Since the pandemic, this mysterious charge has become more commonplace, popping up on everything from last-minute Grubhub orders to date nights at the local bistro.
Environmental surcharge? Supply increase fee? Fair-wage fee? Restaurant Recovery Fee? That extra $3 you found tacked on to the bottom of your receipt? In other words, ‘why is eating out so expensive these days?
The new charge came during the aftermath of the 2019 COVID-19 Pandemic and has made what seems to be its mainstay due to the District’s new Initiative 82.
Implemented in early March, the Initiative will gradually raise the minimum wage of tipped employees from $5.05 to the standard minimum wage of untipped employees, $16.10 by 2027, creating one universal minimum wage.
Restaurants in the District have adopted this surcharge to alleviate this new pressure from Initiative 82. As of July 1st, employers must pay their workers an hourly wage of $8, assuming they receive another $8.10 in tips, leaving many restaurant owners with the option of adopting a surcharge as the only means to pay their workers a fair wage.
“I am thankful that they’re raising the minimum wage. There are some nights that I work, and I don’t make minimum wage,” said Joe Reberkenny, a waiter at the Tombs, “luckily, my employer makes up the difference…but it sucks when you can’t afford your groceries.”
The Tombs, sister pub to Clyde’s in Georgetown, maintains a 3.75% surcharge to combat pandemic and inflation pressures. “I think that’s what this is trying to do, get people who are employed in the restaurant industry to a place where they can afford to live,” said Reberkenny.
When asked how customers respond to the additional fees, Reberkenny confirmed that patrons tend not to mind paying the additional 3% and that the fee could be removed with the assistance of a manager.
Eastern Market staple Duck & Peach is one restaurant that has adopted a 22% surcharge, seeking to create a better dining experience for its customers. As stated on their website, the surcharge funds higher hourly wages for their workers, which they believe contributes to a work environment of stability and equality that leads to a better experience for their consumers.
However, District residents are split in their reception of these new fees. “I don’t know if it’s counterproductive in practice, but it feels counterintuitive in theory,” said Priya Ganesh, a patron of Duck & Peach, “you’re paying people more money in a time when their money is worth less, which doesn’t address the root cause of the problem.”
Boogey & Peel, a pizza shop in Dupont, advertises an 18% service fee for dining in and a 12% service fee for takeout. The funds created go towards paying their workers a respectable wage and offering health insurance.
One patron, Kylie Benner, hoped the entire fee would go to the workers.
“In my and my friends’ experience, working in the [restaurant] industry, I feel like that fee can end up offsetting the supply chain costs or back into the company instead of the workers,” Benner said.
At Santa Rosa Taqueria in Capital Hill, the surcharge goes by another name, an environmental fee. However, this 2.5% fee is not used to substantiate wages but to offset the restaurant’s carbon footprint cost, going towards planting trees and using sustainable products.
D.C. residents are split on the effects that the pandemic and Initiative 82 will have on the future of the restaurant industry in the District. With many restaurants coping with these new pressures by adopting fees or moving out of the city limits entirely, the wake of these events could spell the end of D.C.’s vibrant food scene.
By Dillin Avery Bett