Bay Area diners aren't pleased with new restaurant surcharges on their bill

Diners returning to some restaurants in the Bay Area are finding a new fee on their check.

Restaurant owners say they need to add the fee to stay afloat coming out of the pandemic.

KTVU spoke with restaurant owners in Burlingame, San Mateo and San Jose about the rising costs of doing business.

And not everyone agrees that new fees are the answer.

The Refuge in San Mateo just opened at the end of June. It's the owners' third and newest restaurant on the Peninsula.

"We are literally a ma and pa, family-owned restaurant," says Matt Levin who co-owns the restaurant with his wife.  

They implemented what's called a 2% "wellness fee" to patrons' checks  when this location opened and he's charging the same fee at his other restaurants.

He says he needs the fees to survive and that the money helps him hire and retain workers in a highly competitive market, in addition to skyrocketing food costs.

"You kind of have to be a partner with the restaurants that you love and understand the way they operate,"  Levin says he offers his employees a 401k plan, paid time off and is working on health insurance for them.

Patron Allia McCrank says she was not aware of the fee, but that, "If it helps the workers, helps retain them and gives them a better wage, I would be okay with it,"

In downtown San Jose, Sushi Confidential also started charging what the owner calls a 3.5 percent "living wage surcharge."

Owner Randy Musterer says  he needs it to retain workers with a competitive wage.

In downtown Burlingame, Sapore Italiano has been in business almost twenty years.

Owner Elio Durzo says he is also dealing with hiring workers and high food cost.  

Durzo says he plans to raise prices by 50 cents,  but not charge a fee.

"We already have tips, tax. Oh my god, three fees. I think it's too much," Durzo says 80% of his clientele are regulars and that their support has kept his doors open during the pandemic.

Patron John LaDuca says he wants to know what the cost of his meal is up front, "I would rather see the increase in the meal price rather than a surcharge at the end."

Durzo has two other restaurants and says  he's retained some employees by offering them a partnership.

He says he's been able to hire workers with the help of his employees, "When you treat them nice, they refer to somebody else. So they bring friends, bring brothers, sisters."

Each restaurant owner says what works for one business may not work for another.

But all agree: emerging from the pandemic is no easy task.