By KELLY MCCARTHY, ABC News
(NEW YORK) — New York City diners could soon notice a new item on the bottom of their bill at bars and restaurants during the pandemic.
A new option for restaurants to add a surcharge went into effect Friday after it was approved last month by the City Council. The recovery measure is meant to help hard-hit restaurants amid the continued turbulence in operations changes and safety protocols while attempting to keep their kitchens open for business.
While the measure, sponsored by Council Member Joe Borelli and supported by Mayor Bill de Blasio, is only temporary for now, it will allow food service establishments to add a “COVID-19 Recovery Charge” of up to 10% of a customer’s total bill.
Andrew Rigie, the executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance told ABC News that like what’s permitted elsewhere across New York state and across the country, this recovery charge “allows struggling New York City restaurants the option of using a clearly disclosed surcharge, if they so choose, to overcome the expenses of keeping their businesses and workers safe and healthy.”
“This bill will give restaurants the freedom they need to increase revenue to help cover rapidly rising labor and compliance costs and keep them in business,” Borelli said in a statement. “Restaurants in New York City have been getting crushed by massively increasing costs over the last five years and their options for increasing revenue have been narrowing. This new policy is coming as a result of the impact of COVID-19 on our city, but I have every intention of making this change permanent.”
Rigie added that “it also supports restaurants in covering rent and labor, and costly but essential outdoor dining and heating installations that will be critical to attracting customers and keeping them comfortable during the colder winter months.”
Restaurants owners who actually plan to add the new charge are required to clearly disclose the change on their menus and a customer’s bill. This new surcharge will be applied before sales tax on checks and is separate from tips.
Some restaurant owners have voiced concerns of adding a few more bucks to a customers tab for fear that it could deter diners, but others are more open since it’s optional and even a small fee could help cover new overhead costs such as personal protective equipment (PPE) and sanitation.
Bernard Collin, general manager of La Goulue in Manhattan’s Upper East Side, told ABC News that the option to add the surcharge, while well intended, could be potentially problematic for direct tips for waitstaff.
“The restaurant industry as a whole is extremely grateful to City Council for giving the option to add this 10% charge. That being said, we are discussing this supplemental charge internally and how it will impact our loyal — and new — customers,” he said. “Not to mention, there is also concern that implementing the surcharge could take away from guests wiliness to tip the same gratuity to the staff.”
He also reminded customers that regardless of whether a restaurant adopts this charge, diners should “always consider tipping industry standard of 18 to 20% if they have a good dining experience, if not more for having an exceptional one.”
“If all guests were to do this when dining out, it would not only show an appreciation for the profession during these challenging times but also be a positive impact on the industry,” Collin continued.
Another New York City restaurant owner, Pedro Zamora of Cantina Rooftop, told ABC News it’s a “great idea because it can help” the hard hit businesses amid the pandemic, but assured that they are not currently adding the surcharge to its customers tabs.
Once it’s safe to resume full capacity indoor dining, the surcharge will only be permitted for another 90 days from that date.
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