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Let’s Discuss: Do You Mind Paying Extra for Take-Out Containers?

This picture is not representative of Velvet Taco. Stock photo of take-out containers.

Listen up all of you people who don’t mind recycling or rescuing, we’ve got a situation we need to discuss. A SideDish reader brings up the “green tax” charged for take-out containers at Velvet Taco.

I had lunch at Velvet Taco for the first time today.  When we ordered, we noticed on the menu that there was listed a “10% Green Tax” on takeout orders.  I snickered at the brazen attempt to make additional money off of imaginary concern for the environment, never having seen such a fee before.  (Perhaps it’s common and I’ve just never seen it at another establishment?) But thinking about it today and beyond the mere ridiculousness of a fast-casual dining spot charging more for those taking their food elsewhere, I can’t help but wonder if Velvet Tacos is violating any law. I haven’t researched the issue, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if it were illegal for a business to call a “tax” (implying mandated by the government) any privately-imposed and discretionary fee. It certainly seems to rise to some level of deceptive trade practice to call this sort of greedy and unnecessary fee a “tax,” as it seems like a term which could very easily confuse even intelligent diners about who was mandating the charge.

Before I hand this issue over to John Franke of Velvet Taco, let me put in my Nichols’ worth. I don’t find the practice of charging for container ridiculous. Especially when said containers are made from more expensive ‘green and compostable wares that, according to one industry person I asked, can cost up to $3.00 an order. (Another in the fast food expert said:  “to-go containers are direct expense of about 4% of [our] sales (in a $400 million company, that’s an eye-opening $16 million non-recovered expense) that was spent directly on to go supplies.”

On the other side, people who take food away from a restaurant don’t require the labor of a server or busser or any of the other costs a place incurs when a customer dines in (big flush, little flush!). Also, the charge at Velvet Taco  is not a state-sanctioned “tax,” it’s a term they chose to use in place of  “upcharge” and the 10% is based on the pre-sales tax amount.

Below, John Franke, the head of operations at Velvet Taco replies to the reader’s question.

Jump free of charge!

From John Franke:

At Velvet Taco, we  strive to make the best tasting tacos in the city using the freshest, locally sourced products we can find.  Using quality local ingredients is important to us, but so is giving our guests that quality at a reasonable cost to them.

In addition to the incredible ingredients and flavors, we have made a commitment to our community and the environment to be as conscience as we can on what we serve our products in and what goes in the garbage can.

Examples of that are our recycling program, our composter to supply surrounding neighbors with soil, our corn cups, corn sporks and corn spifes, our recycled wrapping for the tacos, our to go boxes, our coffee cups, our elote cups, and our to go bags.

What we came to a debate over is, would our guests join us in our environmental saving spirit and appreciate the value of the packaging and be willing to pay a small price for it? The overwhelming response has been, absolutely they are and we continue to receive resounding positive feedback on our efforts to stand up for doing our part to help the environment and asking our guests to join in the fight.

We feel it is just a small price to help the cause, we make no increased sales from the 10 percent tax, and in the spirit of keeping it simple at Velvet Taco, the blanket green tax was the clearest way we felt would work for the taco loyalists out there that visit us everyday.

I hope this helps answer your reader’s question and I welcome your personal feedback. We can only get better each day from listening to and responding to our guest’s thoughts and feedback.

Let’s give it to him.

37 comments on “Let’s Discuss: Do You Mind Paying Extra for Take-Out Containers?

  1. While I think the name “green tax” is kind of silly, personally, the idea behind it is not. I live in Europe and many restaurants charge a fee for take-away boxes. It usually ends up being less than a dollar and is a perfectly understandable way of offsetting costs. It’s similar to ketchup and mustard. Here, at fast food restaurants, you are asked if you want ketchup/mustard/mayo and are charged a small fee (about 10 cents) per unit. In the U.S., I was always given handfuls of ketchup for free, without asking, in my take-out bags that ended up going to waste. If more companies instituted a small fee for sauces / take-out boxes, I imagine we’d see a noticeable reduction in waste.

