A new trend in San Francisco dining seems to be catching on, and surprisingly, it has nothing to do with food. Eateries all over town have started applying health care surcharges to the bill. Some are adding on 2%-5% of the bill, while others tack on $1-$3 per diner. And diners seem to have very mixed reactions. What’s this all about?
Effective in 2008, San Francisco businesses with more than twenty employees must provide health care to all staff members who work over ten hours a week. How much health care they are required to offer depends on the size of the business. The mandate comes from the San Francisco Health Care Security Ordinance (HCSO) which most of us voted for. But did voters think they’d be seeing it on their restaurant bills?
The first time I encountered the health care surcharge was late this winter, when I had drinks at the new Water Bar. The menu stated very clearly that the there would be a 4% charge and why. I was actually glad to see it. Too many of my friends & family members are without health care.
I didn’t really think about it again until I read Michael Bauer’s blog post in the Chronicle about how outraged diners at the Epic Roasthouse have been. Epic is next door to Water Bar and they opened on the same day. But I wouldn’t go to either expecting an inexpensive meal—so what’s another 4% that’s earmarked for something so vital as health care?
The next time I encountered a surcharge was this week at the Buckhorn Grill, a fast food version of the Buckhorn Road House. This time, I was not aware of the charge before I ordered but it was only 2% and when added to a $7 salad to go, the extra $0.14 didn’t seem like any imposition.
But plenty of Yelpers are unhappy . A frequent arguement is that health care is an operational cost. Businesses should raise their prices accordingly rather than add a gimmicky “surcharge” to the bill. Another yelper in this thread said if we have to pay a surcharge for someone else’s health care, it should at least be tax deductable. I thought that was an interesting point. Others commented that if they had to pay the surcharge, they’d be inclined to tip less—effectively making the restaurant staff pay out of pocket.
My take on this is that the Health Care Ordinance clearly effects margins of restaurants and rather just raising the prices, they are providing some explanation to their patrons. I voted for and support the HCSO and I also understand that Health Care costs money. I would not be surprised to start seeing retail businesses follow suit with surcharges. Besides, as other supporters have commented, eating out is a luxury and if I cannot afford the extra 4% then I’ll eat at home. I have a choice.
What do you think?