Ouch! 20% weekend and public holiday surcharges in Australia?

by Anshul

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My recent trip to Australia was also my first-ever trip to the country and the continent. While I was prepared for the prevalent credit card surcharge (1-2%), the weekend and public holiday surcharges surprised me. A jaw-dropping 15-20% surcharge was a reality at all cafes and restaurants over the weekends. I arrived in Melbourne over the Easter weekend at a 15% surcharge on my coffee at MEL airport. Add to it the 1.5% card surcharge because I used a credit card to pay for my coffee, and I spent a whopping 16.5% surcharge for coffee on a public holiday. That’s on top of the 10% GST.

Weekend and public holiday surcharges in Australia

Weekend and public holiday surcharges are legal in Australia. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission allow cafes and restaurants to add a surcharge on weekends and public holidays as long as it is prominently disclosed upfront. They do not, however, dictate how much these surcharges should be. Based on my two-week experience, the weekend and public holiday surcharges hovered between 15-20% in Melbourne and Sydney. Almost every café and restaurant prominently displayed these charges upfront and listed them on their food and drinks menus.

public holiday surcharges

The surcharge goes to the establishment to compensate for the 2.25-2.5x pay rates businesses have to pay their employees for working on weekends and public holidays. So instead of drastically hiking up the menu prices, the fee is added as an additional charge. Oh, and in a classic case of “tax on tax,” the 10% GST also applies to the surcharge – sigh.

Tipping in Australia

Tipping in Australia is voluntary; establishments do not force a tip option when paying with a card. Generally speaking, tips are appreciated but not expected, so I did not tip the usual 15-20%. Instead, I left a few dollars in appreciation if the café (or bar) had a tipping jar. A tipping option was available on card machines at higher-end eateries without pre-set values, so I often did a 10% tip for more straightforward mental math.

Take Away 

It was shocking at first, but I was eventually at peace with the weekend and public holiday surcharge by telling myself that it was like a “forced tip” of 15-20% that was going towards paying service staff their 2.5x pay rates on those days. I was tipping less on weekends than on weekdays.

The only way to avoid these surcharges is to stay home on weekends or visit Australia on weekdays only – ha!


Title Image: by Clay Banks on Unsplash


Taylor April 28, 2023 - 3:59 am

Your article is not facturally correct… not all cafes and restaurants charge a surcharge on weekends etc and you like most ellect not to pay and take your busines elsewhere as most Australians do.

Anshul April 29, 2023 - 7:55 am

Thanks Taylor – every single place I went in MEL and SYD, had the surcharge and mentioned it upfront. Mind you, as a tourist I was mostly in CBD area in both cities. Maybe less prevalent outside the core, in suburbs?

Ray Sharradh April 27, 2023 - 11:29 pm

Good demo of why I quit traveling altogether. Well, aside from the fact that I’m an old geezer now, but I pretty much got fed up with every business out there making everything into a revenue stream. Why “surprise and delight” (remember THAT hospitality buzz phrase?) your customers when you can turn a buck on ’em, right?

Anshul April 29, 2023 - 7:56 am

Expensive yes, but travel will always be beautiful. I hope you get to do some of that old-school travel again, perhaps closer to home?

Fred Crews April 27, 2023 - 8:24 pm

Australian’s are paid fair wages including weekend and public holiday loadings unlike the U.S. where workers are underpaid and depend on their 20% tips.

Anshul April 27, 2023 - 9:14 pm

For sure! Am all for living wages, and not undercutting staff to a point where tips become their main income.


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