WASHINGTON, DC (DC News Now) — DC’s top prosecutor drew focus about restaurant fees added to receipts, as some establishments maintain pandemic-era costs and others prepare for increased wages.
DC Attorney General Brian Schwalb’s office published a ‘consumer alert’ Tuesday, reminding consumers and restaurant owners of the city’s consumer law surrounding imposed fees.
“But when your bill comes at the end of the meal, there’s a vague 20% fee added on that you didn’t expect. How do you know if the fee is going to service workers? Are restaurants allowed to charge fees without telling you?,” the memo read in-part.
While some restaurants publish fees on menus in-person and online, consumers claim others are not.
Sarah Stella, a DC resident, told DC News Now the search for possible fees, is “sort of confusing and a little bit stressful sometimes.”
Stella says she opted to create an online Google Doc, able to be accessed and edited by other consumers, to seek more transparency about fees when dining out.
it to reddit so people can add their experiences… Dozens of entries have been included in the document, which features the date consumers reportedly visited restaurants with fees, if the additional charge included a tip and more.
Describing her ‘working document,’ posted on the popular social media blog site Reddit, Stella said “I starting seeing there were just a bunch of posts where somebody would be like, ‘I went to this restaurant and had this kind of fee,’ ‘I went to this other one and had this other kind of fee.’ So, I was like, ‘well, maybe this is something that could be a more broadly useful repository for information.'”
DC News Now did not verify all the fees reported in the document, but the many experiences shared within underscores consumer interest in the district.
Last month, Matt Baker, owner of The Baker’s Daughter café and restaurant in Northwest, said he did not charge added fees, but that could change as the city phases in higher wage requirements for tipped workers; following a referendum voters approved in November to increase wages.
“If I had a crystal ball, we probably won’t do a phased in approach,” Baker told DC News Now.
Consumers may discover fees bearing different names, like, ‘service fee,’ ‘wellness fee,’ and ‘restaurant recovery charge.’
Schwalb’s office said restaurants are allowed to charge fees but they face strict requirements related to transparency; they are listed below, according to the Tuesday notice:
What types of fees are legal?
“To comply with these laws, restaurants should:
- Clearly and prominently disclose fees at the beginning of the ordering process. This must include the type and amount of fee. For example: Servers could tell you about a fee verbally, or it could be disclosed in bold print on the menu.
- Accurately describe the reason for the fee, either by naming the fee clearly (like: “worker health insurance fee”) or explaining how it is used.
- Use any fees exclusively for the purposes disclosed. For example, “service fees” must go fully and directly to service workers, unless other uses are prominently disclosed.
What types of fees are illegal?
Restaurants may violate the District’s consumer laws if they:
- Bury fee information in fine print on a menu.
- Fail to disclose the amount or percentage of a fee until the bill is given to the diner at the end of a meal.
- Use fees collected from diners for purposes contrary to the purposes disclosed.
- Use ambiguous or misleading language that fails to fully convey to a diner how a fee will be used (for example, charging an ambiguous “restaurant recovery” fee without explaining what the fee will assist in recovering).
These rules apply both when sales are made in person and when they are made through an online platform. “
Consumer complaints can be made here: https://oag.dc.gov/release/consumer-alert-dc-restaurants-are-barred-charging