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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?


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  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 services....it's not my thing to steal. BTW. The movie theaters pay a percentage of recorded sales from the ticket window.....how 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.

                      1. Add another to the tally for those who have experienced it and not found it strange/offensive. There are a few places where I live that have great bar food (burgers, sandwiches, pizza, etc) but usually have at least 1 band per night. Several times I've been eating and have had a manager, doorman, etc come around and collect the cover. I think one place even added it onto our tab (with our permission, not just on their own). I just chalked it up to the band needing to be paid, not the bar being greedy.

                        1. If they let everyone stay that was in the door, then why wouldn't lots of folks just come "early" like maybe half an hour, and avoid the cover altogether?

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: escondido123

                            If they let everyone stay that was in the door, then why wouldn't lots of folks just come "early" like maybe half an hour, and avoid the cover altogether?

                            In my experience, a lot of folks do.

                            I worked at a very popular place that had a hopping dinner business until about 9pm with a very popular music scene starting around 10pm. Patrons weren't forced to leave and re-enter but they were expected to pay the cover. The owner did "comp" good customers the cover (ones that were spending $$$ on dinners) but if someone showed up at 9:30 and sipped one drink until the bands started, they were expected to pay the cover or leave.

                            1. re: cleobeach

                              Exactly the same situation I encountered at a bar/club I used to frequent quite regularly. There were those who had walked in around 8:30 or so and had a drink or two, and were mad when they had to pay cover and we didn't. The bar manager would just look pointedly at them and say "They just spent $50 in drinks and dinner." The other group shut up. Often customers who were there on a regular basis for dinner/show were comped the cover charge, because the owner and bar manager knew we'd be there for several more hours and continuing to buy drinks after having had dinner. But for the really popular bands, we were also expected to pay the cover charge. No problem.

                          2. As a musician who frequently plays in restaurant/bars that do this. I want to thank you for understanding the situation. We are often playing for the door or for a 'guarantee against the door'. If you dont wish to stay to hear us, we are not offended if you leave and go somewhere else. But if you are staying, thank you for paying the cover.

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: Fydeaux

                              Fundamentally....as an owner or patron. I would be opposed to paying a cover charge if I was already inside the business and spending money before your agreed to contract for a certain time frame for performing.

                              However, i am not opposed to giving a gratuity, if deserved for a well done performance, e.g., like a Piano Man at a Piano Bar.

                              There is a difference.

                              1. re: fourunder

                                You didnt happen to own a club in Des Moines in the 80s, did you?

                                The money you spend before show time pays for your food and drink. The cover charge is for the entertainment.

                                There is a difference.

                                And If a club owner wants to comp you on the cover charge because you have just spent a wallet full of money, they are free to do so. But the honest club owners will then take that amount out of the register and give it to the person collecting the cover. At least the ones who want to hire me more than once do.

                                1. re: Fydeaux

                                  You're free to open your own club and make your own policies. What risk do you have as an entertainer....other than your few hours of time. You have no financial risk. As I noted, if you or any other entertainer were any good, than you would be paid your fee.

                                  Entertainers come and go....good customers do not. You are given an opportunity to build your reputation and make some money while doing so....but not at the expense of a restaurant's customers. There have already been a few comments noting they have spent significant dollars and if requested to pay a cover charge on top, then they would leave....and have done so leaving annoyed..

                                  Your comment about an honest owner is ridiculous. An honest entertainer would not approach a customer of the restaurant looking for a handout.....or the chance for annoying the restaurant owner and diner/patron. Your attitude is if the owner wants you back he will reach into his pocket to appease you.....shows no gratitude for allowing you into his place of business and the opportunity to perform your talents.........he's doing you the favor, you're not doing it for him......

                                2. re: fourunder


                                  What if, when you first arrived and requested a table, you were told something to the effect of, "In two hours our live music for the evening will begin. We'll be collecting a $5 cover charge from everyone here at that time."

                                  Does getting the info upfront (which I think should be done for a reasonable time frame) make it any more palatable for you?

                                  1. re: debbiel

                                    In your scenario....the charge is reasonable, but I would only pay the charge if I intended to stay the evening past dinner....not finish my dinner. Let's say my stay extended into the noted time an hour past......If this were due to me lounging, than I would expect the cover charge to be reasonable and proper for enjoying the entertainment, since it was explained to me in advance. .....however, if in the event there were delays in receiving my dinner through the course of the night beyond my control and it extended past the noted time....then I would not.

                              2. First I think the OP probably missed the sign advising of a cover charge.

                                Second, i am surprised that so many people state that since they arrived before show and had drinks/dinner, they should be exempt from paying cover.
                                It's like going to the movie theater, buying lots of popcorn candy and drinks, and then arguing that charging for ticket to see the movie is unfair because you have already spent money.

                                6 Replies
                                1. re: FrankJBN

                                  With regard to your second......it's not even remotely the same. You pay to get in, then purchase your refreshments for one.........no one forces you to purchase any food or drink. In a restaurant or bar, you are required to purchase food or drink ....or you will be asked to leave.....regardless if there was entertainment or not......

                                  1. re: fourunder

                                    You may be surprised at the number of people who will pay cover to go hear a band play at a bar and then just drink water all night. I see it at every gig I go to.

                                    1. re: debbiel

                                      Actually, I would not.......simply as a bar owner, I've seen couple go out and this happens frequently. but what does surprise me is the attitude that the business is obligated to be intrusive of its customers.

                                      Again, based on my comments elsewhere in this thread, as the owner, I advocate controlling the door and imposing drink minimums.....and paying the band their negotiated fee. This allows me to charge a cover, or not, and charge for drinks accordingly. As for the water drinkers.....they would receive Bottled Water if they so choose applied to their drink minimum.

                                      1. re: debbiel

                                        I would further add, that the idea of a cover charge is only reasonable in effect f the band is any good. What's reasonable to charge.......$5, 10 and etc? A band should come in and demand more....as an owner, I don't think I would allow the chance for an unknown band to keep customers away.....I would bank on a sure thing.

                                        In my local area, there's a guy/owner, who is in his 60's with a ponytail still chasing teenagers...having a good time. He runs a bar and books national bands who roll into his place in big painted tour buses and a tractor-trailers unloading their equipment. For the pleasure of having these bands and all the fans they bring, he's happy allowing them to charge a cover and collect whatever that may be.......he gets the refreshment.s. I've heard these bands get $40 from each person wishing to enter....but again, they get the door, or gate, not the seats already taken before form his dining patrons.

                                      2. re: fourunder

                                        You're going to have to reach to see the comparison - simply put, it is having paid for food and drinks at an establishment, patron should not have to pay for entertainment, which is the argument being made by several.

                                        1. re: FrankJBN

                                          or, when you are in a restaurant and bar early you are there for the food and drink....and you have not entered expecting entertainment or to be entertained.

                                          With the movie theater.....you pay to enter expecting to be entertained......not fed.

                                    2. Well, I guess I need to ammend my previous post to say "Thank MOST of you for being understanding of the situation."

                                      1. I haven't been to live music bars in a while but that seems like SOP to me. The band usually gets a cut of the cover charge so if you are staying and seeing them, you are expected to pay the cover. They definitely should have told you when they told you about moving the table, though.

                                        I had this recently at a bar showing a UFC PPV - although they told me when I ordered my beer that if I was staying for the PPV I would have to pay the cover.