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Posted on: October 22, 2018 at 2:21 pm

There are two types of people in this world – people who never ask for or keep their receipts and those who always do. Whatever side of the fence you are on, the next time someone asks if you’d like the receipt after eating out, you should say yes and look it over. Why? Because apparently people have been spotting a new trend at restaurants – a “health and wellness charge.”

Restaurants in the United States are starting to adopt this health and wellness charge into their workplaces in an effort to combat ever increasing costs of health insurance. One company, the Travail Collective, started including the 3% charge to customers’ bills in mid-October 2018 at two of its restaurants in Minnesota – The Pig Ate My Pizza and Travail Kitchen and Amusements. [1]

You would think that restaurant patrons would be upset with this extra three percent charge. However, according to Travail Collective co-owner Mike Brown, they largely support the restaurants’ efforts to provide their employees with sufficient and affordable health care.

“We feel that making sure our people are taken care of is the most important thing in our company,” Brown told KARE 11. [1]

The Bartmann Group owns nine restaurants in the Twin Cities and its owner, Kim Bartmann, has actually been doing this for over two decades.

“I have been subsidizing health insurance since 1993, covering 100% of their health insurance, but due to rising costs I’m not covering 70% thanks in part to this [health and wellness] charge.” [1]

The Health and Wellness Charge Isn’t New

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Although the surcharge has come under the spotlight in late 2018, stories about the fee started popping up in places including San Francisco and Portland five or so years ago.

In 2013, Biwa, a restaurant in Portland, Oregon started including a 5% surcharge on their checks with a brief explanation as to why.

“All of the funds from this small service charge are used to provide full healthcare benefits to all of our staff, and to support living wage incomes for our cooks and dishwashers (the non-tipped members of the Biwa family.” [2]

Dayna McErleam, who own’s Portland’s DOC and four other restaurants, acknowledges that some patrons do express frustration and confusion about the surcharge when it’s time to pay, but others don’t mind at all.

“People who work in restaurants deserve to have health care,” said Diane MacDonald, a customer at one of McErleam’s restaurants. [3] “And if the way to do that is to add a 5-percent charge, we’re happy to pay it.”

Although charging people an extra 3 to 5 percent seems like a bold move, people appreciate their transparency. Even McErleam “[wants] people to know where their money’s going and how it’s helping everyone.” [3]

And if you don’t want to pay the surcharge, just ask and the server will simply take it off of your bill.

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Is This Health and Wellness Charge Going to Be in Every Restaurant?

“We’d like to see this replicated, honestly,” said one of Biwa’s owners, Gabe Rosen. “It’s crazy to me that nobody gets insurance in this business.” [2]

Although restaurant owners such as Brown, Bartmann, Rosen, McErleam, and others are all for this health and wellness charge, others are still suspicious…

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In San Francisco, city officials investigated dozens of restaurants “and found discrepancies over a two-year period in the amount collected in the surcharges versus how much was put aside for employee health care.” [4] Obviously, you can see why people may start to question where their surcharge is really going.

“What’s next?” asked Karin Klein for the Los Angeles Times. [5] “An electricity surcharge because the restaurant placed solar on its roof? Will there be so many add-on charges that customers decide they don’t need to add a tip?”

Right now, it seems that it’s up to individual restaurant owners to decide whether the health and wellness surcharge is something they want to start adding to restaurant cheques. Since healthcare can really hurt your pocket, we may start seeing more and more restaurants jump on board.

Restaurants Unlimited, a national franchiser with 20 restaurants in over 40 locations added a 1% “living wage” surcharge to their customers’ bills. You might be familiar with some of them: Kincaid’s, Palomino, Stanford’s, and Henry’s Tavern. [6,7] Although we’re not sure whether this charge is in effect at all of their restaurant locations, it’s a clear sign that the restaurant industry is changing.

Have you noticed any health and wellness surcharges on your breakfast, lunch, or dinners bills?

[1] Severson, G. (2018, October 18). What is this ‘health and wellness charge’ on my food bill? Retrieved from https://www.kare11.com/article/news/what-is-this-health-and-wellness-charge-on-my-food-bill/89-605763428?fbclid=IwAR39lPlGfBHdjDeFG56BpAVy9Nywz5GPGH01vXk79GMW0gRRBnzPshOh0VI

[2] DeJesus, E. (2013, August 22). Portland Restaurant Adopts ‘Health and Wellness’ Charge. Retrieved from https://www.eater.com/2013/8/22/6382845/portland-restaurant-adopts-health-and-wellness-charge

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[3] Labrecque, J., & News, K. (n.d.). Customers charged for restaurant workers’ health care coverage. Retrieved from https://katu.com/news/local/customers-charged-for-restaurant-workers-health-care-coverage

[4] Finz, S. (2013, December 31). S.F. restaurant surcharge dispute resolved. Retrieved from https://www.sfgate.com/business/article/S-F-restaurant-surcharge-dispute-resolved-5102900.php

[5] Klein, K. (2014, October 10). The curse of the 3% healthcare surcharge in restaurants. Retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/opinion/opinion-la/la-ol-restaurant-healthcare-surcharge-20141009-story.html

[6] Weller, C. (2016, August 17). Restaurants have started using ‘living wage’ surcharges to raise servers’ incomes. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/restaurants-add-living-wage-surcharge-customer-bills-2016-8

[7] Our Restaurants. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.r-u-i.com/locations.php

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