|Hi all, to clarify it from a gym's perspective...
I think all the gyms offer a free ‘Fast Track’ lead check for those that can demonstrate suitable proficiency. I know ours (and I think Hard Rock's) takes around 20 minutes. We will offer a lead check as a belayer (and you are right, it is the most important part). They take longer than 5 minutes as we watch the climbers clip correctly, and take a fall. We go through the local gym rules, such as no seconding, no skipping clips etc, all the good things set down by the EN Artificial Climbing Structure Standard, the wall builders, insurance companies, gym association and of course the gym itself.
Both parties will need to sign Lead Waivers at any of the gyms these days - of course!!!
The $35+/- courses offered by most gyms are usually for someone that has never lead before or someone that fails the minimum proficiency of the 'fast-track' test – it happens regularly! Those courses typically take around 1.5 – 2 hours, hence the charge.
So the key really is, demonstrate a suitable proficiency and it’s all free.
From Cliffhanger's perspective, it's important to note that NOT all staff are capable of doing "Fast Track" lead checks, so it is not a given that you can have one done on demand on any given night - another Insurance requirement unfortunately.