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Restaurants charging extra to listen to live music?

  • m

This was a first.

Last week a group of us went out to dinner to a restaurant in Boston. It was a celebration, and I was treating. It is not a nightclub. It is not a bar.

Shortly after we arrived, a four piece jazz band set up, and they began to play while we were finishing up our main dishes. We had not known this was going to happen, but that was okay. They were good, but quite loud, and we were seated next to them, so it did impact our conversation. When I got the bill, I saw that they charged us an extra $18 ($3 a person) for the half hour of music that we heard.

I have never had this happen before here in Boston at any other restaurant. I did not want to make a fuss then, due to the people I was with, our prime location next to the band, and the fact that we had enjoyed our meal very much.

We go out a lot here on Boston. This was a first for me. A cover charge for a bar or night club with live music is not unusual, and is often expected. But this was a surprise.

Yes, I could have made a little fuss, but that is not what I want to discuss. I am more curious if this happens elsewhere, if it is a new trend, and what to do in order to prevent this from happening again. Their web site does not indicate that they will charge you for their music, and as I said, we did not even know there would be any, not to mention that we'd be charged for it.

I have written to the management but have not heard back.

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  1. That the restaurant did not have this charge posted where you could see it at entry is bad business. But a cover charge for live music at a restaurant has been around for almost 100 years. Consider yourself lucky that you were not also charged a 'cabaret tax' because of the live music. This could have added another 10% to the meal.

    Businesses should disclose extra fees/charges upfront to avoid customer disatisfaction.
    That said, your reaction may be affected by your youth <VBG> I'm pushing 60 and remember cover charges for live music for almost 40 years. The charges are not universal, but not rare, either.

    1. There WAS a bar near me in Central NJ that tried pulling that & didn't last long. Went to meet someone at 7 pm. was told there was a $5.00 per person cover charge for the band coming on at 10 pm. I said we'd be gone by then, but if not, we'll pay the $5 at that time. Bartender said no, you have to pay now. I asked if I would get my $5 back if we left before 10. He said no. I said fine, I'm leaving & won't be back. Waited for my friend, told him the story, we went to another bar that had a band starting at 8 - no cover charge. The bar who charged the $5 went out of business less than a year later. The one with the free band is still going strong. Most bars in my neck of NJ don't have a cover charge.

      1. It should be posted. I am a musician and I occasionally play a place that does add a cover to the check. It is posted that you will be charged. It is the only way they can pay the musicians. I agree though that if you want to just eat then it gets sticky. I have no answer except 3.00 is a bargain to hear live music. I personally do not like playing in those situations but it's not that uncommon

        1. I've never heard of it, and I've been eating at restaurants which occasionally have live music quite a bit in recent years. Perhaps it is a regional practice.

          1. If you sit in a cafe in Venice's St Mark's Square, the price of your coffee is always extortionate. And more so when the cafe's orchestra is playing as they levy an additonal charge. IIRC, two coffees and cakes cost well over €30.

            1. I would have camped and not given up the table until the band left. I won't pay for a meal and be told I can only have three bites of it and I will not be charged for listening to a band and be told I can only listen to 30 minutes of their performance.

              1. I have had our waitress come to our table and tell us we need to be done with our meal and out the door by x time if we want to avoid the cover charge, which is fine by me. But i would be really annoyed as well if I was not told in advance and there was no written sign.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Kat

                  I'd pay an extra $3 to NOT have live music playing while I'm trying to eat/converse. I've asked restaurants to have the band quiet down, or just left if I know there's one coming on. If I want a floor show with my meal, I'll go to a dinner theatre.

                  1. re: Kat

                    If a server told me that, and if I had not come specifically to hear the music and had not been told in advance that there would be a cover charge, I would pay up and leave immediately with the remaining food uneaten, and leave no tip. And I wouldn't be coming back.

                    I'm not someone who looks for ways to justify a cheap tip, but that treatment strikes me as no way to treat a customer.

                  2. Gosh, $3 a person for a music charge is really cheap. I would just consider it a part of the tip and stay put.

                    1. When I am dining, I do not want live music, unless it's a string quartet, that I cannot see, or a harpist.

                      We avoid "live music night," as that music is almost always too loud, and then with adult beverages, a fight usually breaks out, during the evening.

                      Seldom have I see a harpist hit anyone.