ATLANTA — A Waffle House in downtown Atlanta has been charging customers 20 percent extra to serve their scattered, smothered and covered meals with a side order of hired security.
The 24-hour restaurant at Underground Atlanta started adding the surcharge — which essentially turns any $5 menu item into a $6 item — to all checks in December to pay for an off-duty police officer to provide security. Some customers are finding the fee a little tough to digest.
"I think the prices are high," customer Cynthia Delaney said, saying a breakfast sandwich and cup of grits at the downtown Waffle House ended up costing her $8. "But I would rather pay more if it means I am going to be safe."
The 2009 opening of a Waffle House in the heart of downtown Atlanta, home to the restaurant chain's corporate headquarters, was seen as a triumph. But it's also a high-crime area that makes a security guard a must-have for any business keeping its doors open around the clock. There were 260 major felony crimes reported last year in the police beat where the eatery is located, according to Atlanta police.
Waffle House spokesman Pat Warner confirmed the fee was added to pay for security. He said other Waffle House locations have added security in the past, but he didn't know of any that charged customers a surcharge to pay for it. He said no specific incident caused the Underground Atlanta restaurant to hire an off-duty officer.
"It is mainly for crowd control," Warner said. "That area has a lot of traffic and there is not a lot open around there late at night, so we felt it was needed."
Ron Paul, a Chicago-based restaurant consultant, said he's baffled by the Waffle House's security surcharge and would have advised restaurant managers to find some other way to pass security costs on to customers.
"Why not just raise the prices?" Paul said. "Customers know that a Big Mac in Midtown Manhattan is going to cost more than a Big Mac in Kansas."
The downtown Atlanta Waffle House has tried to give customers notice about the extra fee as soon as they come inside.
A sign on the door says all orders will include "a 20 percent property management surcharge" in addition to local sales taxes. Similar notices are placed at all the tables and are printed on the checks.
Mignon Yarn, who ate breakfast at the downtown Waffle House on Friday, said at first he didn't realize he was paying extra for security.
"That makes me not want to come back and eat here," Yarn said. "I'll just go to another one, then."