NYC restaurants propose surcharges for all diners
Big Apple restaurants are at a tipping point.
With record hikes in wages over the past couple of years — on top of rising rent, food and other costs — restaurant owners pressed City Hall lawmakers to allow them to levy a surcharge on all diners to cover their bloated expenses.
Without the surcharge, which could range from 3 percent to 5 percent, or more, many owners said they will go out of business.
A group representing more than 100 restaurateurs — including Nobu, Tao, Smith & Wollensky, Tribeca Grill and Daniel — drafted a giant letter that was displayed on the steps of City Hall Wednesday. The group claims to have weathered nine mandated wage increases over the past several years. Next up: a minimum wage hike in 2019, to $15.
“Allow us the option of using a clearly disclosed surcharge to generate the revenue to simply survive,” the group said in an open letter to Mayor de Blasio.
The Big Apple is the only place in the US that bans such a fee.
Restaurants have been lobbying their direct city regulator — the Department of Consumer Affairs, which bars such a surcharge — for the past two years to no avail.
The issue is reaching a new urgency now because Gov. Cuomo is considering raising the minimum wage for tipped employees to $15 an hour — thereby abolishing the current minimum wage of $8.65 for tipped employees.
Public hearings on the issue started on April 20.
Restaurant owners would rather use a surcharge to bring in additional revenue than raise individual menu prices because it is less likely to scare away diners, Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, told The Post.
“It’s a consumer perception issue,” Rigie said.
Hollywood stars like Sarah Jessica Parker are throwing their considerable influence into the debate — framing it as a social justice issue. Parker is headlining a May 21 gala fundraiser for One Fair Wage, which seeks to abolish the tipped employee minimum wage.
Tips lead to sexual harassment, the group claims.
Veteran restaurateurs like Drew Nieporent, owner of Nobu and Tribeca Grill, said if Cuomo does away with the lower minimum wage — and the city doesn’t allow a surcharge to cover the added expense — it will be “disastrous” for restaurants.
Restaurants in Seattle and California, where wages have grown fast, are increasingly turning to surcharges to defray their costs.
Los Angeles eatery Bestia, for example, adds a 4 percent charge to all checks, according to its menu “to benefit our back of the house employees.”
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