  2. Totally support Velvet Taco’s excellent environmental efforts, wish more restaurants would do the same.

  3. In response to your comment: “On the other side, people who take food away from a restaurant don’t require the labor of a server or busser or any of the other costs a place incurs when a customer dines in (big flush, little flush!).”

    Those people in the restaurant that are employed to be there are being payed no matter if the customer eats in or gets it to go. So your idea of some imaginary cost savings is just that, imaginary. Their is no labor savings when someone gets a to go order. Their might be an .000001 % savings to the cost of operations because they got it to go, but that is offset by the high cost of the to go expense that John Franke and you referenced above.

    And to the jack ass that calls the environmental cause “an imaginary concern for the environment”, could someone stick a corn spork in his eye!

    Thanks!

  4. I’ve been paying “packaging fees” for takeout in restaurants for years (most recently at Uncle Julio’s). This is no different.

  5. Bigger problem – Velvet Taco raising prices on many of their menu items by $2 or $3 dollars. Food is great, but I have a hard time paying $6+ for a single (albeit delicious) shrimp taco

  6. I wish we had a bottle/can deposit here, it’s an even bigger problem. And it’s not a tax – you return it, you get your money back. Mess in Texas.

  7. Calling something a tax when it is not is at least a violation of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, IMO. And while Velvet Taco isn’t a huge target, someone is going to sue VT for this — I guarantee it. If I was VT’s atty, I would be telling them to call it a “fee” instead of a “tax” ASAP. In fact, there have been lawsuits over companies calling something a specific “fee” — e.g., delivery fee — when in fact the actual cost associated with the good or service was less than the fee amount. This free legal advice should be worth at least a $6 shrimp taco the next time I go to VT!

  8. I’ve never eaten at Velvet Taco, but I support paying extra for take-out containers, especially if they’re environmentally friendly. Would rather pay $1-2 per biodegradable container than get some styrofoam or plastic monstrosity. Wouldn’t call it a “tax,” though, as that technically isn’t accurate. Anyway, keep up the good work, Velvet Taco.

  9. I’m for it, but I also never order take-out, so it’s not costing me anything.

    Very-very-tangentially-related aside: don’t you hate it when grocery stores give you a discount for bringing your own reusable grocery bag, but NOT when you opt for no bag at all? We should start charging fees on plastic and paper bags at grocery stores (and hopefully cut the prices as a result).

  10. I support it.
    However, the same thing should happen the other way around. If I bring my own container, they should not charge me that ‘green tax’

  11. FWIW, I’m going to charge VT with my “vote with my feet tax” and eat someplace that isn’t gouging me for the price of its conscience.

    Note, Mr. GM, the proper use of “conscience” versus the improper use of “conscious” in your second paragraph. Maybe I should hit you with a grammar/usage tax, too.

  12. Permit me to “think out loud” here: I do love the Velvet Taco any time any day. The added “Green FEE (should not call it tax I think), averages me an extra $2.60 on my order. So 2 or 3 bucks is no big deal to me. Change the name of the ‘tax’ to a ‘fee’, if people still freak out make it 5% fee. I do think there should be fees for containers taken away that only go in the garbage anyway, not only from VT but grocery stores, convenient stores, shopping malls, etc. OR have that price built into the goods and offer a discount of 10% if you bring your own container…. ??? I have travelled internationally and to-go or plastic bag fees are pretty normal in many countries.

    All that being said, too, I still recommend the VT to all my friends, neighbors, and countrymen! I will stand behind whatever final decision they make about this topic because in the big picture, this is a pretty small topic and the tacos are TOTALLY worth it.

  13. Wes hits the tooth on the head, as it were. The risk is that people will be put off by the charges and not return.

    And why is everyone so pro-tax? Like the government is going to use it wisely? Giggles.

    A deposit is something that:
    1) you don’t get charged if you don’t use it,
    2) you get your “deposit” back when it is returned, and
    3) incentivizes those willing to dig through the trash for these things and provides them a meager, but earned, income flow.

