Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >
Aug 27, 2012 09:33 AM

Asked to pay a cover charge

Can you help us decide if this is normal? It happened awhile back so the exact details (, number of people, cost, time) are vague.

A group of us (7 or 8?) went to a local bar for drinks and dinner on a Friday night. Bar usually has live music after a certain time. We are told that they have only one large table and that at a certain time they would have to move the table to set up for the live music. Edited to add that we arrive approx 90 min before music was to start. So we decide to sit at the bar (1/2 seated 1/2 standing). Order drinks and food. While we were finishing up eating (basically empty plates still in front of us, but still picking) someone came around and told everyone in the bar that the live music was starting soon and that we would have to pay a $5(?) cover if we wanted to stay. We decided that we would just leave and go to a neighboring bar. Edited to add that there was no line waiting outside the bar when we left.

So what I want to know, is how common is it for a bar/restaurant to ask patrons who are already inside the establishment to pay a cover charge w/out notifying them of it when they first enter?


  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I'm not sure I've ever been asked to pay a cover if I arrived before the band started...

    I think I would have an issue with it if I arrived long before the event began and just sort of happened to still be there. However, if I arrived 30 minutes before the event... that would be different. I can see where people would attempt to arrive early to avoid paying the cover.

    9 Replies
    1. re: jujuthomas

      Yeah, this was the first time that had happened to any of us. We arrived approx 90 min before the band was to start. Didn't want the table because we didn't want to rush or be an inconvinence to their set up.

      1. re: viperlush

        Just dawned on me that you were the OP. Let me guess - Atwoods?

        1. re: jgg13

          Yup. It's ashame because it's close to our kickball field and my BF's office so it would have been perfect for post game/after work drinks.

          1. re: viperlush

            I thought that Courthouse was the kickball bar there? It's been years since I played.

            But yeah, that's my #1 complaint about Atwoods. It ends up being fairly convenient as a post-work friday night watering hole for a bunch of us. We'll be there for a few hours racking up a monster tab and then they'll demand $10 (or whatever it was) from us. 100% of the time we leave and take our money elsewhere, it just seems stupid - I'll likely be spending another 60-100$ on drinks but their $10 is more important than that.

            A related complaint I have (not atwoods) is when smaller bars will bring in some crappy band and crank the volume up to 11 right in the middle of my boozing session. I like to settle in for the night, not relocate constantly :)

            1. re: jgg13

              Courthouse is the "official kickball bar", but really who wants to go there? Crappy beer and crappy pizza. Oh well, guess we will have to just stick to Flat Top's and Tommy Doyles.

              1. re: viperlush

                I'll go ahead and say what my initial reaction was, despite the irony of it considering I was on the "screw 'em" side of the cover charge debate. There was a time when I ran one of the leagues and we had an issue with a couple of teams blatantly going to the rival bar of our league bar. Why the problem? The owner of the league bar is paying a certain amount of money with the expectation of getting the post-game fiesta money.

                Now, obviously that is nearly the same dynamic as the cover charge business so I suppose I can't say too much. Besides, I don't run a league anymore - no skin off my butt :)

                Have you all tried Lizzys? That's going to be closer than the 1 kendall spots. Also Hobo.

                1. re: jgg13

                  Yeah, I hear you about Courtside. But since we don't enjoy socializing with the other teams, karaoke, cheap beer, and bad food it's hard to convince people to stay in town for an after game drink. Funny you should mention Lizzy's. That is where we headed to after leaving Atwoods and we enjoyed it. I have to remind them about it. Usually just stick to 1 Kendall because that is where BF (and team) works. It's a struggle to get them to go anywhere other than Flat Tops or Tommys since everywhere else requires a "long walk away from their car", "doesn't serve hard liquor" or isn't comfortable for a group.

                  1. re: viperlush

                    Haha all familiar issues :) Those tend to have a lot more sway on destination than anything else.

      2. re: jujuthomas

        There's a bar/eatery near me that charges a cover of patrons already inside when the band starts. We leave when they do that. Very annoying

      3. Yes, it's happened to me. The cover in our case was $20 each. We also decided to leave because we weren't interested in the band. I wasn't offended that they required a cover to stay. If you were in the middle of a meal and forced to abandon it or pay a cover though, that's a different story. I assume they let you finish eating at least?

        1 Reply
        1. re: bg90027

          I don't know if they would have let us stay until I was done so I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. I was just nibbling on the last of my fries while everyone else was finishing their drinks.

        2. So what I want to know, is how common is it for a bar/restaurant to ask patrons who are already inside the establishment to pay a cover charge w/out notifying them of it when they first enter?


          Every business can set it's policies due to specific concerns.....but generally, I would say no, it's not common. In fact, in places that offer sit down dinners...the cover fee is often waived if you opt for the table in my experiences. Most places will clearly state a cover charge after a specific posted time.

          1 Reply
          1. re: fourunder

            There is one bar that BF and I will occassionally go to. There they will ask when seated if you plan to stay for the live music. I'm assuming that it is because of the cover, but we never stay long enough to find out. But because they are small, serve good food, and is a popular live music spot and I can see why they would want everyone to pay a cover after a certain time.

          2. Ive had it happen to me during a busy festival weekend and found it unacceptable. There were three of us with a bartab north of $300 (we had been drinking all day) and they came around and demanded $5 cover charges from us if we wished to stay. We went next door and they lost out on a lot more than the $15 they would have made off the cover charge.

            14 Replies
            1. re: twyst

              That's why it seemed so weird to us. We had only been there a couple hours but our tab was already $200+ and we planned to drink more. It's a shame because we were trying them out as a possible work "happy hour"/post kickball location. Until they asked for the cover we were ready to add it to our rotation.

