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Surcharge Woes: Response to Inside Scoop SF

Recently, I have had many guests approach me about a 4% surcharge that has been tacked on to the bill at the restaurant I work at in SF. Michael Bauer, the Food and Wine Editor for SF Chronicle even posed the question this week…”Do you give a smaller tip at restaurants that include the surcharge?”

Being an employee at one of these restaurants I will say customers are not happy about this surcharge and personally I don’t blame them. Additionally, at my place of business the verbage we are to use describing it is evasive to say the least, “The city of San Francisco has many ordinances and taxes different from the rest of the state of California, thus to account for the added costs we include the surcharge to offset these additional costs.” Guests want to know where and why they are paying 5 dollars more on top of regular sales tax, I would like to say, “unfortunately, our owner finds it too expensive to do business in San Francisco the place he chose to open his restaurant, knowing that the minimum wage is higher here, knowing we do do not qualify for tip credits, where he is required to provide health plans and paid sick leave among other things. While you are here paying 30 dollars a plate and 15 dollars for a glass of wine, he wants you to also help him pay for the things he should be taking care of himself because he chose to do business in San Francisco.” But alas, I must gloss over the facts and blame these alleged taxes and ordinances for the surcharge. That being said, I do see the point many of Mr. Bauer’s readers make by deducting the surcharge from the tip, however, that only hurts the staff, the owner still has his money in his pocket.

From the comments section:

Scarman: Will tip less and not go back. Nobody is helping me pay for my Obamacare plan that cost me $200 more / month

Well scarman, no one is helping us pay ours either, and since we HAVE to get one, this system doesn’t really make sense since the 4% is supposed to be for health care but we can’t use it to pay premiums, so where does it go, I don’t know?

Plugger1 says: Tipping has gotten out of hand. First it was 10%, then 15%, now 20% is expected. I think I’ll stop tipping all together. I hope more people will.

Plugger1, if you and everyone else stops tipping then you will become more accustomed to pouring your drinks from the soda machine, ordering from a counter, and picking your own table at a fast casual. Another possibility is instead of paying 20 dollars for that steak you’ll be paying 24 and instead of 10 dollars for a glass on wine you’ll pay 12, and so on, still paying the same as tipping but guess what you won’t have your precious “power” over the waitstaff

DearBob:”I have friends who automatically deduct that percentage — generally 3 to 4% — from the bill, and I understand the reasoning: This money goes to pay employee benefits”

But it doesn’t. It’s just an opportunity for restaurateurs to pad their own pockets. This was clear a year or two ago, when the city attorney went after several restaurants who charged a surcharge, supposedly for Healthy San Francisco, but the charge was many, many times more than what Healthy San Francisco cost them.

Look, don’t be tightwads. Anything the restaurant puts on the bill, is for the restaurant. Don’t use that as an excuse to stiff people who already make very little money. If it’s the principle of it, complain to the restaurant management. If it’s an economic issue, then rethink whether or not you can afford to eat out.


The bottom line is don’t take it out on us folks, I’ve seen many people who straight up won’t tip if they see the surcharge (and from reading the comments section on Mr. Bauer’s article). Let’s get this straight, its not our call, we didn’t get to decide we wanted to participate, hell I didn’t even live in the city when Healthy SF was passed, I have paid for a personal insurance policy for years, but still many times a week get stiffed or severely under tipped because of people’s disdain for the surcharge. Let’s do something about it, because obviously no one cares for it, except the restaurant owners that is.


