Friday, July 20, 2012

Questionable Practices From Urban Family Public House

Last night I attended the Firestone Walker tap takeover event at Urban Family Public House in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood.  It was the first time I'd been to UFPH and, at least intially, I liked the look and feel of the place.  Unfortunately, that's not the same opinion I had when I left. 

Their doors opened just after 4:00PM but, unfortunately, K&L Distributing wasn't on the ball and the Firestone Walker kegs had not yet been delivered.  After a few frantic phone calls from Firestone Walker's local rep, we were assured the kegs were on the way and would arrive in 10-15 minutes, which they did.  I don't blame UFPH for this at all.  They have no control over K&L. 

Once I got settled at the bar, however, I started looking over the taplist and prices.  If you'll recall from a post I made earlier this week, the tap list included:

-Pivo Pils
-Double Barrel Ale
-Pale 31
-Union Jack
-Wookey Jack
-Double Jack
-Nectar IPA
-Hemp Ale
-Walker's Reserve
-Unfiltered DBA
-Double DBA
-Reginald Brett
-Lil' Opal (on French Oak)

Red Nectar Ale was supposed to be on the lineup as well, but the keg was 'missing' from the K&L truck.  At least that's all that was missing though.  The rest were tapped with dispatch and the taps began flowing. 

From the list above, the only three beers I hadn't had before were the Reginald Brett, Firestone Walker's first sour (unless you count the extremely rare appearances of Firestone Walker's SLO-Ambic and Agrestic Ale, which have only shown up at a few special events), the Pivo Pilsner and Double DBA.  So those are the three I was eager to sample. 

Looking at UFPH's tap list, I noticed that a few of the prices seemed a bit on the high side.  The Reginald Brett was $11 for a 12oz pour, as was the L'il Opal.  Double DBA and §ucaba Barleywine were each $10 for a 12oz.  The rest of the beers were in the $5 to $6 range. 

I can understand slightly higher prices for some beers, especially if they are more 'rare' or carry a higher cost per keg from the distributor, but $11 for a 12oz pour is about the highest I've ever seen.  Even an appearance of Firestone Walker's 'Sticky Monkey' (an extremely rare FW beer that's not usually sold on its own and is brewed as a blending component for many other FW beers) at one of my regular spots last week was only $10 for a 12oz pour. 

Though a few prices seemed high, it didn't bother me too much, until I later found out that full 9.5% tax was added afterwards.  That seemed unusual to me.  At nearly every craft beer spot I frequent, the necessary taxes are already included in the draft prices.  For example, if I order a pint that's listed at $5.  My bill will be $5; not $5.48 ($5 + 9.5% tax).  I only expect to see tax on food items.  So that 12oz pour of Reginald Brett for $11 was really $12.05 once tax was added.  Now that's just outrageous and, in my opinion, rather greedy. 

Looking over a recent bill from another establishment I visit fairly regularly, for example, I noticed that my pre-tax bill total for a few beers and one food item was $38.  Total taxes on $38 (at 9.5%) would be about $3.61.  But I was only charged $1.04 in tax.  This is because $11 from my pre-tax bill total of $38 was for food.  9.5% tax on $11 is $1.04.  All other taxes for the beers were already included in the draft prices, which is the norm I see in most places I go. 

The same was true at another establishment I also recently visited.  My wife and I went for a couple of beers and a light snack.  The total bill for four beers (at prices ranging from $4 to $6) and $6 for food was $27.  This place didn't even charge tax for the food!  It was already included in the listed prices. 

I had three beers while at UFPH that day: Reginald Brett ($12.05), Double DBA (A friend was nice enough to buy me one (Thanks Heather!), but it would have been $10.95), and a Pivo Pilsner ($5.48).  My total bill for the 2 beers I paid for?  $17.53. 

Later on, I went on Facebook to express my disappointment to UFPH over their pricing scheme.  Their response was to delete my post from their page.  That really annoyed me.  Were they trying to 'hide' unfavorable information and opinions from the public?  I posted agian, telling them I was unhappy that they had removed my post.  Their response was to delete this post as well, and then ban me from being able to post on their Facbook wall at all.  I believe they replied to my 2nd post before deleting it, but I had no idea what they said because, once they had deleted my post, I had no way to see their response.  I found this to be extremely un-professional and extremely rude. 

Later that evening, I received an email from UFPH, saying they had deleted my first post because I had implied they were doing something illegal.  This is not so.  Granted, I had not yet educated myself regarding exactly how beer taxes work in WA (I have since done so - I read up on WA liquor & beer tax law last night after this experience), so I asked them on their page if it was legal to add sales tax (at 9.5%) on top of the listed draft prices.  Again, I asked.  I never stated or tried to imply they were doing anything illegal.  It was a legitimate inquiry to something I hadn't yet looked up myself.  They could have easily just replied to my post and explained, rather than simply deleting what I'd said.  I guess I'll have to be a bit more tactful in the future. 

My second post, where I expressed my displeasure in having my first post deleted, did not mention legal issues in any way.  In addition to voicing my displeasure over having the post deleted, I told them I was disappointed with their $11 price for a few of the beers on tap and the fact that they were adding full sales tax on top of their listed draft prices.  So there was no reason to delete that post and certainly no reason to take the additional and extraordinary step of banning me from their Facebook page.  At that point, I felt certain they were deliberately trying to conceal 'unflattering' pricing information from the public eye.

Suffice it to say, I was not impressed with Urban Family Public House, and I doubt I'll be back anytime soon.  They certainly aren't the only place in town to get some great Firestone Walker beers.

Drink responsibly and stay safe out there. 


  1. That's unfortunate - it looks like it'd be a fun place. I take it your investigations into the WA taxing laws didn't find anything illegal with the practice of adding tax on top of the advertised price, just atypical for places around here based on your experience?

  2. Hi there. A quick google search led me to this:

    Sales tax on alcohol served in a bar or restaurant is 9.3% in Seattle, so Urban Family has not wronged you in any way.

    1. I think the point is that Urban Family is about the only bar in town that doesn't build sales tax into it's draft prices. Not illegal, but a bit of a shock when the bill comes.

  3. Keith, correct. There's nothing illegal about adding tax after the listed price, but it's highly unusual around here, and I wasn't the only one quite surprised when the final bill arrived, because they do not make it clear that the listed prices are pre-tax.
    brandmanager, If the tax rate should be 9.3%, then they are still overcharging. $5 at 9.3% tax is .47 cents (really 46.5 cents). I was charged $5.48, which is 9.5% on $5 (really 47.5 cents).
    Bob, quite correct. Since it's not the 'norm' around here, they should be letting people know that the listed prices do not include the sales tax.

  4. Beer junction had a tax on their draft beer when I was there last weekend. I too found this a bit odd.

  5. This is a bad critique. The tax is right (including county and city) and the act of charging on top of published rates is about a 50% occurrence (plenty of places do it). I get that its better to have it included - we all want that. But there is nothing wrong with not including it. If it was included, your Reginald would have been 12. You saved!

    The price is justified as well, as I know that Firestone/K&L charges 300/ per sixth barrel for those rare beers. The margin checks out (you'd pay 5 for a sixth that costs 100/per).

    I find use of social media to publish complaints a poor practice. Why publicize your disdain and try to sink a fledgling pub that brings great beer to Seattle! You want then to fail? Help them out with a call, email or even a face to face chat. They are a great pub with great staff and offerings. Don't try and drag them down.