Last week, Los Angeles county supervisors introduced a new idea to assist restaurants, breweries, and wineries in unincorporated LA county by proposing a “COVID-19 recovery fee” to dine-in customers. Supervisor Hilda Solis suggested the Department of Consumer and Business Affairs look into the practicality of this pandemic fee with labor/business representatives and county attorneys, and respond on November 24. Until then, some Los Angeles restaurant owners/chefs responded both positively and with caution.
This proposed COVID-19 fee would not apply to take-out or delivery orders and will be designated on a dine-in bill as a surcharge. Antico chef and owner Chad Colby not only doubts LA supervisors have the ability to implement restaurant fees, but feels his customers might be turned off by another fee and higher prices.
“I don’t think raising menu prices right now is good, there’s competition to keep prices low to get as much business as you can right now,” says Colby. “But restaurants are feeling the squeeze and definitely in trouble. There’s also a lot of things working against restaurants from the cost of food going up during COVID.”
Chef/owner of the Arbour Ian Gresik agrees with Colby. “We aren’t going to be adding a COVID tax to our customers,” says Gresik. We think it discourages diners from coming out. We don’t like the idea of making people pay more for a table on the sidewalk.”
Historically, Los Angeles diners have responded poorly to additional fees during dining experiences. In July 2019, Downtown’s Pez Cantina came under fire after a patron posted a photo of their bill with what appeared to be an inflated service fee. New fee charges have been part of LA dining in recent years, where gratuities are automatically tacked on to build equity between front- and back-of-house staff. Other charges are sometimes labeled health service fees, new service charges, or the vague “kitchen fee.” However the restaurant fee is described, the response is often mixed.
Post & Beam’s owner John Cleveland is receptive to the idea. He’s focused on recouping the added costs of protective gear since the pandemic began. “I welcome the concept,” says Cleveland. “The overhead cost of dine-in operations has increased and I don’t feel our customers would welcome price increases. We have strongly encouraged take-out and delivery, but there is a much greater demand for dine-in hospitality and meeting spaces. For us to continue offering service, we need support from customers and the governing authorities.”
While Cleveland hopes for additional support, others believe a system reset is in order. As LA restaurants continue to pivot away from traditional service and restrictions for indoor dining remain, Antico’s Colby wants consumers to reexamine their attitudes towards food:
“I’m turned off by a COVID-19 fee being on a bill. But would like a rethink by how we pay for our food. Our system encourages the brutalization of the kitchen workforce and the farm workforce with the end goal of having dollar menus at fast food restaurants. People need to rethink what the value is and who suffers at the end of it. We need to figure out how to pay to support the people in the restaurants you eat at. Making conscious decisions will require different pricing.”