3 Things You Can Do About Restaurants Imposing Mandatory Surcharges Due to Pandemic

Restaurants have been hit hard by the current 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic, as they were forced to close their dining areas and rely on customers to either take out their food, offer service at curbside, or accept delivery — sometimes free of charge as an incentive.

3 Things You Can Do About Restaurants Imposing Mandatory Surcharges Due to Pandemic

Ben’s Best Kosher Delicatessen

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

In addition to the substantial loss of income from a surfeit of closed dining rooms and reduced capacity for increased distancing between people over the past several months — which can be staggering enough to force a restaurant to either downsize or go out of business altogether — all of the cleaning, sanitizing, disinfecting and other costly measures have created deficits for restaurants and other dining establishments…

…all of which cost money. Who do you think is ultimately going to pay for all of that?

I warned in this article written on Thursday, May 21, 2020 to watch your bill before paying it when you dine out at a restaurant, as some dining establishments around the United States — including in California, Illinois, Michigan, and Missouri — have started a disturbing trend of adding a 2019 Novel Coronavirus surcharge on the checks of their customers…

…and now, reports of restaurants in Nevada, Florida, and other states engaging in the practice of adding surcharges to the bills of customers have surfaced.

Even worse is that sometimes the restaurant will disguise the surcharge with an opaque pseudonym. “On Saturday night at Rack’s Fish House + Oyster Bar in Delray Beach, Irina Simkhovich glanced down at her $857.43 check and spotted a fee at the bottom, below the stuffed shrimp: $23.43 for something called ‘D-Operations’”, according to this article written by . “Simkhovich and her party of seven flagged a server. ‘We’re like, “What’s this?”‘ she recalled. The server called over a manager, who explained ‘D-Operations’ was actually a COVID-19 surcharge — totaling 3 percent of the bill — so the restaurant could afford sanitation supplies.”

In Las Vegas, a photograph of a receipt on which a surcharge was added was posted to the official Twitter account of TravelZork.

The supply chain of many industries worldwide has been severely disrupted to the point that companies are scrambling to recover as a result of what I always have considered to be a gross overreaction to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic

…but when greater than 38 million people in the United States alone are unemployed only within the past three months — and that does not include people who were already unemployed prior to the current 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic; nor does that include self-employed people, owners of small companies, and freelancers who are suffering from a substantial loss of business — is implementing a potentially misleading surcharge really the answer?

If you believe the answer is no, here is what you can do.

1. Contact the Dining Establishment in Advance and Ask If They Add a Surcharge.

Contact representatives of the restaurants where you plan to dine either via telephone, e-mail message, or social media to find out if a surcharge is added to the bill — and if so, how much is that surcharge.

This way, you will be able to compare restaurants, which will help you decide on where you want to dine.

2. Avoid and Boycott the Restaurant.

If restaurants succeed with keeping menu prices constant but adding an arbitrary charge of as much as 26 percent to your bill — not including gratuity or tax — without giving you sufficient notice in advance, then why would restaurants stop the practice of doing so?

Remember that some airlines which added a surcharge when fuel prices were significantly more expensive some years ago kept adding that fee — which became known as a carrier-imposed surcharge, whatever that means — even as fuel prices decreased afterwards…

…and when lodging companies realized that they could get away with advertising low room rates — only to sock you with a mandatory resort fee buried somewhere in the final pricing of your folio — that “disease” only spread throughout the lodging industry.

Tips and gratuities at dining establishments are already controversial. If restaurants are successful at imposing a surcharge, why would they stop once food prices stabilize and they successfully recoup their costs?

I am not opposed to a business earning enough revenue to enjoy a profit; but if I receive a bill at a restaurant — or any other type of business, for that matter — which did not disclose that it charges a mandatory fee due to the current 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic but includes it at the end of the meal, I will not pay it. Period. End of story.

Avoid — and boycott — any dining establishment which employs adding arbitrary mandatory surcharges to the bill.

