A Jewish Chronicle investigation has revealed that some kosher caterers appear to be overcharging customers for the services of a shomer by as much as three times — and falsely blaming the Kosher London Beth Din (KLBD) for the increased prices.
One customer said the caterers seem to simply “make up figures”.
The kosher authority, which supervises more than 40 catering companies, admitted that it has received reports of caterers attempting to exploit consumers by overcharging for the shomer, the person responsible for ensuring the food preparation is in accordance with kashrut laws.
The KLBD’s approach to these incidents has been to quietly inform the caterer what the kashrut fee should be. Senior figures within the industry said they were aware of the overcharging.
Mark Clyne, managing director of Celia Clyne Banqueting, said: “I’ve heard of it — I’ve heard of people making a profit on it.”
The solution was simple, he added: “The Beth Din should make it clear what the rates are.”
Three other caterers, who declined to be named, confirmed the practice went on. One, whose company caters around 100 events per year, was aware of “a lot of caterers” who bump up the shomer fee to extract more money from customers.
“One client, a traditional Jew, came to me from a different caterer,” the owner recalled, “and asked what our quote was. They said: ‘What is the kashrut fee; we know we need to pay one.’ I told them an amount, and they said: ‘We went to multiple people, and they said triple that amount.’ I showed them our costing chart, and they were shocked. They couldn’t believe it.”
The source added: “It’s true. A million per cent true, and I say to the people in charge of these companies: I don’t know what you’re doing, you’re scaring people away from kosher caterers by telling them it’s double or triple the price.
“I can’t believe what caterers are doing. It can be £2 per head, and they’re charging £6 or £7 per head instead.”
Another caterer under the KLBD’s supervision said: “I know it goes on. I don’t agree with it at all. It’s wrong.” Stephen Rosenthal, Google UK’s former head of social media and a JC columnist, asked several kosher caterers, to quote for a 12-person lunch to celebrate his mother’s birthday.
He was quoted a range of differing costs for the event, many in excess of the KLBD’s price. “When they quoted the fees it didn’t make sense, because they were different,” Mr Rosenthal said. “I thought it would be per head or per hour, but they seemed to be just making up figures. When I called the KLBD, they told me it was the caterers marking up prices.”
One of those contacted by Mr Rosenthal quoted £600 for the shomer fee and explained: “If I have to have a shomer at my base to prep and get this job ready, the shomer fee for the day would be, including that, around about £300. “I then have to have the shomer at the house where the function is being held, and the Beth Din will charge me a fee for that. So if you add it all together, including that, it would be close to £600.”
The standard practice across the industry is for the shomer to be hired by the Beth Din and supplied to the caterer. The Beth Din charges the caterer a fee for the shomer’s services, which the caterer passes onto the customer. The KLBD’s shomer fee is calculated through a formula involving the number of people attending the event, the venue, the nature of the work and the preparation time required. Prospective clients can find out how much the kashrut fee should be from the KLBD, but there is no published tariff. In response to the JC investigation, the KLBD said it was considering publishing its rate card.
A spokesman said: “We are upset to hear that there have been negative experiences… KLBD invoices the caterer who in many cases incorporates this cost into their event charge. In some cases, it is itemised separately. In any event, we would expect that the KLBD cost is handed on without any uplift or surcharge. “We would encourage members of the community to continue to get in touch with KLBD about kashrut fees.”
Neither the Manchester Beth Din (MBD), the Sephardi Kashrut Authority (SKA), nor the Federation of Synagogues Beth Din make their kashrut fees publicly available, though they did reveal amounts when asked by the JC.
The MBD quoted £2 per head for a function, £1.10 per head for a kiddush. The Federation quoted “£325 for a small event with one shomer; £690 for a large one with two shomrim.”
The SKA has seven different rates, charging from £224.40 for an event with up to 50 people to £1080 for over 450 people.
The SKA says it plans to put more information online about its kashrut fees in the next month, while an MBD spokesman said it would consider publishing its rate card online.
A KLBD spokesman said: “On occasion, we are notified that other costs may have been added by suppliers whom we then contact to ensure they are aware of the correct fees.
“If we are notified that fees have changed or are incorrect we follow-up with the supplier. We trust our caterers to give accurate kashrut fees.”
One experienced shomer, who did not want to be named, said he was unaware of the practice of marking up. “There is a distinction between front of house, where the managers are, and where the kitchen staff are. They have their world, and we have ours,” he said.