Monday, February 27, 2012

Proud Bird -- A Lavish Brunch near LAX, but with a Deceptive Price

The day of our early afternoon flight home from our trip to Los Angeles for a family party combined with a trip to Death Valley, we met up with Ron Luckerman, a Reed College classmate whom I had not seen, so far as I can recall, since being graduated in 1973.  We wanted to eat near Los Angeles International Airport so we wouldn’t have to worry about driving a distance after our meal, so he made a couple of recommendations, and we chose (OK, it was my choice) the champagne brunch at the Proud Bird URL. The web site advertised a slightly lower price ($26.95) for brunch diners who arrived before 10, and that suited us fine given our flight time.  Ron reported that he could not make a reservation before 10:30, but that he was told that if we showed up early they would try to seat us.  And, in fact, there was no problem getting in, because there were still scores of free tables when we arrived a bit after 9:30.  

The place was a gas, with about a dozen 30's and 40's airplanes parked outside the restaurant, and hundred of vintage photographs of famous aviators and other figures from aviation history.  

The quality and quantity of the food was excellent, with dozens of fish, vegetable and meat dishes sitting in steam table fashion, plus stations for freshly prepared omelets, pasta, tacos/tortillas, waffles and bananas foster; then a table full of fresh fruit and other item to dip into a chocolate fountain, and huge spreads of baked desserts and pastry, not to speak of cold and hot drinks including cappuccino.  Being careful not to stuff myself, I was unable to try more than 20% to 25% of the available items, but I was still close to stated when we left.

I recommend this brunch, but there was one aspect of their pricing that bothered me as a consumer. In addition to the advertised price, we were charged a 15% premium which, the restaurant explained, was charged not as a gratuity, but to comply with a Los Angeles city ordinance requiring all tenants of the airport authority to pay a living wage of $15 per hour to the staff.   A slip that came with the bill, and a footnote on the check, stressed that the 15% would not be paid to the staff as a tip, but was being imposed “instead of a price increase”; the legends urged customers to tip generously.

I complained strenuously, and was told that the policy was posted near the front door (I had not seen that), and was explained on the restaurant’ web site. When I continued to object, the manager took it off my bill.  So this is something a customer should push for.

I went back to look at their web site.  In fact, there is no note about the premium on the page listing the prices for their brunch and the disclosure on the page about their menus mentions a "15% service charge" without disclosing that it is simply a premium on their price, not an automatic tip for staff.

It is as if, being part of the airport operation, this restaurant has adopted the deceptive practice of many airlines which advertise low prices that they achieve by concealing takeoff taxes and fuel surcharges and other fees.  But a new federal rule forbids airlines and discount travel sites to advertise fares that exclude such fees, and the same truth-in-advertising should apply here.  Great to pay your staff a living wage, including health insurance, but the way you make the money to pay a living wage is through your advertised prices, not by hidden fees that are advertised only with asterisks -- and deceptively advertised, at that.

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