Those fees at Las Vegas Strip restaurants? You don’t have to pay them
If you think hotel resort fees in Las Vegas are sneaky, be on the lookout for odd restaurant charges that go by official-sounding names but all add up to one thing: additional profits for the owners.
A handful of bars and restaurants along the Las Vegas Strip tack on fees variously called a “concession fee,” “venue fee” and “CNF,” which can amount to as much as 5% of the total bill. They’re often spelled out in tiny print on the menu, crammed alongside the mandated warnings that consuming undercooked meats and seafood can be dangerous to your health, but you may not notice them until you get the itemized receipt.
I first spotted the up-charge earlier this year at Hexx Kitchen and Bar, where my bill included a 4.85% CNF fee. It sounded legitimate, so I paid it without questioning it. The same 4.85% ding is posted on the menu at the adjacent Alexxa’s Bar, where it’s listed as a concessions fee.
The fee drops to 4.7% at Chayo Mexican Kitchen and Tequila Bar, a restaurant along the Linq Promenade across from Caesars Palace, and at Beer Park, an outdoor venue at Paris Las Vegas. The menu at Cabo Wabo Cantina also includes a notice that “all checks subject to CNF of 4.7%.”
And state and local sales taxes are applied to those extra fees as well.
When I questioned some servers and bartenders about the added charge, they said the fee was a “tourist tax” assessed on every restaurant and bar along the Strip; most venues build the fee into the menu prices, they said, but some break it out separately to be more “transparent.”
“That’s nonsense,” said Frank Volk, a commercial real estate broker who has represented landlords and tenants in restaurant and bar deals along the Strip for nearly 20 years. “I’ve never heard of these fees in a lease, and there’d be no requirement in a lease to pass these fees on to customers.
“These are made-up fees, pure profit. They charge it because they think no one will question it, so they can get away with it.”
Scott Roeben, the founder of VitalVegas.com, a popular Vegas blog that covers the city from a tourist’s perspective, said: “These places are relying on people being duped. They’re betting that if you’re on vacation, you aren’t going to waste time asking a manager to remove a bogus charge. But this has become a serious problem because it affects the perception of Vegas as a place that nickels-and-dimes customers.”
Kelli Maruca, spokeswoman for Hexx and Alexxa’s, said in an email that their CNF up-charge “is a concession fee surcharge included on all guest checks.”
“It is disclosed on the menu and receipt and represents a small percentage charge just above sales tax to partially offset increasing operations and labor costs in the high-impact resort corridor. As costs continue to rise, surcharges are becoming more common and necessary in the restaurant and hospitality industries to ensure a sustainable, fair working environment for all of our team members.”
I asked why they didn’t increase menu prices to reflect those costs.
“In a sense, we are raising the prices,” Maruca said. “But we are going about it in the simplest, fairest, most transparent way possible.”
When I questioned the fee on my bill at Alexxa’s, my server advised me that the surcharge wasn’t mandatory and that he could remove it. A couple of minutes later, he handed me a revised bill without the tariff — and cautioned me to watch out for similar fees at other restaurants and bars along the Strip. Maruca confirmed that extra charges could be waived, if diners ask.
“Should a guest be uncomfortable with the surcharge, our policy is to explain it and, if appropriate, remove it,” Maruca said.
Volk, the real estate broker, said the only legally mandated charges in Vegas are sales tax and venue fees where there is live music, “so everything else is made up.”
Teri Williams, the public information officer for the Nevada Department of Business and Industry, says state law doesn’t address these types of surcharges. That means they are not explicitly illegal.
“There’s no one policing these fees, so it’s up to customers to speak up,” said Roeben of VitalVegas. “Don’t take it out on your server by lowering the tip; take it up with a manager.”
Just because the charge appears on your bill doesn’t mean you’re required to pay it as though it were a government tax. Customers can fight back in several ways.
- Don’t patronize bars or restaurants that tack on fees.
- Carefully check your bill for unfamiliar charges such as “CNF,” “concession” or “venue” fees.
- Speak up. Tell your restaurant server or a manager you object to the fees and ask that they be removed.
- Voice your opinion on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Yelp and TripAdvisor, in particular. “These are powerful ways to say you’re not happy,” Roeben said.
That kind of pushback may have prompted MGM Resorts to reverse course on a 5% up-charge it allowed at Mama Rabbit, a specialty tequila bar that opened a few months ago at Park MGM. Customers squawked on social media about the fee, which was quietly discontinued in September. The company’s bars and cocktail lounges are now prohibited from tacking on such surcharges, an MGM spokesman said.
“It’s only a handful of bars and restaurants on the Strip that are doing it, but it’s a slippery slope that could get worse,” Roeben said. “It’s up to customers to push back on crazy charges like these — not just for you but for every customer that follows you.”
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