Restaurant Tickets and Hidden Messages

It’s been many years since I’ve worked in a restaurant, but the eight years I spent carrying plates and trays makes it impossible for me to tip mindlessly. I examine all charges on a restaurant ticket, not because I’m busy being frugal. Quite the opposite.

Oftentimes a lunch tab will give a diner an interesting profile of the owner’s values – my most recent ticket was the nail in the coffin for me. We have a local breakfast and lunch place that I was never crazy about, but that Mr. G loves. They don’t have proper red Tabasco available, and they serve eggs and potatoes. That’s not a breakfast restaurant, that’s a torture chamber.

minimum wage surcharge on a lunch bill in los angeles

One of the reasons my husband so loves this restaurant is that the pride of ownership has always been visible. When we take evening walks we see the place being scrubbed from stem to stern. Unfortunately, the solution they use to clean their restrooms is putrid smelling and that eliminates about half the booths for me.

The food is good and the servers really are terrific. I’ve never had a bad meal there, but I won’t be returning happily (I know I’ll be returning because my husband loves the place and I love my husband). Here’s why I’ll never be happy to go back there.

At the bottom of our restaurant ticket is a a note which reads:

A 2.5% Surcharge has been added to each check to help balance the recent and continued L.A. Ordinance Minimum Wage Expense.

This Charge is Not a Gratuity.

I went ahead and included all of their ridiculous capitalizations. I am no one’s editor. There are many reasons to not want to visit this restaurant, but this was the nail in the coffin for me. Let’s unpack this ticket, shall we?

Firstly, the total for the bill is $40.80. If one were to get a standard restaurant bill in Los Angeles it’s safe to simply double the 9.5% sales tax for the lowest level of service. Hopefully, service was great and you’ll be leaving leaving an extra few dollars. This way a diner ends up with approximately a 20% tip.

With surcharges, nothing works out very well for the servers.

The subtext of this ticket screams to me that the restaurant owners are not interested in providing a nice lifestyle for their employees. You know, the lifeblood of their business.

Perhaps I’m overly sensitive to the fact that a good employer should provide living wages for the men and women who labor for them. Maybe the massive homeless population outside my front door brings this to my attention more than in years past. It’s worth noting that food service employees are routinely exploited and receive disproportionately little help when it comes to housing.

The minimum wage that this restaurant owner is referring to is modest. As of next week, the minimum wage in Los Angeles is at $14.25 per hour. Let’s pretend that servers at this restaurant are making an additional $20 an hour in tips. This would put them approximately $68,000 dollars a year. Assuming that they work a 40 hour week (an unlikely assumption – 26 hours is the national average in food service) and take two weeks vacation each year. With that very generous assumption in mind, a typical server at this restaurant would be able to afford approximately half the rent of a one bedroom, 606 square foot apartment in the same zip code.

This apartment is $2,150 a month for a one bedroom 606 square foot

I do not wish to patronize a restaurant that thinks so poorly of its employees that it will not add an additional 2.5% to the cost of a menu item in order to provide what is allegedly a living wage.

Let’s be candid. This place always has a line out front, the 2.5% charge isn’t about what it costs to run a restaurant, it’s a political statement. Make the breakfast burrito $13.99 instead of $13.95, that’s actually a 2.86% increase, no one will care.

I have never ordered my eggs with a side of politics. I much prefer sourdough toast.

Sadly, the only person hurt in all of this is the server. You see, most people will tip based upon the subtotal. With this system, the dining subtotal is 2.5% less thereby decreasing tips by 2.5%. One would assume that servers would be angry about this. How does a restauranteur explain to their servers that they ought not to be upset by a 2.5% loss in wages while their very own temper-tantrum is being highlighted on every single bill these servers deliver to their customers?

Let’s do some fun math. Pretend a server is making $20 an hour from tips in addition to the wildly generous $14.25 an hour the city of Los Angeles forces one to pay. A restaurant owner’s political statement has taken away 2.5% of revenue from the subtotal of each and every diner. With this reduction in ticket totals, each server sees a commensurate reduction in tips.

how much do you make every year if your salary is $20.50 an hour
Source SalaryComplainer.com

At this point, the restaurant owners have taken approximately $1,000 a year away from a full-time server earning $20 per hour of tips.

Of course, these numbers may be much higher or lower, and perhaps the restauranteur won’t believe that $1,000 is meaningful in a person’s budget. Here’s hoping that their employees feel the same way. (Hint: I assure you, they do not.)

This is Los Angeles, I have a plethora of choices about where to dine. I prefer not to give money to restaurant owners who shortchange minimum wage employees by hundreds or thousands of dollars each year. And, no, I will not be naming this establishment, because it is not an anomaly, but rather the last of many to fry my nerves.

Many restaurants add surcharges for healthcare, I suspect they don’t like the Affordable Care Act. Obamacare came about because businesses like this were leaving their employees in positions of needing to file bankruptcy, facing homelessness, or dying from curable diseases. It’s okay to not like providing healthcare for employees, many people do many things they don’t enjoy. Complain to your friends, not your patrons.

Owning a small business presents endless challenges, and paying employees a living wage ought to be the first that anyone tackles, and not the last. Small businesses don’t just serve food, they serve the community.

I would like to believe that people who are spending 2,000 hours of their year in the workplace are respected.

Again, this is an established restaurant. One with lines that are seemingly interminable on weekends. I’m afraid to ask how the back of the house survives working here, you know, those folks in the kitchen who prepare the bougie eggs and potatoes. How are they supposed to live in the city they feed?

Comments 2

  1. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy at this point. The business owner fears losing customers if he raises prices to pay his new employee costs, and the way he’s gone about it he ends up losing customers like you. Admittedly, not everyone is like you and reads or understands the issues. Glad you do. And that you write about it.

  2. I so totally and completely agree with this and have a usual rant ANY TIME I see a charge like this noted on a check. It is a huge pet peeve of mine. Raise your prices a whole dollar each item, I don’t care, but call it a “surcharge to cover….” and I hate you immediately. My father would not patronize any restaurant that did this.

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