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.



Paul Hassing | Founder & Senior Writer – The Feisty Empire