Monday, June 24, 2024

Silver Lake Chef Defends Restaurant’s Surcharges Amid Outrage From Diners

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As the outrage over inexplicable restaurant surcharges ramps up in Los Angeles, one Silver Lake chef has taken to Instagram to defend a “donation” for tap water and a 4% “wellness fee” on one diner’s tab.

Chef Zachary Pollack, an Angeleno who trained in Florence, Italy, before opening a duo of popular restaurants on the east side, wrote in a post that he was “targeted” by online haters about the up-charge that he says provides health insurance for his employees at Alimento and Cosa Buona in Echo Park. He questioned why his establishment is “being singled out” for something that has become an increasingly routine practice for restaurant owners — passing on the rising costs of running a restaurant to diners.

“As most L.A. diners will know, Alimento’s 4% healthcare surcharge is hardly unique,” he wrote. “There are dozens if not hundreds of other restaurants in Los Angeles that implemented similar surcharges when the ACA mandated that companies with 25 or more employees offer health insurance to full-time employees more than a decade ago.”

Pollack did not immediately return a request for comment, but he is certainly not alone in seeking ways to be compliant with the Affordable Care Act.

One in six restaurants said they are adding fees or surcharges to check to supplement the devastation incurred during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an August survey from the National Restaurant Association. Since 2019, California is allowed to add a climate change surcharge on customer’s tabs, which diners can opt not to pay.

But when it comes to dining out, it often falls on the server to have to explain any added fees — which can tack on up to 20 percent to the bill — and whether the funds will be disbursed as tips for the wait staff.

“It’s impossible to discern how much you actually just spent on the meal when the server is standing there right in front of you waiting for their tip,” says George Walsh, 29, a musician who pays out of pocket for his own health care. “I miss the days were you got to review a bill that was left on a table. It is kind of intimidating, to be honest, even though you recognize that person is hard-working.”

The debate over whether the surcharges are part of a great restaurant rip-off in arguably the most expensive city in the country — Los Angeles — has led diners to use the term “tipflation,” and has prompted civil suits, like the one filed by a pair of servers against the owners of Jon & Vinny’s.

The servers say in their civil suit that the owners’ insistence on adding an automatic 18% “service fee” that lines the pockets of better-paid management staff has left them shortchanged on tips. And Unite Here Local 11 has walked off the job at multiple L.A. hotels claiming, among other things, that “wellness fees” charged at hotel restaurants are not being passed on to its employees.

Some cities, including New York City, have outlawed tacking on extra fees on top of listed food or beverage prices.

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