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Give bar patrons more information on cover charges

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | NOVEMBER 30, 2009 7:20 AM

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Standing in line at a bar can be akin to a guessing game.

When you first step into line, the cover charge price may be $5 or $10. After a 15-minute wait to get in, however, the amount may have doubled. That opacity is wrong.

Bars have the right to charge any fee they deem suitable. Their profitability depends on it. Nonetheless, we urge Iowa City drinking establishments to make cover rates more visible and static.

Only then can potential patrons make informed decisions as to where to spend their money.

For their part, city councilors have recently voiced their wariness of the perceived lack of transparency in cover charges and placed it on the council’s 2010 legislative priority list.

“Is there the appropriate oversight so it’s being handled like any other transaction in our state?” Iowa City Mayor Regenia Bailey said.

Our concern is more limited in scope. Namely, the process of raising cover charges needs to be more transparent and fairer. Superfluous increases leave many patrons with few options but to bite their tongues and open their wallets — especially if cover is altered mid-line.

“They should at least have a sign saying cover charges will go up at a certain time in the night,” said David Doering, a former UI student and Iowa House employee. “Drinks are expensive enough without having to worry about cover.”

We agree. Increasing signage is an easy solution to the issue. Bars already indicate the night’s drinking specials, looking to entice potential customers. A sign alerting the public of the cover charge that night would work in the same fashion.

Detractors of such a change in policy might suggest that people patronize these businesses looking for a good experience and issues over cover charges fairness are simply a minor inconvenience. But while bar patrons are a relatively captive audience, that does not make swift raises any less inconvenient or punitive for customers.

UI engineering student Chad Heitz is one of those customers angered by spikes in cover charges.

“It makes you mad when you have to pay more as the night goes on,” he said. “It’s upsetting, and you feel ripped off, because the bar is still the same bar.”

Students and residents should be aware that on certain days out of the year, such as Iowa football Saturdays and holidays, large crowds may necessitate a rise in cover charges. But such an increase shouldn’t absolve bars from prominently displaying the night’s cover charge.

If they opt to change cover in the middle of the evening, establishments need to make the time and size of the cover hike explicit. The Editorial Board supports an establishment’s right to set prices, including cover charge fees. However, fairness must be a part of the process. Requiring bars to display the night’s cover charge passes that test.


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