the evening. However, since the change, some places neglect to put tax on the prices thus making those seemingly-cheap 830yen beers end up as 900yen at the end of the evening. All it takes is two people to sit down (let’s say that costs 330 yen), have six beers between them and suddenly an extra 1,080yen is added onto the end of the bill. Want to find places with tax included in the price? Look here.

What customers need is total transparency with the price of the beer, and therefore their evening. For example, taprooms such as the Baird Taproom range and Campion Ale already include tax in their prices and don’t have a table charge, although they do make and package the beer themselves so they can bear some of the supply costs. Other bars such as Bungalow in Kyoto  sell beers at 900yen with no hidden cost, and don’t have any table charge, so it is possible.

We don’t want to encourage boycotts of otherwise fine establishments, and kicking up a stink in the bar is strictly the domain of the professional penny-pincher. We think the issue people can target, though, is the fact that companies are not legally required to display the full price any more. As residents of Japan, we are aware that these costs exist, so there’s no point in feigning ignorance or outrage. Instead, why not ask if the listed price includes tax before you start drinking? If enough customers ask, they might get sick of the question and start writing the real price.

About the Author

Rob

Been drinking beer since longer than I can remember.
You can find me in a bar, on the slopes, or doing DIY.
I enjoy porters, imperial porters, golden ales, and amber / viennas.

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Comments 6

  1. The table charge is certainly something to get extra income for the bars. I hate it if it is not cleary written on the menu, but otherwise I do not want to complain about that too much. Prices for food in Japan are low compared to Europe, the quality is good, and there is no tipping. But if I just want to have a quick beer or two, I go to places without a table charge.

    On the other hand, prices without tax are one of the most annoying things in Japan. I have had an argument with some restaurant staff and supermarket clerks in the past, when they had shown two prices. I said “I choose the price without tax”, but the answer I most often got was like “This is a service for customers, we have transparency for prices”. LOL, especially when the price including tax is written in a font only half size of the price without tax! I have also asked some of these establishments claiming “transparency” for non-tax-prices, to show clearly the price of a beer without beer tax, however they always said that they did not know about this tax.

    Anyway, tax-included prices have been mandatory in Japan since 2004, but due to the tax increases there is a temporary rule in effect that tax-excluded prices can be shown, until the end of September 2018.
    http://www.mof.go.jp/tax_policy/tax_reform/outline/fy2004/sougakuhyoji/index.htm

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      Author

      Thanks for the comment – I’ve got no qualms in paying the fees if they’re listed on the menu – guess it’s akin to the service charge that appears on UK bills at restaurants. While prices are cheap in comparison, it’s the sneaky charges such as the failure to include tax on menus.

      Also thanks for the link – knew there was some some rule about writing tax on the menu.

  2. Craftheads poured me a so-called pint in a roundish glass with a ton of head on top. I did not drink it immediately. I wanted to see how much beer was in the glass so allowed the head to disappear. Half a glass of beer was all that they gave me once the head settled. I have never been back. Screw these guys that charge us 900 Yen for not even a proper size pint of beer and then do not want to fill the glass properly. It is insulting.

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      Author

      Craftheads is definitely on our list of places to avoid – been twice and got shafted twice and have no intention to go back.
      The owner was also extremely rude at the Niigata Craft Beer Festival as well when he asked if I had been to Craftheads and told him my opinion of the beer servings and prices. While I don’t want to discourage people from going to a bar, unless it’s either expensive or not worth it, I would whole heartedly recommend people NOT to go to Craftheads if given the choice. So many better choices in the area with The Aldgate, Good Beer Faucets, Urban Smokehouse, and iSun, to name but a few.

  3. Rob,

    Wow! You too, eh? Yeah, I tried to give Craftheads a chance. I went about 3 – 4 times between 2013 – 2014 and experienced the same results. Thanks for your comments. Yes, Aldgate has a couple of friendly Japanese barmen and they give you a really honest pour. I have had good experiences with at the Devil Craft chain, also. Harajuku Taproom seems good, too. I visited the Htachi Nest Pub at Mito Station and had to ask for “Awa Nashi” and after that I received much better pours. Good beer there, also. Yeah, I’ve heard that the Craftheads owner / manager can be on the surly side with folks. I’ve never met him, however. Thanks again for the info on potential pubs to have a look at.

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      Author

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