Brian Schwalb, the attorney general of Washington, D.C., is taking action against shady restaurant service fees.
Why it’s important The fees—also known as wellness fees, back-of-house fees, PPP fees, and pandemic fees—have caused a great deal of misunderstanding among diners.
Driving the news: AG Schwalb addressed a letter to restaurant operators reminding them that it is unlawful to suprise clients with service fees on their bills as a result of an increase in customer complaints.
Service costs must be “prominently, explicitly, and properly revealed” when customers make orders, according to the letter, which was issued to D.C.’s 2,460 eateries. Restaurants must also specify the fee’s amount as well as its justification.
What they say is this: Restaurant operators should follow the law, according to Shawn Townsend, president of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington. But, the AG’s letter’s timing and wording weren’t ideal and confused some restaurant owners. “At a time when operators are just desperately trying to find out how to live,” the author writes, “this is just another hurdle for them.”
Between the lines: Diners can report criminals to the AG’s office if they see them.
Lawbreakers risk paying hefty fines, which can reach $5,000 for first-time offenders and $10,000 for repeat offenders.
Background: To aid the food and beverage business during pandemic lockdowns, service charges increased in frequency.
Nonetheless, they have persisted because the industry has not yet fully recovered.And, Initiative 82, which will require tipped workers to earn the full minimum wage before tips, will make the fees even more common as business owners find ways to adapt to the pay change.
The intrigue: Still, service fees are largely unpopular among diners who are unsure about how much to tip on top of the fees. That confusion prompted a growing Reddit thread tracking various local fees.
The list includes 139 restaurants. It notes the amount each charge and whether or not that includes the tip.
What’s next: The AG’s office says it will investigate complaints and take action when it finds restaurants have broken the law.