A US restaurant made global headlines after a customer noticed an extra charge at the bottom of her bill – but as the coronavirus continues to wreak economic havoc, it could soon become the norm.
Last week, Twitter user @talialikeitis posted a photo of her recent receipt from Kiko Japanese Steakhouse and Sushi Lounge in West Plains, Missouri on May 11, writing: “Scuse me … what? A covid surcharge…?”
She was referring to the extra $US2.19 added to the bill, which soon went viral.
Since then, several other US eateries have introduced similar charges – and one expert has claimed they could soon become a lot more commonplace.
Gregory Frank, a partner at Frank LLP Class Action Litigators, told US Today the charges were completely legal.
“Generally, restaurants are allowed to structure their pricing however they like. The important question is whether the restaurants are disclosing to consumers what they are paying before they pay it, so they can make their own informed choices,” Mr Frank said.
“For short-term cost increases, like this crisis, it makes more economic sense for the restaurant to change their point of sale system to add a fee. Doing it this way can also make the customer more comfortable paying the fee knowing that it is temporary and related to the circumstance.
“It also makes it more likely they will lower the prices again after the crisis as a ‘COVID-19 fee’ would certainly look suspect after the crisis.”
In the case of the Kiko Japanese Steakhouse, the new surcharge was disclosed via signage posted at the front of the restaurant.
“We are not trying to hide this surcharge. We choose this option rather than changing our prices on our menu, this way we can adjust the surcharge weekly,” the venue said in a social media post.
“Please understand we can’t control the rising cost of meat, seafood, poultry and produce prices … We (are) only doing this for temporary only. We plan to take this surcharge off once all the prices back to normal.”
However, the charge still divided opinions online, with many customers claiming they would refuse to eat at an establishment that charged more due to the pandemic.
“If I ever see this in my bill, I’m not paying it. Worst time ever to tax people who can least afford it even more. We are helping you just by continuing to patronise your business when we are all out of work,” one Twitter user posted, while another said: “This person had already spent a good amount at the restaurant, which supports them. I don’t think it’s right to add on an additional charge. Fast way to lose business.”
But others argued venues were struggling and that a small, temporary charge was justified.
“Everyone needs to seriously calm down. It’s $2. How about trying to support these restaurants during this time rather than complaining,” one person wrote, while another posted: “They have extra costs they need to cover. Eat at home if it’s a problem. Food costs more. Extra gloves, chemicals, masks. Someone pays for that and it’s the consumer.”
While it is not yet known whether Australian restaurants will introduce similar fees – especially given the tough restrictions on the number of patrons allowed to be seated at one time – more and more American establishments have followed suit in the wake of the crisis.