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McClatchy-Tribune  08/02/2014 10:35 AM ET
Some York restaurants charge fees for carry out [York Daily Record, Pa. :: ]

Aug. 02--Check your receipt next time you pick up a carryout order at your favorite restaurant: you might be paying extra to dine at home.

Carryout service is a popular choice for those who want restaurant food and don't have the time or desire to dine in. But some York restaurants are tacking on a fee for takeout orders.

Two national experts question whether carryout fees are good for business, and note that national chains don't collect an extra fee.

But with food costs rising and eat-in customers declining, restaurants have to make tough decisions about how to stay profitable. Owners or managers at three York restaurants say that, although it may surprise some customers, they've decided to charge carryout fees for reasons ranging from the cost of packaging to being environmentally friendly.

Reasons for carryout fees

Trung Huynh, the owner of Pho Bistro at 887 E. Market Street in York, said he charges fees to recoup expenses for carryout packaging.

"A lot of restaurants don't charge the fee, but they already increase the prices other ways," said Huynh.

His restaurant charges $1 per carryout meal, with a maximum charge of $2 per order. That has been restaurant policy since it opened in 2009. Huynh said that he's lucky to break even on each dollar after providing the polystyrene soup container, plastic utensils, chopsticks, napkins and condiments for each takeout order.

Pho Bistro can't afford to absorb the packaging costs of takeout, Huynh said. Prices for supplies have rocketed up in the past few years, and he's struggling to prevent a price increase for meals.

Huynh said that, per pound, the price he pays for pork has risen from $2.95 in 2009 to almost $5.50. Beef has gone from $2.30 per pound to almost $4, and shrimp from $3.65 to $7.50 a pound.

Bridget Bingham, executive director of the Pennsylvania Beef Council, said that the price of all food is up, especially proteins. Since 2013, retail beef prices have risen 5.6 percent and pork about 16.5 percent.

"Protein is up just because of the drought, the tight supply that has been affected by a long-term drought in cattle producing states," Bingham said.

John Lamnatos, manager of Famous Restaurant at 652 W. Market Street in York, said that despite those cost increases, Famous Restaurant charges $4.62 for a full breakfast of eggs, bacon, home fries and toast. But if you want to take it out, expect to pay an extra 40 cents, up from 25 cents when he started there 15 years ago.

"I don't blame any of these business for doing it," Lamnatos said. "Carryout fees are a mainstay in New York and New Jersey."

Lamnatos said that the fee -- which Famous Restaurant charges only for breakfast platters -- covers everything from delicatessen paper for toast to packets of jelly, syrup and ketchup.

"Our customers understand," Lamnatos said. "And our prices are that inexpensive that they realize that the carryout fee covers the cost of carrying it out."

Arooga's, which has eight restaurants in Pennsylvania, including locations in York and Hanover, charges $1.59 for each carryout order. Gary Huether, co-owner of the Arooga's chain, said the fee allows them to provide customers with eco-friendly alternatives to polystyrene containers, as well as the assurance that they are buying from an environmentally responsible restaurant.

The Arooga's restaurant chain is certified by the Green Restaurant Association, and to stay certified, it has to meet the association's standards.

"Being in a green restaurant, we have to pay to be certified each year," said Huether, who said that using non-polystyrene containers is just one of many environmental rules his restaurants follow. It's costly, he said, but he believes that the idea will catch on with customers.

"Money is money," he said, "but I think when people realize we're using materials that are environmentally friendly, they'll understand."

Big chains vs. independents?

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