A viral video about a surprising charge on a woman’s restaurant bill has sparked a debate on social media about whether customers should bear the financial burden of employees’ healthcare.
On January 10, TikTok user @ashnichole_xo, also known as Ashley Nicole, shared a story about a recent visit to a restaurant she frequents in Southern California.
While paying the bill at Osteria La Buca, an Italian restaurant in Sherman Oaks, California, Nicole noticed a charge on her restaurant bill that she didn’t recognize.
“The craziest thing just happened to me,” says Nicole in her TikTok, which has garnered nearly a million views. She tells that one rainy day in Los Angeles, she decided to meet a friend for a meal.
“We go to one of my favorite restaurants, it’s Osteria La Buca,” she says, adding that she’s been there several times. “We enjoy our meal, we get the check, we pay for our check, and as we’re, like, signing the tip and stuff, we notice something.”
The video then cuts to a picture of her receipt, showing that Nicole and her friend dined on short rib ravioli, steak, and more.
“If you look down here, there’s a $4.75 fee for employee health. Do you see that?” she asks her audience. “5% Fee for Employee Health.”
“The immediate thought is: ‘What is employee health? What does this mean?'” she says. After completing some speculation with her friend at the table before getting ready to leave, she decides to ask the restaurant does what the fee is.
“When we were going out, I went over to the hostess and I was like, ‘Hey, quick question, just curious,'” says Nicole, adding that she directed the hostesses’ attention to the total 5% charge on the bill amount. . (Initially, Nicole thought the restaurant charged them $5 each, but later corrected herself in a follow-up video.)
“And she goes, ‘Oh, it’s our health care,'” she says before pausing to give a quizzical look at the camera. “And my response was, ‘Your health? Your health care?’ And she goes, ‘Yeah, our health care.’
Nicole says she’s never heard of charges like this before and asks her followers if they’ve experienced charges like this at other restaurants.
“I had to find out: Is this normal? Am I living under a rock and this is normal or is this weird? Because I’ve never experienced this before and it feels weird. But maybe it’s normal somewhere else.” Tell me because I’ve never seen this before.
TODAY.com reached out to both Nicole and Osteria La Buca; Neither responded to a request for comment.
The comments section of Nicole’s video reflects a spectrum of opinion on the idea of the “employee health” overload, with comments ranging from outrage to disbelief.
“Stop! What? Now how is it the customers responsibility [pay] For his healthcare,” wrote a user on TikTok.
“If I’m paying for their healthcare, I’m not leaving a tip!” Another user commented. “That would be like tipping my child for a service! If I’m paying for your healthcare we family!”
“I’m sorry but I’m not paying for this. Just tax and tip,” wrote another person. “Health care should be covered [sic] by the employer. This fee is getting out of hand.
“If I’m paying for someone’s health, can I now claim them as a dependent on my taxes?” another person commented with a crying-laughing emoji.
While most of the comments under Nicole’s video criticize the surcharge, there are some who applaud the restaurant’s transparency, if not outright support it.
“Some small businesses around Atlanta do this!” commented a Tiktok user. “It allows their employees to receive health care and sick leave for themselves and their families.”
Another commenter said, “Costs can be added to your menu items and you’ll never know or care.”
When did these restaurant surcharges start?
According to a 2020 New York Times article, these types of surcharges began to emerge in 2008, when San Francisco passed an ordinance requiring businesses with more than 20 employees to set aside money for health care. The federal Affordable Care Act, which followed two years later, required only employers with 50 or more employees, which often left out small businesses like restaurants.
According to a 2022 survey by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 30% of private industry workers in “housing and food services” have access to employer-sponsored health care.
In recent years, with customers none the wiser instead of turning to menu prices, these charges are sometimes transparently displayed on receipts as a “4% surcharge” to combat inflation or a “Covid-19 surcharge”. Visibly visible. So, there is still a lot of confusion around these charges, but some traders are trying to clarify.
Troy Redding, president of Alley Restaurants in Minnesota, told TODAY.com in July 2022, “The last two years have been tough in the hospitality business.
Redding’s “wellness fee” is a 3% surcharge on customers’ bills that it charges its employees for insurance premiums, paid time off, mental health access and IRA contributions. According to Redding, he faced pushback from some customers, but not all.
“I think when you use the fee for a specific reason and it’s for the benefit of your employees, that’s the differentiator,” he said.