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Restaurant repercussions to the increase in the minimum wage in San Diego


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In response to the increase of the San Diego minimum wage, which took effect on January 1st, some area San Diego restaurants have started adding surcharges to the bills of their diners:

"San Diego restaurants enact surcharge, leaving bitter aftertaste"


The City Attorney's Office announced Thursday that it is looking into the legality of a surcharge being levied on some restaurant customers in response to San Diego's minimum wage increase. 

City Attorney Mara Elliott said the investigation was launched after complaints about the practice were received on a consumer hotline. The added cost was not made known to customers beforehand and was falsely billed as being mandated by the government, she said. 

That last bit about "not made known to customers beforehand..." is the big issue, IMHO. If you're a San Diego restaurant and you want to tack on a surcharge to every one of your diner's bills to make up for having to pay a higher minimum wage, then alert the diner's with a sign as they enter your restaurant or legibly post it on the front of your menus. Then there are no surprises for your diners. Of course, you will likely have less customers with such a surcharge but that's the price you pay for being in the San Diego restaurant biz.


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Tim Oliver

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Wages in the restaurant business are terribly low. So are margins. That's not a happy combination, no matter how you slice it. Here in Canada most jurisdictions don't allow a reduced minimum wage for tipped employees, so it's even tighter for restaurateurs. I've been seeing a lot of articles about top restaurants in Toronto and Vancouver -- the kind of place ambitious cooks should be fighting to work -- struggling to keep a kitchen staff, because wages and local cost of living are so far out of sync. 


Perhaps I'm selling my colleagues short, but I think in the longer term it will be a tempest-in-a-teapot situation. Remember when smoking bans were going to kill the restaurant (and bar) industry? That never happened, and the restaurant business showed itself to be resilient. I think it can survive paying a living wage, as well. 

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I think they should just raise the prices up front if they need more revenue. This business of springing a "surcharge" on the diner without being clear that this is going to happen and then falsely saying it's government mandated is nothing short of fraud in my book.


Restaurants that charge mandatory "gratutities" have always revealed them when making reservations or on the menu, in my experience. Diners may not like them, and if they don't they have the option of not dining there and going somewhere else because they are informed.


I guess the San Diego restaurateurs feel justified in this deception because they are angry with the law and want to protest it, but in my opinion, what they are doing is breaking the law and alienating their customers. There is no signed contract per se, but when one sits down or stands in line at fast food place, peruses the menu and selects one's choices, one should expect to pay what is posted on that menu, plus required taxes and expected tipping for the area. I definitely think there's an implied contract, and what they are doing is breaching that.

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Sounds like a case of a business owner who disagrees with the wage increase and is trying to make his/her 'point.'  In business, all costs are passed on to the customer, whether it's the rent, the utilities, wages, cost of goods.  

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