Ten out of 18 city centre restaurants and bars visited by the Bay of Plenty Times were closed yesterday instead of opening and choosing whether to impose a surcharge.
Of the 10 eateries on The Strand and in Red Square, at least five advertised that they were not charging extra for being open and each was packed for lunch.
Under the Holidays Act 2003, employers must give additional payments to employees who work on a public holiday which means restaurants and cafes face additional costs if they open on a statutory holiday.
Restaurants are still divided about charging extra to cover costs, 10 years after a law which made them pay staff more on public holidays.
Syndicate manager Dave Burbery said it was always a financial risk deciding whether to open on a public holiday.
"Because Waitangi Day is, at the moment, a quieter holiday, we run with less staff than, say, New Year's or Boxing Day ... we run with half that. It makes it more feasible with paying time-and-a-half," he said.
Because most of the other businesses at the southern side of The Strand were closed, Syndicate reaped the benefits, Mr Burbery said.
Yesterday, the restaurants and bars along The Strand that were open were bustling with people.
Tauranga's Irene Robertson said she would sooner choose a place with no surcharge.
However, the mum of two said there was a need to have places open to choose from when eating out on a public holiday.
"I understand they do need to pay staff more. I guess you make that choice, if you want to go out, but it's good to have places open on public holidays," she said.
"Just look at how busy these places are and they aren't charging [extra] to be open."
Restaurant Association of New Zealand Chief Executive, Marisa Bidois said the surcharge debate was often a no-win situation for bar and restaurant owners.
"Many restaurants have put public holiday trading in the financial 'too hard' basket. They would love to open, but the reality is that costs of operating on public holidays are significantly higher, and many that do open, run at a loss on those days."
Ms Bidois likened the issue of paying extra to eat out on public holidays to paying extra for a plumber out of hours.
It was up to consumers to decide, she said.
"The most important thing is to have the choice and convenience to dine out on a public holiday."
About 50 per cent of the country's eateries would have opted to enforce a surcharge, she said.
The other half would either of close or make a loss.
"It's not sustainable for businesses to not charge extra on those days," she said.
"Your average waiter probably gets paid around $15 an hour. With all the costs that the Holidays Act imposes on employers, they're getting paid more than the average price of a main. If you put it in terms like that, it sort of brings it into perspective of what it costs our businesses to be open on those days."