  14. They need to drop the tax label.

    I get suspicious when it is a % of the order and not an exact amount per container.

    I’ve never been to VT so I am not sure what the food is served on when you eat there but one would suspect that there is a cost to washing dishes or tossing serving containers that is built into the price.

  15. For those who support Velvet Taco: at what point would you consider a takeout “green tax” would be excessive: 15%? 20%? 30%?

    Similarly, if the Velvet Taco urged its customers, explicitly in the name of the environment, to voluntarily pay 10% extra for takeout orders instead of automatically charging, how many of you would do so? Honestly?

  16. It seems a compromise would be to figure the price of the package and make a to-go taco + 50/75 cents, or whatever the actual cost of the carry out container is for the set up of that dish. If it is intended to be a greener alternative, e.g. not a profit seeking venture, then any up charge should be structured as to add only the cost paid by the restaurant for that container, vice a percent which inevitably will charge more for the packaging on at least some items, unless that is the goal. It’s easy enough to program your to-go screen with different prices. Be green, not greedy

  17. I view the containers as a cost of doing business. I haven’t been to VT, so I don’t know if they serve dine-in on disposables. If they do serve dine-in on disposables, I would object to a fee for a different style of disposable.

  18. Milkandcookies asks a very good question and I’d love to hear the answer. I’m all for supporting environmental awareness, but offering a product that is bad for the environment and then penalizing customers with an additional fee for utilizing that product does not seem right. I think a take-out container donation jar, with the proceeds going to a worthy, green cause, might be a better approach.

  19. People would be paying for it one way or the other. The cost of all the “free” things in restaurants in, in reality, built into the cost of the food. So, the bread basket isn’t really free, you’re just paying for it by them tacking on the money on the apps and entrees.

    I mean, the solution for the business is to either state up front the fee associated with the to go containers, or just build them into the cost of all the food they sell…since most people don’t order the food to go, they choose to separate it and state it openly.

    I don’t see what the big deal is, you’d be paying for it one way or another.

  20. I would much rather see it worked into the cost of the meal than appear as a separate charge. Perhaps I’m a neanderthal, but I still feel like “I paid for this meal, there’s too much here, please box it up for me at no additional charge.” Most of the time, I’m doing the boxing up anyway.

    In fact, I would seriously debate patronizing a place that charged me for a to-go container, even though I seem to be in the minority here with that opinion.

    Thank you for the info, Nancy. I would love to see a full list of restaurants that are making a practice of this.

  21. If VT is able to quantify their costs for food delivery devices (take-out containers / plates for dine-in), then I say, bring my food, put it in my hand, and give me a damn discount for me not making you dirty a conveyance. Damn, this is ridiculous. I always thought that the price on the menu had the cost of the plate, flatware, etc. figured in. If they’re going to break it out like that, then they need to be willing to discount their prices if a customer chooses to provide their own package/plates/whatever.

  22. As i see most of you do not work in the restraunt industry, if you want REAL FRESH TUNA, of course a TUNA taco is going to be more expensive! If you did not know also the price of Tuna and fresh seafood is rising alongside with gas prices. (How do you think it gets from the sea to dallas) Also ive been to Velvet Taco and ive never been charged to get a box for my unfinished food. So i dont see the big dealabout charging for strictly carry out, Why should the 99% of people who eat on site pay for the 1% who choose to carry out, i believe they are trying to serve a great product at a great price and sometimes some things have to happen.

  23. Yea, I’m really sure with all the food regulations that an establishment would let you bring in your own container. After the first person poisons themselves because they didn’t wash the soap out of their dish before bringing it in, then sues the restaurant. Or burns themselves because the lid didn’t snap into place….

    Other countries charge and I think it’s time we adopted the same. When you go grocery shopping in South Africa we pay by the bag, so we we always carry our own. It’s a great system!

    Go Velvet Taco. Guess you better change the name for the sticklers, however. Jeez, can’t people tell its just a figure of speech? Like a toll my hubby charges for opening my door? ; ) y’all don’t call NTTA on him now!