  • Sloan

    February 13, 2014

    It’s like this folks….why are we arguing over something that is so out of our control.I don’t agree with taxes and surcharges… I think it’s bullshit just like most of the population and I’m a WAITER!The bottom line is we all like to enjoy luxuries in this life,but do you see me going to Bentley or BMW and pitching a fit as to why their cars are so damn expensive….NO,because they would laugh at me.I just accept that it’s a luxury that I can not afford at this point in my life. Going out to dinner is a luxury…having people bring my water is a luxury….why do most people feel so entitled to the point where they want to haggle with something beyond our control?This isn’t a swap meet!Eating out costs money,lots of it,and includes taxes and charges that are stupid much like heated seats on a fancy car.If you people have such an issue with it,then much like the car, you might have to pass because the bottom line is you just can’t afford it. Rich people don’t argue and cry about expensive things… Because their RICH! If you have to ask the price of something you can’t afford it and if you cry about surcharges,then you can’t afford that either.Sorry folks,it’s an ugly truth! So don’t take your anger out on my tip.I’d rather you stay home and make and plan your lunch then stiff or bitch about the unwritten laws of gratuity.

  • johnny john

    February 13, 2014

    Why do restaurants add a surcharge to begin with, why don’t they just increase the prices on the menu to cover it?

  • #complyconformcontrol

    February 19, 2014

    Ugh! I serve in a busy San Francisco restaurant at a popular tourist destination. It amazes me how expendable I feel as an employee at this place. The owners are wealthy, and seem to have little to none concern with the well being of their employees. First, we do have the surcharge, and it’s printed on the receipt as “employee ordinance” which to me looks like it goes to the employees. I feel its intentionally deceptive, especially when explaining what it means is hard enough to do in english, let alone trying to translate it into a language I dont speak. Then us servers had a bomb dropped on us on the first of the year: we were told it is illegal to have gratuity added on to the checks. (Upon researching this independantly, I became infuriated that we were given false information, and be it laziness or greed, its only benefitting the cheap guests, and the owners pockets) So parties of 6 or more take up more time, and no longer have to tip (add gratuity). Simply having one auto-grat during the course of a shift, was a relief knowing that I wasnt going to have to tip out more than I walked with. A server safety net, if you will. People need to understand that being in that location, we have requests going beyond the average server responsibilities; taking pictures, giving directions, suggesting things to do…and we have to tip out based on our sales, and our paychecks are miniscule at best. Our managers press us to upsell as “larger check averages=higher tips.” I call bulls@#t. It just makes me more frustrated as I know that it only benefits them, and some days, it costs me money to wait tables. Besides quitting, is there anything I can do to, for lack of a better word, “retaliate?” I would love for them to realize that we are hardly raking in the cash, and its expensive to reside in SF. I would love for there to be some legal protection against their exploiting servers in this way, while their largest concern isnt about our well-being…its deciding between which car to drive that day. I worry about making ends meet. Not, should I take the Audi ? Or BMW?

  • johnny john

    February 20, 2014

    You can thank the current administration for your woes, the IRS changed long standing rules on gratuities and changed them to being service charges and since its no longer considered a tip the restaurant has to pony up more cash for payroll taxes and since they won’t hurt their bottom line they have to hurt ours.

    That is the problem our government doesn’t realize that when they “stick it to the rich people” all it really ends up doing is hurting the ones that aren’t rich.

  • Tom Davis

    February 27, 2014

    It’s ironic that you mention several times that the restaurant owner chose to run his restaurant in San Fran. Just like you chose to work at a restaurant in San Fran. You are luckily guaranteed to make 30% more than waiters in most of the rest of the United States, but you still complain about people deducting this surcharge from your tip. If you don’t like it, CHOOSE to work somewhere else!

  • StuckServing

    March 3, 2014

    @tomdavis we don’t make 30% more here guaranteed, tipping is always discretionary no matter where. Also, while someone may be serving in a place where 600 dollars is the average rent, I reside in a place where a studio runs 2000, so it is all relative.

  • Tom Davis

    March 4, 2014

    You are guaranteed to make 30% more because the minimum wage in San Fran is 30% higher for “tipped workers” than most of the rest of the country.

    And again, you’re CHOOSING to live there, just like you give the owner such a hard time about choosing to run his restaurant there.

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