The Nefarious Neat Charge Strikes Again

One of the joys of going out to a decent restaurant is the promise of a well-prepared cocktail. I like my drinks neat; many of my friends and colleagues do, too. In the last year, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend. Some restaurateurs want to charge me an extra $2 for a drink without ice. Their justification: I’m getting a healthier pour. I would say this is a tenuous argument, giving the less-than-bountiful drinks some of them have served me. I’ve tried to document these experiences in the hope of ending this reprehensible practice. But the neat chargers are hardly in retreat. My fellow Bloomberg Businessweek staff writer Nick Summers provides this account of what happened recently, when he ordered a rye Manhattan without ice.

“I was having dinner with my wife and her cousin on the 21st, a Saturday, at Bar Six, which is a pretty reliable French bistro simulacrum on 13th & Sixth [in New York.]” I ordered a Manhattan; the waitress asked if I had a bourbon preference, and I said any rye would do. She came back a few minutes later to ask if I wanted it on the rocks or up. No mention of a price difference between the two.

“The Manhattan itself was fine, ordinary in all respects, including size. So I was surprised when the bill came with the $2 up-charge. I asked the waitress if she was serious, and she had a ready response—I got the impression it wasn’t the first time she’d had to justify it—that a cocktail served up contained more alcohol. “Oh yeah, significantly more.” I refuse to believe that the bartender measures differently for a rocks serving, and find the whole practice fiendish, but I hate litigating stuff with hardworking waitstaff even more, so I let it drop.

“Foodwise, the zucchini chips were a steal at $10, and my wife’s couscous with shrimp was garlicky and delicious.”

There you have it: The nefarious up-charge for neat drinks is spreading. Those of you heading out to celebrate New Year’s Eve, be sure to scrutinize your bar tabs. I’ve had a waiter remove a no-rocks charge on an otherwise pleasing glass of Woodford Reserve when I protested this year. It’s worth a shot. Well, maybe not literally with bourbon and rye prices soaring. But it’s the principled stand for a drinker to take.

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