  24. Just a little shout out to Velvet Taco for being environmentally mindful as well as serving THE BEST TACOS ON EARTH. That says a lot considering my vast experience in trying many of these crescent shaped wonders. FoodBiotch gives all those in support of Velvet Taco a thumbs up. For the others, you get the other finger.

  25. “And to the jack ass that calls the environmental cause “an imaginary concern for the environment”, could someone stick a corn spork in his eye!”

    “For the others, you get the other finger.”

    Classy, enviros. Classy.

  26. If you want to cover your costs of “helping” the environment, then just add those costs into your food prices. That way consumers can decide if your food is really worth what it costs you to make it plus what it costs you to satisfy your environmentally conscious peace of mind (plus a profit margin).

    Adding on a blanket 10% “green tax” is shoddy business. Do cheap-ass disposable containers and having your line staff dump waste into a compose bin as opposed to a garbage can really cost you 10% of sales? If it does you could use some help in efficiency. Laughable.

    The only more despicable business practice is Campania Pizza charging a “cork” free when they don’t even have a liquor license. Campania makes free revenue without any associated costs of goods sold. Why don’t you a piece on them, Nancy.

  27. Dear Mr. Swanson,

    Don’t you want to support businesses that are honest and make our community more sustainable? Velvet Taco has gone the extra mile to let their customers know exactly where their dollars are spent. This wins over many loyal customers which are way more valuable than a cheap ass like you who will choose Taco Bell in order to save a buck. It’s establishments like Velvet Taco that make Dallas unique and sustainable in the eyes of those who care about our community.

    -Leslie “Keeping it Classy” Knope

  28. FoodBiotch, you’re a woman. So I’ll try to keep this simple for you to understand. I have no problem with people supporting the business. What I do have problem with is the firm misleading its customers and raking extra profits under the guise of charity. If Velvet Taco wants to do charity, they should do that with their EBITDA.

    Now go eat another taco you fat ass cow. NUM NUM NUM!!!!

  29. Ron, thanks for your insult. You’re a man. And you’ve failed to make any sense in your feedback. To put it more simply, your fourth and last sentence in your first post shows your inability to communicate the most basic message. Try harder next time, you egotistical prick who prefers to be blinded with an unknown up charge in the overall cost of a TACO. I hope the Grade D meat you’re ingesting from Taco Bell doesn’t take a turn for the worse and those extra pennies were worth it.

  30. I always ask for my food to be packed to-go at VT, but I always eat inside. I simply find the serving apparatus ineffective in keeping delicious sauce and/or drippings off the table. I’d rather eat from the box than a hot mess.

    That said, in my opinion a restaurant should pick to-go containers based on its environmental philosophy (whether styrofoam or biodegradable corn plastic), but shouldn’t charge extra for them.

    FWIW, do the other Front Burner Restaurant Group restaurants (e.g. Twin Peaks) charge this fee?

  31. Swanson- hmmm… Let’s make it simple for you. You get a to go order for you and your friend. Let’s say you just order one taco each, one corn each, and one drink. Now, that’s going to amount to…let’s estimate, about $22. 10% of that is 2.20. You will be taking with you, two separate containers for your corn, drinks, straws, bamboo utensils, napkins, bag, and taco container, maybe a container for sauce or two. Do you think they cost to the restaurant is less than two dollars and twenty cents!?! You actually think there is some huge profit margin that the greedy Velvet Taco is making? Have you ever had a look in a catalog to see the costs of this Eco-packaging? I don’t want this cost built into my $3.50 taco. I love that my paneer taco is 3.50.

    And if you don’t like paying the green tax…you have the choice to sit your ass down and eat it right there and save the packaging and said costs for the next person. Velvet Taco…I’m coming for lunch! Can’t wait!

  32. I’m with Wes, voting with my feet to go elsewhere. Don’t insult me by suggesting that your “tax” is to save the environment when we all know its to help your bottom line. Don’t spend my money to support your cause.

  33. Dont worry Velvet Taco… The people complaining are not your demographic. You can’t be all things to all ppl. Keep doing exactly what you’re doing.