The cover charge: a college student’s nightmare


The cover charge – a college kid’s nightmare and a young professional’s hassle.

We’ve all been to a bar or restaurant that has a cover charge. Have you ever thought to yourself, why am I paying this cover charge? What is this cover charge for? Why does each bar and restaurant have different cover charges?

Let’s take a step back and examine the cover charge. The cover charge by Massachusetts law is defined as:

“Chapter 140: Section 183D. Minimum or cover charge

Section 183D. No innholder, common victualler or person owning, managing or controlling a cafe, restaurant, or other eating or drinking establishment shall require any person to pay a minimum charge or cover charge unless a sign is conspicuously posted at every entrance to any dining room or rooms where such charge is required, in letters no less than one inch in height, stating that a minimum charge or cover charge shall be charged and also stating the amount of charge; provided, however, that no such innholder, common victualler or person owning, managing or controlling a cafe, restaurant or other eating or drinking establishment shall require a person under thirteen years of age to pay a minimum charge or cover charge. Whoever violates this section shall be punished by a fine of not more than fifty dollars.”

We took an average of 50 random bars and restaurants across Massachusetts and the average cover charge was $5 – with the highest being $20 and the lowest being free! So what gives on the cover charge? How come every time I go into Boston I have to pay an equal charge of the amount to two drinks? They’re are several reasons for paying a cover charge. Let’s dive into them!

1. Live Band or DJ

Bars all over Massachusetts typically have live entertainment Thursday – Saturday night. Local bands and DJ’s provide entertainment to patrons, which in turn, makes them stay longer at bars to spend more money. The difference between a bar being packed and being empty relies heavily on the entertainment.

“Hiring a DJ can range anywhere from $300 on.” says Luke Tao, CEO of Flavor Media. Which in turn, is money well spent for the bar/restaurant and if the venue remains at capacity. Tao, both a DJ and promoter, sees both sides of the operation. When asked if he feels pressure, as a promoter to fill the venue his company is promoting, he notes “Of course we try to go out and do our job the best we can every night, and we’ve seen a ton of success from it” (Flavor Media recently won a Boston Nightlife award for the best promoter in Boston and continues to have a strong following throughout the Boston nightlife scene)

DJ Myers, who’s done several events for MassNightly and can be seen DJing at venues around the city, was asked the same question and had a different perspective on if a club is empty or packed to capacity.

“Sometimes I feel pressure to fill the bar but at the end of the day I am the DJ not the promoter, although, sometimes I feel like it’s my fault. I think maybe if I kept the few people in the bar dancing, more people would walk in and see how much fun they were having and then stay.”

2. Live Sporting Event

Bars and restaurants are known to show live sporting Pay Per View events. Boxing and UFC are among the top genres of sports that venues choose to charge extra on the cover charge. What bar-goers may not know, is the charge for the bar to broadcast the fight can range anywhere from $4,000 to $8,000. The bar would need to charge a cover of $20+ for them to break even. This is why almost all of the bars decide against it.

3. Excess Demand

We’ve all sat in a line at West End Johnnies or Howl at the Moon past 10pm in the freezing cold. Every weekend you can bank on it. “Excess demand” is when a bar or restaurant is looking to pull in a few extra dollars by charging a cover, knowing they’ll reach capacity early on. As a popular venue, people are always looking to have “fun”, so they’ll be willing to pay more to get in to the bar. “Fun” comes with a price, typically $10 in Boston.

Excess demand  is seen all over Boston. As Chris Goll, manager at The Point in Faneuil Hall notes ” The thing is to keep the cover charge consistent. We offer ladies free before 11 on Friday and Saturday nights. This encourages people to come early and have a good time at one venue.”

Next time you head out to the city, whether it be Boston or Worcester, just know the cover charge is mainly going to cover costs. Support local DJ’s and Bands for $5-$10 and forget about that stressful work week!

                     MASSNIGHTLY Ep008