Restaurant diners told to refuse crockery charges

Updated: 2010-03-16 09:56
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BEIJING - China's restaurant diners are entitled to refuse to pay charges for disinfected eating utensils, a lawyer with China Consumers' Association (CAA) said Monday, World Consumer Rights Day.

It followed an open letter that denounced the practice of charging for sterilized dishes as groundless and a violation of consumers' rights. The letter was jointly released by consumers' associations of 22 cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, on Sunday.

An Niannian, the lawyer, said the statement in the letter was justified.

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The provision of sterilized utensils was a fundamental obligation of the restaurants and the cost should not be borne by consumers, An said.

"It's tacitly included in the dining service contract when the order is given," An said. "They are not entitled to charge, no matter whether they notify customers or not."

Sets of sterilized dishes normally cost 1 to 2 yuan (15 to 29 US cents) at small and medium-sized restaurants in China. The sets containing plates, bowls, cups and glasses, normally come wrapped in plastic film.

The charge was rarely seen before 2007 when food safety authorities in Beijing encouraged small and medium-sized restaurants to sterilize dishes.

After that, some restaurants started charging for disinfected dinner sets and the practice spread across the country.

"Is it implied that we should carry our own dinnerware when dining," said an Internet post by "Hairy Bear."

Also, people familiar with the practice said the restaurants in fact profited a lot from the charges.

In August 2009, the commerce and industry bureau of Manzhouli city, in northern Inner Mongolia autonomous region, banned charges for sterilized dining sets. But in other cities, the practice continued.

An said the open letter could also serve as a reminder to consumers that they had the right to refuse, and the dining industry should formulate stricter rules to abolish the dinner set charges.