Penalty shots


Little things can tip the balance.

I don’t celebrate Melbourne Cup Day due to the dead horsies.

I did, however, try to enjoy this week’s public holiday by shouting myself two take-away meals.

Both saw me penalised. And, as is often the case, the handling added insult to injury.


Vegging out

My first foray was to collect lunch from a restaurant at which I’m a regular.

When I got there, a small black and white card on the door announced a 15% holiday surcharge.

I hadn’t seen this before, and it wasn’t mentioned during my phone order.


Daily bread

This reminded me of a bakery I used to visit.

One day, a small black and white card (are they always like that?) told of a new 15% Sunday surcharge.

As I only treated myself to special bread on Sundays, this penalty felt disproportionate.

I soon found another shop. With better bread.

The other day I returned to the old bakery for an unusual item. The card was gone and so, according to staff, was the surcharge.

Seems I wasn’t alone in resenting it.


Just cause

I totally get penalty rates.

As a teen in retail, they helped buy my first car.

As HR Manager in a three-shift factory, I was all for them.

But then society started to change.

Retailers opened longer to catch customers and maximise facility use.

Then the gradual demise of unions, the casualisation of the workforce and the rise of individual workplace agreements saw penalty rates erode.

I was surprised, therefore, to see them pop up again this week.


Slice of life

On Cup Day night, I fancied a margherita. Pizzas are significantly cheaper since I went vego, so I was miffed when the delivery man asked for more than $20.

Another surcharge.


Deal breaker

Having seen penalty rates from both sides of the fence, I’m not against them.

And after all, we’re only talking a few bucks.

What upsets me is lack of disclosure and inconsistent application.

I believe a business should either:

  • Make surcharges permanent and let everyone know they’re part of business terms.
  • Ditch them, advertise the fact as a point of difference and resist the temptation to slap them on without notice.


Tell us about it

If I know the full terms of a sale up front (e.g. when I’m phoning an order) I can make an informed choice.

Another thing businesses can do is assure me the surcharge goes to staff. As I’ve never seen a black and white card say this, I’m left wondering if the surcharge is being channelled elsewhere.

Giving reasons is powerful. You may have heard of a study about pushing in to a photocopy machine line.

Those who asked, ‘Do you mind if I push in?’ didn’t fare nearly as well as those who explained, ‘Do you mind if I push in? I’m in a hurry and must get this done.’

If I knew a surcharge was going to those who’d foregone their holiday to serve me, no problem.


Hot tip

Have I a point? Or am I a tight arse who should get a grip and suck it up?

Should I follow my business coach’s advice and add a surcharge for my holiday work?

Do you use surcharges?

If yes, how do you apply and communicate them?

If no, why not?

Perhaps you’re a worker or punter for whom penalty rates have been an issue.

If you’ve not commented before, now’s the perfect time

to weigh in

and give it your best shot.



| Founder & Senior Writer – The Feisty Empire

  • G’Day Paul.
    I’ve never used a surcharge. But I don’t mind paying them if businesses are open about them and they seem reasonable to me. Then again, I never, ever offer discounts either. But I’m happy to use “buy one get one free” and “bonuses” offers freely.

    I’m also a firm believer in the old adage that the person who’s most concerned about the price is the salesperson not the customer. The moment that the bakery decides that all it sells is bread, it’s in trouble—especially if it sells only bread.

    But it’s all good clean fun.



    • Beaut to see you back, Leon! Thanks so much for making the trek. As always, I’m grateful to hear your views. :)

  • A very encouraging comment just in from Nicky of

    ‘Hows it going Paul?

    I’m a solid reader of your where you blog around through what you post on twitter. You consistently write posts that have actual takeaways for anyone in the content marketing industry trying to look for examples of inspiration for their next piece, like this one on the surcharge on the Melbourne cup and what you put about the dead horsies today:

    Your post here like this, has inspired me in attempting to produce decent quality content for the first time on one of my non-existent blogs! Hence the reason for the email :-)

    I just published a really interesting infographic on an alternative view on the money gambled at the Melbourne Cup, and I think the readers of your blog would love to see it. I’d really appreciate it if you would take a look, and if you like it, link to it or tweet it.

    You can add your own spin to it placed on your blog which best serves yourself.

    I’m sure you get lots of requests like this, but I’m confident you will think this is informative and will want to share it. If not, thanks so much for your time.

    Here it is:

    Thanks again

    Nicky Dunin
    Director, CKY Media
    Mobile: 0466 263 293
    Address: 18 Olive St,Subiaco,WA,6008′

    • My reply:

      ‘Hi, Nicky!
      Thank you very much for your lovely email.
      What’s your Twitter handle?
      I’m honoured by your readership and generous feedback.
      I like your infographic a lot.
      (The only suggestion I’d make, if you’re interested, is that you fine-tune your orang-utan and albatross graphics to make them a bit more accurate.)
      I’d be delighted to feature your infographic on today’s blog.
      If it’s OK with you, I’d like to put your email and link verbatim in a comment.
      That way, people will get a good sense of who you are and what you’re about.
      How does that sound to you?
      Best regards and thanks again!

  • I think you’ve hit the point with “If I know the full terms of a sale up front (e.g. when I’m phoning an order) I can make an informed choice.”

    I hate not seeing prices when choosing what to buy (or not) and get really cross if I think I will pay $20 and get charged $25 with tax/surcharge/extras/etc added on. It’s not that $5 is too much more to pay (although it may well be!) but I made a decision based on $20…

    For my own business, I don’t use a surcharge as such. If someone asks me to do a job, I give a price and the only variants will be action related (e.g. a blog post will cost $x or $y if I upload it to your blog for you). Generally, working on a holiday or weekend is because that’s what I need to do to fit a job in so it is my ‘choice’ and I wouldn’t feel it is right to charge extra for that. Someone needing an urgent turnaround meaning I work unusual hours would have that factored into the quoted price.

    • Great contribution, Tash. You’re jolly good at these! :)

      I’m on your side. Your comment made me think of my criminal ‘builder’ who found ever more diabolical ways to punish me for making him fix the neighbour’s bathroom which his incompetence caused to slide into our foundation trench.

      When pricing a second roof to go over the one he’d just built, he quoted $10,000. This took me some time to digest and accept. The instant I agreed he added, ‘Plus GST!’ – making it $11,000. How I hate him, even though seven years have passed … :(

      But enough about me. Thank YOU for your comment! :)

  • G’Day Paul,
    A second bite at the cherry. Warren Buffett wrote: “Cost is what you pay. Value is what you get.” I rather like that. Of course, value is always in the eye of the customer. I think that almost all complaints about cost or price are really about perceived value.

    The question all of we salespeople have to answer is. “Is it worth the money?”

    Now, there’s a fun question!