There we were, receiving our check for a lovely breakfast at the Barefoot Bar at the Paradise Point Resort in the Mission Bay district of San Diego. The total met my expectations given what we had ordered, and the venue had already added an 18% gratuity for our server even though we were only a party of four. I usually go 20%, but Ok. But then, I noticed that “something extra” that has been greeting me far too often these days on restaurant tabs, and it’s a trend I find all too disturbing. An extra 3% charge had been added for “California Minimum Wage Fee.” I’ve seen other bills, closer to home in Santa Monica at popular restaurants like Milo Olive (right up the street from our house), add the same 3% for “Employee Healthcare Surcharge.”
As someone who ALWAYS votes in favor of higher minimum or living wages, and who supports quality, affordable healthcare for all Americans, I am not upset that I may have to pay a little more for the food I eat out in order for restauranteurs to make the margins of profit they deem “necessary” to run a successful business.
I DO, however, take umbrage with how they have decided to “advertise” these passed through costs to the public. Instead of simply adding .02 cents to every omelet, waffle, side of bacon, or $2.00 to every nice cut of steak, some restauranteurs are adding these “penalties” in plain view – as a separate line item that amounts to nothing but a giant “Fuck You” to progressive-minded voters and legislators who care about creating a little more income equality and health care coverage in the world for people who wear nametags for a living. Heaven forbid!! Think about it – how can adding this fee (small as it was), instead of simply handing me a menu with only slightly higher priced items (that I wouldn’t have noticed in the two years since I was at Paradise Point for another family event) be considered anything other than a slap in the face? It is a giant resentment on the part of ideological restauranteurs laid out with a very specific purpose: Hey Mr. Customer – you better think twice before supporting public policy that is pro worker.
It is my personal belief that this very wealthy resort (an assumption based on the fact that they’ve been going strong since 1962), and the successful L.A. restaurants that choose to administer the same fee, should be able to cover the new minimum wage and some health care coverage for their employees, either by small increases in prices or by – heaven forbid – making fewer profits. Therefore, it has been my habit (and that of several friends with whom I’ve commiserated on this issue) to protest the charges and very politely explain why. It usually goes a little something like this:
“Excuse me, (server name, which I’m always good about using): “I’m sorry, but I just really feel your employer should be able to support a higher minimum wage / health coverage, and therefore would you mind taking off this additional 3 percent?” I usually also ask (knowing full well the answer is “No,”) “you don’t see any of that 3% back to you personally, do you?” This exercise essentially serves as my #resistance / response back to the restauranteur. And, usually the understanding server acknowledges that they don’t take it personally, and sometimes even wink or whisper to us that they agree.… but not at the Paradise Point Resort. So it saddened me to experience the following two exchanges, one with our server, Lindsay, and the other, with her manager, whose name I did not catch. They went something like this:
TODD: “Lindsay, hi, when you get a minute, can I ask you to remove this 3% charge for ‘minimum wage.’ It’s nothing personal and won’t affect our tip, it’s just that I feel the resort should – (interrupted)”
LINDSAY, our Server: “Well I can’t just remove that!”
TODD: “Why not? I can assure you that we’ll still tip you on the full cost of the meal, but this is an arbitrary fee – (interrupted)”
LINDSAY: “Well, this is why I always vote against those higher minimum wages. Because I know it’s going to cause conflicts like this. I mean, I can’t just ‘take it off of there!’”
LINDSAY: (a bit exasperated with me) “I’ll just get my manager.”
PAUSE … For about 5-7 minutes, during none of which I see Lindsay return (at peak brunch) to serve her other tables. Management is CLEARLY not eager to resolve this…
MANAGER: “Did you have a question sir?”
TODD: “No, I was just requesting that Lindsay remove this 3% fee, which is really just your management arbitrarily charging more money – (interrupted)”
MANAGER: “You can’t just have that removed sir!”
TODD: “Well, it isn’t the amount that bothers me – that’s minimal. It’s the principal of the thing. It’s really just your management – (interrupted, with head shaking “NO!”)”
MANAGER: “That’s not very fair to her to ask us to do that!”
TODD: “Who? Lindsay? Does any of this money go to her?!” (me, getting a little more defiant)
MANAGER: (certainly not admitting that it doesn’t) “It’s state law! You can’t just take money away from her!”
TODD: “Excuse me (pissed) I’m not taking money from HER. I’ve giving her a full tip, whereas you guys built in only 18 percent! It’s NOT state law to add this 3%. That’s a decision your management made to slap those of us that voted for higher wages in the face. They could have just minimally raise prices. So I’m simply — ”
MANAGER: “It’s state law, sir! … but, if you feel that strongly about it, I guess I’ll go so what I can do about a ‘special discount.’”
I’ll spare you my futile explanation about it not being a “special discount.” Clearly, he didn’t get what I was trying to do, so I just paid it and wished him well. But the two more worrisome parts of this exchange, as far as I’m concerned, were the following:
- A minimum wage (+ tips) worker has been conditioned by someone, the management above her, or someone or something in her experience, to vote against her own self-interest and what she deserves to be paid, just to, as she sees it, “avoid conflict.”
- A manager, who it’s worth noting was not in a suit but also a uniformed worker (chef’s garb, slightly stained), who had been given the impression that not only was this fee somehow going to DIRECTLY help his staff person, but that – maybe – he also misunderstood that the state law was for a higher minimum wage itself, and NOT the fee! I am really not sure that he understood the difference, though I hope he did, and just didn’t communicate it well.
Some of you may have already been presented with something familiar to the awkward controversy that presented itself to me here. Others of you may not have noticed this growing trend and are simply paying the total presented to you.
I encourage you all to protest these fees, however small they seem, as one thing is abundantly clear: We as citizen-activists must go beyond supporting higher minimum wages, living wages, and quality healthcare for working class people at the ballot box. Our actions have to extend now to the billing portion of our meal, where a strong message needs to be sent back to the greedy restauranteurs who want to punish those of us that vote to raise, or elect representatives who pass bills to raise, their worker’s wages and conditions when they refuse to do so themselves.