Imagine this: After a charming birthday dinner with your loved ones, when it’s time for the grand cake-cutting moment, a waiter tells you that you’ll have to pay an extra S$15 to have the birthday cake you brought.
Would you feel appalled, or would it be something you were expecting?
Food blogger Leslie Tay has sparked a “cakeage” debate this week, after posting about a recent encounter where a restaurant he was dining at said it charged a S$15 fee for serving birthday cakes not sold by the restaurant.
“Cakeage” – a fee charged by a restaurant for serving a cake that they have not supplied themselves – was officially made a thing when it was added to the Collins Dictionary in 2015.
In his Facebook post on Dec 9, Tay wrote: “So surprised that the pizza restaurant we just had dinner at just told us that they charge $15 if we wish to cut our birthday cake!
“Since when did this ‘anti-celebratory’ practice start? I really hope this is not the new norm,” Tay said.
The medical doctor, who also runs prominent food blog ieatishootipost.sg, later revealed that the restaurant in question was Peperoni Pizzeria at Frankel Avenue in Katong.
According to Tay, the restaurant only started to impose a “cakeage” fee in September.
“In the end, we took the cake home to cut, because the birthday girl just did not feel it’s worth $15 to cut a 600g cake,” he said, adding that the experience “burst the bubble on an otherwise joyous occasion”.
In Tay’s Facebook post, he said that the dinner hosts were informed about the “cakeage” fee the moment they handed the cake to the restaurant.
A representative from Les Amis Group – which owns the Peperoni Pizzeria chain – said in a statement to Business Insider that the diners (and the birthday girl) had “initially accepted the communicated ‘cakeage’ charge” but changed their minds about consuming it there later.
“Our staff members stored it, kept it chilled in the fridge and also took it out for the celebration. However, the group later decided that the charge was unnecessary and requested to just take the cake home. They were not charged for ‘cakeage’,” the statement said.
Tay’s post has divided netizens, with some expressing strong disagreement with the pizzeria’s policy.
But there were many others who said that having a S$15 “cakeage” fee at a restaurant was totally justifiable.
Why Peperoni Pizzeria has a “cakeage” fee
A spokesman from Les Amis Group told Business Insider that the “cakeage” fee applies to all brands under the Peperoni Group – six Peperoni outlets and Italian restaurant Lino. It was rolled out at all Peperoni outlets in September, and Lino in October.
David Marazzi, director of the Peperoni Group, said the “cakeage” fee worked on the same basis as a corkage fee, which is charged by restaurants for opening, decanting and serving a bottle of wine brought in by the customer.
He said: “‘Cakeage’ fee is based on a similar concept which includes storing and chilling the cake, lighting up candles, presenting it, cutting it up into slices and serving it.”
But there is another reason why the restaurant has implemented “cakeage” – food safety.
“Very commonly, restaurants do not allow outside food as the health code requires guests to consume only items bought in the restaurant. This is due to health reasons which could include allergies and contamination,” Marazzi said.
Moreover, the restaurant has observed that large birthday groups tend not to order dessert if they have a birthday cake. This affects the overall average check and turnover rate of the table, especially with the rising cost of labour and food cost taking its toll on the F&B industry, he said.
The fee – which is set closely to the price of one dessert at the restaurant – is also waived if at least half the guests at the table order desserts.
Other restaurants: S$50 to have your cake and eat it too
Peperoni Pizzeria is not the only place that charges an extra fee for cake-cutting. A few phone calls to various major eateries in Singapore show that it is common practice for some.
Salt Grill & Sky Bar, a high-end Australian restaurant at Ion Orchard, charges S$50 per reservation for cake-cutting. The receptionist on the phone told us that this was to discourage diners from bringing in outside food.
Ce La Vi, located in Marina Bay Sands, also charges a “cakeage” fee of S$12 per person.
Both restaurants will only implement the charge if the cake is consumed within their premises. Those who want only a simple song-singing and photo-taking session with a cake without eating it will not be charged. Storing a cake in the restaurants’ refrigerators comes free-of-charge too.
Other restaurants have strictly banned the consumption of outside food, including birthday cakes. Some examples are all of Swensen’s outlets, The Marmalade Pantry at Oasia Hotel Novena, and Cut by Wolfgang Puck at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands.
When Business Insider asked about the policy at Swensen’s, a staff who answered the customer service hotline said that it was due to the risk of cross-contamination from an externally-bought cake with Swensen’s plates, cups, cutlery and kitchen utensils.
A receptionist at Cut by Wolfgang Puck said that the rule was set by The Shoppes, which forbids diners from bringing in outside food – even if it is from a separate restaurant that is in the same building.
But just like Ce La Vi and Salt Grill & Sky Bar, all three eateries said they allow diners to store cakes in their refrigerators for free, as long as it is not consumed on their premises.
Many other eateries which we contacted said they waived the “cakeage” fee for customers. These include Crystal Jade Kitchen at Suntec City, fine dining restaurant Imperial Treasure Super Peking Duck Restaurant, My Melody Cafe in Suntec City Mall, and Japanese restaurant Ichiban Sushi at Ang Mo Kio Hub.
Fine dining restaurant Jaan, located at Swissotel The Stamford, also waives “cakeage” fee. However, it does not provide storage and requires diners to sign an indemnity form.
Charging a “cakeage” fee is fairly common overseas in places such as Britain and Australia.
According to The Sunday Morning Herald, it has become a standard practice in Perth, Australia, but a similar debate did occur in Perth in 2016, when Crown Perth’s Nobu pastry chef Samad Khan took to Facebook to defend restaurants that charge “cakeage” fees.