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Illegal Charging Exposed: Holiday diners slugged with sneaky surcharges

RESTAURANTS across the southeast yesterday flouted pricing laws, slapping diners with public holiday surcharges of up to 20 per cent without advertising the full price on menus.

And most eateries do not even know they could face penalties of up to $1.1 million for the oversight.

More than a year after federal authorities outlawed eateries from slugging diners separate surcharges, 35 out of 50 restaurants visited yesterday by The Courier-Mail were still using their regular menus and adding holiday surcharges at the counter.

Under the federal laws introduced last May, separate surcharges are illegal and the full price must be displayed on special holiday menus.

But some restaurants said they had permanently increased prices to absorb the public holiday costs and avoid the expense of printing special menus.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has yet to charge any business with non-compliance, saying the laws were still in an "education phase". A spokeswoman said officers mainly relied on consumers making complaints.

National Retailers' Association chief executive Gary Black admitted compliance rates were low, saying the ACCC needed to step up its education process.

The Courier-Mail visited 10 restaurants in New Farm and Fortitude Valley yesterday and found only one complying with the new laws.

Big Fortune restaurant employee Desmond Lau said his New Farm eatery knew nothing about the new laws and was yesterday charging customers a 15 per cent surcharge.

"I never knew anything about putting out a separate menu," he said.

"The Government, or no one, has sent any information out saying this is what you should do on a public holiday."

About half of the restaurants on Little Stanley Street at South Bank were flouting the laws.

Bobbie Vaclavik, 46, of Southport, ate at Satay House yesterday and paid a surcharge in addition to the price displayed on the menu.

"There was just a note at the bottom of the menu saying it would be 15 per cent more," Ms Vaclavik said. "I don't see why we have to pay more on a public holiday."

A check of a dining hub in Broadbeach revealed at least a dozen eateries were levying a 15 per cent public holiday surcharge.

Three restaurants on the Sunshine Coast were also breaking the rules. A manager at one offending restaurant said he had not heard of the law.

Choice consumer group spokesman Christopher Zinn said that there was little excuse for non-compliance, given the laws had been in force for a year.