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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Bmag Jan 24th 2012 - Advertising restaurant surcharges

Here’s something to keep in mind this Australia Day. Did you know, as of last year, restaurants and cafés are no longer allowed to say “plus 15 per cent surcharge on weekends and public holidays”? Instead they must show the full price, which means having two sets of menus with two sets of prices. But don’t get too used to it. This relatively new law is already set to be overturned. Confused?

Here’s the current situation as explained by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission: “A business must not promote, advertise or state a price that is only part of the cost that a customer has to pay, unless the total single price is also prominently advertised, promoted or stated. “This law affects businesses that apply surcharges (cafés/restaurants); incur additional levies and taxes (tourism/travel); and some service industries. “Any breach is directly enforceable as a contravention of the Australian Consumer Law.”

Amelia Taylor creates marketing solutions for small businesses in the food and wine industry. She says “it’s a ridiculous law”. Admitting her anger is “possibly due to the 15 sets of menus I had to redesign and print at New Year”, Amelia says “the government makes it almost impossible these days to run a business”.

As another industry insider puts it: “I understand the principle but if patrons can’t work out 10 per cent they should probably not dine out!” That’s fine if it is 10 per cent but what about 15 per cent or 17.5 per cent? Hands up anyone who’s willing to be tested publicly on their ability to divide a bill, then multiply the per-person cost by 17.5 per cent, all at the end of a particularly jovial night? And does everyone always know which days are the public holidays? For example, not everyone would have realised this year’s New Year’s Day holiday was on 2 January.

Amelia Taylor makes a good point when she says “now restaurants can put whatever they want [on weekends and public holidays] because no one actually knows what the [normal price] is”.

The latest twist is that in September the Federal Government accepted a Productivity Commission recommendation to have restaurant and café menu surcharges placed outside the scope of the component pricing provisions of the Australian Consumer Law. Straight away, the industry’s peak body, Restaurant and Catering Australia, welcomed the Federal Government’s new (old) approach, saying “a percentage surcharge was far easier for consumers and the businesses involved”. That was 13 September last year. The reason it is still illegal to state “plus 15 per cent surcharge” on menus is, according to Restaurant and Catering Australia, “the state governments now need to accept the change, given the new federal approach to the Consumer Law”.

Which would you prefer? Email and let me know. At the moment, it’s nothing short of confusing. Many restaurants and cafés don’t know or don’t care and continue to advertise that an additional surcharge applies. Most café and restaurant-goers are simply unaware this debate has been going on.

On a similar note, why did tradies apparently not get the memo about including GST in the total amount on their quotes and invoices? Having travelled in the US, where taxes differ from state to state and price tags rarely show the full amount, I love how we show the total, GST included. In the last two years, whilst slowly dabbling at renovating, I’ve noticed many – not all – tradies will quote you a figure then write “plus GST”. How is that legal?

Solar eclipse update

In the last issue, I enthused about the total solar eclipse visible from Far North Queensland later this year. Cairns-based travel agent Pete Pritchard emailed to add the following advice: “The road between Cairns and Port Douglas is mainly narrow, windy and single-lane and with a marathon starting in Port Douglas [at the very end of the eclipse] the road will be horrendous. Additionally, the roads up to Mareeba and to the north of Mareeba are all single lane as well and are likely to be very busy from 3am onwards as a lot of accommodation is already booked out up there. I would definitely suggest people do research with this in mind.” Thanks Pete!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Bmag Jan 10th 2011 - Total solar eclipse in Queensland

We live in an era of short-term goals, from politicians always eyeing off the next poll to our general inability to plan ahead (“Where will I meet you?” “Text me when you get there”). This year, Queensland will host an event billions of years in the making. I’ve known about it – and been looking forward to it – since 2002, but astronomers have had 14 November 2012 circled on their calendars for generations. I’m talking about a total eclipse of the sun.

Total solar eclipses occur somewhere on earth every 18 months or so, but they’re not always easily accessible – I had to fly in a 747 to see one over Antarctica in 2003 – and getting to view one from Queensland is rare. The next one is in 2037.

Brisbane Planetarium curator Mark Rigby has seen seven, from Australia, PNG, the Libyan desert, Siberia, the mountains of China and remote Easter Island. “It is unlike any other experience in life. Time goes by in a flash as one senses, as does wildlife, that something unstoppable is in progress, a ballet set in motion billions of years ago,” he says. A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon blocks out the sun. Day turns to night and for the period known as “totality”, it is safe to look at the sun with the naked eye. Our nearest star appears as a golden ring (its outer atmosphere) with a deep black centre (the moon). The length of totality depends on the eclipse and your location.

This November, totality will last around two minutes. Seen from Cairns, first contact (where the moon first kisses the edge of the sun) is at 5.44am, totality from 6.38am to 6.40am, and second contact (where the moon leaves the sun) at 7.40am. At my first total eclipse in Ceduna, South Australia in 2002, I enjoyed a mere 32 seconds of totality but that was enough to light my eclipse evangelism! I haven’t stopped talking about them since!

Mark Rigby explains his addiction: “No two are the same. I find that I am only ever absorbing part of what is going on. You are left with a thirst for more. And it’s a good excuse to see places one might not otherwise visit! The appearance of the diamond ring effect (the last vestige of sunlight piercing through a valley on the limb or edge of the moon) is amazing and then follows totality looking like a circular hole of the blackest black surrounded by the pearly corona (outer atmosphere) of the sun. Then another diamond ring and totality is over. I feel on both a high and low simultaneously – it’s over. And then people talk of the next one!”

Some people say the total solar eclipse experience is like looking into the eye of God. It certainly gives you a deep connection with the universe. After all, as Rigby explains, they won’t occur forever. “The moon is drifting from the earth at 3.8cm per year. Around 600 million years from now, the moon will be too distant to block out the disc of the sun – no more total solar eclipses. We are lucky!”

Rigby says most people will view the eclipse from areas around Cairns, from Innisfail to Port Douglas. He says the sun will be low in the eastern sky so you’ll need a fairly flat, unobstructed eastern horizon. Find somewhere that also has a view of the west-northwest and you’ll see the moon’s dark shadow racing towards you. But, if you can’t get there yourself, Mark Rigby and I will broadcast the spectacle live during my breakfast show on 612 ABC Brisbane.

If you are planning a trip, consider booking a vehicle so you can get away from bad weather. That said, Mark Rigby cautions: “It is sometimes the case that people have moved and would have been better off staying put. In the end, it is probably a case of que sera sera – whatever will be, will be!” Finally, you will need special eclipse glasses or #14 welding goggles before and after totality – you are looking at the sun, after all. Just make sure you remove them as soon as totality begins, something I didn’t realise for valuable seconds in Ceduna (and which Mark Rigby has never let me forget!) See you in Cairns!