3. Negotiate. Or Complain.

If you simply cannot resist patronizing a certain dining establishment, negotiate with the person who is waiting on you or the proprietor of the establishment and see if you can either have the surcharge reduced — or, better yet, have it eliminated altogether.

If the surcharge was not clearly disclosed prior to having your order taken, complain. In a number of jurisdictions, not disclosing surcharges until paying the bill is illegal.

An Erosion of Trust

Regardless of the reason, imposing mandatory surcharges on unsuspecting customers is flat out wrong, betrays the trust of customers, and is no different than mandatory resort fees and their ilk which are automatically added to the folios of guests of hotel and resort properties.

Dining establishments are far from the only entities which were adversely affected by the current 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic — which is why customers are currently seeking deals at restaurants and not looking to be surprised with fees and surcharges.

Similarly, the office of a dentist in Jacksonville has reportedly been charging patients ten extra dollars per appointment to cover the cost of personal protective equipment; and some hair salons in Houston have reportedly started adding a sanitation charge of three dollars for each customer.

The bottom line is that if a lodging company, airline, restaurant, salon, or other business entity needs additional revenue, be honest: simply raise prices for its products and services. Adding a 2019 Novel Coronavirus surcharge on the bills of customers is deceptive at best and is no better than mandatory resort fees — and can only serve to potentially erode trust from its customers.

A History of Articles Pertaining to Mandatory Resort Fees

That I vehemently oppose the implementation of mandatory resort fees, facilities fees and destination fees is no secret to you if you have been a reader of The Gate for years — they should either be optional or eliminated altogether — and I will just let this extensive body of work over the years pertaining to mandatory resort fees speak for me…

Summary

The hard truth is that if a restaurant, lodging company, airline — or virtually any business, for that matter — cannot find ways to afford to survive which are not considered deceptive, then it should go out of business. That may sound harsh; but although exceptions may come to mind, the free market forces of supply and demand — as well as what customers are willing to pay for a product or service — should ultimately determine whether a company should stay in business.

Lodging companies have been known to not only charge mandatory resort fees — or destination fees or similar mandatory fees — but they have also been known to sneak in other fees during the best of times. Back in December of 2019, I was automatically charged a fee for the use of a safe which I never used; and yet, the hotel property even had the nerve to disclaim that they are not responsible for valuables kept in the safe — despite charging that deceptive and worthless fee…

…which causes me to wonder just how far they will go in charging fees to their guests now that times are not so good.

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

6 thoughts on “3 Things You Can Do About Restaurants Imposing Mandatory Surcharges Due to Pandemic”

  1. Levy Flight says:

    It’s fine if they announce up front.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      I prefer that prices are simply increased to what is necessary to profit, Levy Flight, as a way to announce up front to customers that they will pay more at the end.

  2. Scotto says:

    I, for one, do not find this charge, if reasonable, to be outlandish. I just paid a $25 fee at a Dentist Office. I find that much more questionable.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      The amount of the charge is not the issue in my opinion, Scotto. If the establishment needs more income, simply raise the prices and not keep menu prices artificially lower than a customer expects to pay…

      …but I must agree that a $25.00 fee at a dentist is indeed outlandish.

      Perhaps some professionals in the dental and medical professions are taking advantage of the wave of being “heroes” as first responders and thinking that they can get away with such untrustworthy practices — especially as with the rates they charge, they should have healthier financial margins than restaurants and not be in such dire straits…

  3. colleen says:

    I’m fine if they put the surcharge on (as shown) with the opt-out provision.

    I’ve never seen a “built-in” premium (“why not just up the prices?”) come down post-incident.

    Raising prices will be forever. Surcharge, with opt-out, is the fairest.

  4. colleen says:

    @Scotto, I’ve been engaging on line about the dentist issue. Much anecdotal reporting that dental insurance SOMETIMES covers the covid surcharges. Whether they should is another discussion.

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