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.
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.