Waffle House smothers customers with security surcharge at Underground location

Myrtice White and Cynthia Delaney took MARTA from their jobs at Peachtree Center to Underground Atlanta to do what has become a tradition for many Southerners – breakfast at Waffle House.

The excitement ended when the bills came.

“Normally, this is about $10,” White said. “I just spent $16.”

Delaney shows off a cup of grits and a sandwich. $8.

“This is a $5 meal,” Delaney said. “I think the prices are high. But I would rather pay more if it means I am going to be safe.”

The Underground Waffle House opened with great fanfare in 2009, bringing one of the city’s favorite restaurants to the heart of downtown Atlanta.

It’s now believed to be the first and only Waffle House in the country to charge customers a 20 percent surcharge on all checks. The extra money is being used to pay for an off-duty police officer to help secure the 24-hour facility, which serves up its fare in one of Atlanta’s high-crime areas.

Pat Warner, a spokesman for the Atlanta-based chain, confirmed that the charge was established in mid-December to help address security needs and offset those costs. He said there was not one incident that prompted the move.

“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.”

Warner added that while other locations have added security in the past, they have never included a surcharge — at least at the company-run locations. Warner would not disclose which hours security usually works — presumably overnight — but the fees remain in place all day.

“The Georgia Restaurant Association supports doing whatever is prudent to ensure the security of our most valuable assets – our customers and employees,” said Kelly Hornbuckle, director of marketing and communications for the organization. “The GRA also supports the individual right of any restaurant to charge whatever it deems necessary and appropriate, especially where safety is concerned.”

But Ron Paul, a Chicago-based restaurant consultant, was baffled by the decision, which he says he has never seen before.

“If I were consulting them, I would have advised against this,” said Paul, president of Technomic. “Why not just raise the prices? Customers know that a Big Mac in Midtown Manhattan is going to cost more than a Big Mac in Kansas. If they are so worried about crime, why open a restaurant there?”

Located on the top level of Underground, the Waffle House is slightly smaller than other locations, but is still full service. Daily foot traffic in the area, across the street from the Five Points Marta Station, is constant. But so is the crime.

Last year alone, in the police beat where the restaurant is located, there were 260 major felony crimes reported, according to the Atlanta Police Department. But that is actually an improvement from 2011, which witnessed 351 such crimes.

On Friday morning, two diners were greeted by a waitress, who pointed at a black and yellow card on the table.

“Y’all read this?” she asked about what amounted to a disclaimer.

“All orders at this Waffle House will include a 20 percent property management surcharge,” it read. “In addition to local sales tax.”

The same sign is plastered on the door and is also included on the check.

They ordered two All-Star breakfasts, a Coke and cup of coffee. The total was $16.93. At the nearby Georgia State University Waffle House, which opened in 2010, the total bill would have been about $18.28 with tax.

At Underground, it was $21.93, not including a tip.

“That makes me not want to come back and eat here,” said Mignon Yarn, who didn’t realize the surcharge was for security. “I’ll just go to another one then.”

On their way back to work, White and Delaney walked back to the MARTA station.

Will all of the charge prevent them from coming back?

“Probably not. It’s understandable and downtown,” White said. “And I love the Waffle House.”

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