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A restaurant customer says she was charged a 5% ‘health fee’, prompting an outcry

A woman’s viral video of a surprise charge on her restaurant bill has sparked debate on social media about whether or not customers should shoulder the financial burden of staff health care.

On Jan. 10, TikTok user @ashnichole_xo, aka Ashley Nichole, shared a story about a recent trip she took to a Southern California restaurant that she frequents.

While paying a bill at Osteria La Buca, an Italian restaurant in Sherman Oaks, California, Nichole noticed a charge on her restaurant bill that she didn’t recognize.

“The weirdest thing just happened to me,” Nichole says on her TikTok, which has been viewed nearly a million times. She explains that on a rainy day in Los Angeles, she decided to meet a friend for dinner.

“We go to one of my favorite restaurants, it’s Osteria La Buca,” she says, adding that she’s been there several times. “We enjoy our food, we get the check, we pay our check, and while we’re signing the tip and stuff like that, we notice something.”

The video then cuts to a photo of her receipt, showing Nichole and her friend eating short rib ravioli, steak and more.

“If you notice down here, there’s a $4.75 employee health fee. she asks her audience. “A 5% employee health fee.”

“The immediate thought is, ‘What is employee health? What does that mean?’” she says. After running a few guesses with her friend at the table before getting ready, she decides to ask the restaurant what the fee entails.

“As we walk out, I approach the hostess and say, ‘Hey, quick question, just out of curiosity,'” says Nichole, adding that she drew the hostesses’ attention to the 5% fee for the total amount the bill. (At first Nichole thought the restaurant charged them $5 each, but has since corrected himself in a follow-up video.)

“And she’s like, ‘Oh, that’s our health care,'” she says, before pausing to give the camera a questioning look. “And my reaction was, ‘Your health? your healthcare?’ and she says, ‘Yes, our health care.’”

Nichole says she’s never heard of such an accusation and asks her followers whether or not they’ve experienced such accusations at other restaurants.

“I had to find out: is this normal? Have I been living under a rock and is that normal or is that weird? Because I’ve never experienced this before and it feels weird. But maybe that’s normal elsewhere. Let me know because I’ve never seen this before.”

TODAY.com reached out to both Nichole and Osteria La Buca; none responded to a request for comment.

The comments section of Nichole’s video shows the spectrum of opinions on the idea of ​​an “employee health premium”, with comments ranging from outrage to disbelief.

“Wait! What? How is it the customer’s responsibility now [pay] for their health care,” wrote one user on TikTok.

“If I pay for your healthcare, I don’t leave a tip!” commented another user. “It would be like tipping my child for a service! If I pay for your health care, then family!”

“I’m sorry, but I’m not paying for it. Taxes and tips only,” wrote another person. “Health care should be covered [sic] from the employer. These fees are getting out of hand.”

“If I’m paying for someone’s health, I can claim them as dependent on my taxes now, right?!?” another person commented with a crying emoji.

Although most of the comments on Nichole’s video denounce the surcharge, there are some who, while not directly supporting it, appreciate the restaurant’s transparency.

“Some small businesses in Atlanta do it!” commented one TikTok user. “It allows their workers to get health care for themselves and their families, as well as sick leave.”

“The cost could be added to your menu items and you would never know or care,” pointed out another commenter.

How long have these restaurant surcharges been around?

According to a 2020 New York Times article, these types of supplements surfaced in 2008, when a San Francisco regulation required companies with more than 20 employees to set aside money for healthcare. The federal Affordable Care Act, introduced two years later, only requires employers with 50 or more employees, which often excludes smaller businesses like restaurants.

According to a 2022 US Bureau of Labor Statistics survey, only 30% of private sector workers in “lodging and dining” services have access to employer-sponsored health care.

In recent years, instead of being included in menu prices for less savvy customers, these charges have sometimes been transparently stated on receipts as “4% surcharge” to fight inflation, or “COVID-19 surcharges”. So there’s still a lot of confusion about these fees, but some business owners have tried to explain.

“The last two years have been difficult in the hospitality industry,” Troy Reding, president of Ally Restaurants in Minnesota, told TODAY.com in July 2022 in reference to a “wellness fee” he introduced at his restaurants in 2019.

Reding’s “wellness fee” is a 3% surcharge on customer bills that it levies on its employees’ insurance premiums, paid time off, mental health access, and IRA contributions. According to Reding, some customers turned him down, but not all.

“I think if you’re using a fee for a reason and it’s to the benefit of your employees, that’s the differentiator,” he said.

This article was originally published on TODAY.com

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