              1. re: viperlush

                Sometimes the agreement between the band and bar is that band gets 100% of the cover collected but not a penny more. In that case, they are hurting the band if they waive the cover charge for anyone.

                1. re: bg90027

                  This is exactly what I was going to say. Often the cover charge is *all* that the band gets in payment, except for maybe a round of drinks at the end of their gig.

                  1. re: LindaWhit

                    yeah, I agree. that's why I wasn't offended the couple of times that has happened to me. Of course, I don't think I was ever eating a meal, just drinking.

                    Bands get no respect. My husband's guitar teacher tells tales of being told to buy their drink minimum when all they're playing for is tips.

                  2. re: bg90027

                    That's what we were hoping as we left. Wasn't big enough of an issue (done eating, other bars in area, etc) for us to question it. Mainly thought that the timing was weird (why didn't they say it when we sat down or ordered food). But it has kept us from returning.

                    1. re: viperlush

                      The agreement is generally for the door, or gate.....not the seats. I would feel charging a patron of the bar or restaurant already inside before a certain specified time to be very small minded on the part of the band and owner of the establishment.

                      1. re: fourunder

                        I disagree but don't really care to argue too much about it. It's more common than you probably expect. I've seen venues collect covers for a band and then tell everyone when the band finished playing that they have to leave unless they want to pay a second cover for the next band that was coming on.

                        1. re: fourunder

                          The agreement is generally for the door, or gate.....not the seats.


                          a party of 7-8 in the bar is taking up lots of fire-code space, preventing later, cover-paying guests from entering.

                          this has happened to me and if i want to stay, i don't mind, since i know that's how the band gets paid. but $20? that would have drilled me right out.

                          1. re: hotoynoodle

                            While there are some, or even many, that may enter a venue early in hopes of avoiding a cover charge....each venue is different is different with its own concerns and issues. I can possibly see asking to pay a cover in a nightclub.....however, in a bar or restaurant, not so much. Regardless of whether the patron entered to avoid the charge or not, they are customers of the restaurant/bar and have spent money accordingly.
                            Fire codes or not, it's up to the door to keep capacity in check....and for early patrons, this should not be any of their concern if their presence limits other guests from entering and any additional revenue they bring in.. The band makes a decision to play at a venue and accepts the agreement for the door for a specified period of people entering, not already in. I booked many a ban over the years having run nightclubs. I've paid bands for their fee ....and I have also made arrangements for the door....e.g. for 9PM - Close. Anyone already in, already gets a free pass. They are customers of the restaurant/bar, not patrons of the band.

                            The argument that the cover is how the bands get paid is really of no concern for me as an owner. The owners takes a chance on letting the band play, hoping they will bring n business.....but they also take the chance of the band keeping business away. The band accepts the door knowing they are expected to bring in their following.....I would argue that patrons arriving early to avoid the cover are not really good fans of the band.

                            I have have missed something, but as an owner, I would expect to impose a drink minimum which has not been considered. As an owner, I have a responsibility to my customers and myself only. I want the band to make money, but not at my expense.....and I'm not looking to alienate my regular customers asking for a cover charge when they are already inside my business as my customers, not the band's.

                            For the record, from a business perspective, I also believe that owners that do not pay the band their fee directly are short sighted and cheap. It's been my experience buy controlling the door and paying for the drinks up front, they guarantee they control evening......and they should only book bands that have a strong following and solid reputation......not some unknown band, giving them a chance.

                            1. re: fourunder

                              "...and they should only book bands that have a strong following and solid reputation......not some unknown band, giving them a chance."

                              Well, now that's the Catch-22, isn't it? If clubs don't book unknown or up-and-coming bands, they can't get a strong following and a solid reputation. :-/

                              1. re: LindaWhit

                                Well, now that's the Catch-22, isn't it?

                                Actually, it isn't. My comments you cite reflect the position of the business interests, not the band's ...and it's their reputation that's important, not the band's. They can prove themselves elsewhere. If they are any good, then they should be able to command a paid contract with a proven venue that provides solid entertainment......

                              2. re: fourunder

                                That's all fine and good if you would want to run a bar/restaurant that way but it's rather irrelevant. There are others that chose to limit their upfront cost/potential downside by not paying the band any upfront fee but by either giving them the door or a significant percentage of it. If that's the case and they desire to have bands play again at their business, they need to manage their business in a way to ensure that the band will get paid from the door or they won't have much luck in ever getting them to agree to play again. In any case, it seems like the restaurant in this case decided not to go the route you would and that is their right. If you don't want to pay the cover, you can leave. You don't try to argue that you should have a right to stay in a movie theatre and watch a second movie because there are empty seats and they'll make money on your popcorn, candy and sodas purchases do you? You know why they don't? They'll owe the studio that made the movie for the seat that you occupied. Pretty similar concept at work here.

                                1. re: bg90027

                                  Sorry, but I'm confused...

                                  1. if the band gets their guaranteed fee and paid, they wont come back again?...And, don't you think there are successful clubs, restaurants and bars that offer free entertainment and paid for the services of the band out of their pocket/sales.....and not the door.

                                  2. Why would I argue for theft of's not my thing to steal. BTW. The movie theaters pay a percentage of recorded sales from the ticket do you suppose a person sneaking in and occupying a seat can be recorded? Are the studios psychic?....In the restaurant, I pay for the seat with my food and beverage purchases. I owe nothing to the band.

                    2. I've never had that happen to me. Usually the cover starts at a certain time and people already inside don't pay it.