A number of (mostly) high-end restaurants in Los Angeles have indicated that they are instituting a 3% surcharge on customers in addition to regular costs for food and service to assist them in providing healthcare to their employees. But some diners see the charge as a political statement that is critical of the state and federal rules that govern “Obamacare,” or the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by implying that the new policies prohibit them from providing health care while still being able to turn a profit. Some customers are put off by the surcharge, preferring to avoid this political issue when they dine.
Though restaurant owners claim that the public’s response has been positive for the most part, there are diners who have indicated they would prefer not to see the charge on their bill, and would rather it just be included into menu prices. By drawing attention to it on the bill, it smacks of a publicity stunt designed to denigrate the government’s requirement that employers provide health insurance to their employees. Many small business owners have expressed the opinion that doing so would impose a significant financial burden on them and have threatened to pass the cost on to customers. The 3% surcharge is just such a demonstration of shifting this responsibility onto the customer, and many feel that the restaurant industry is taking a stand against health care by imposing it.
L.A. restaurant owners claim they are not making a point or a political statement with this surcharge, but want diners to know they are providing benefits to their employees and still trying to make a profit. Some even say they were considering implementing the measure prior to the passing of the ACA. A health insurance agency I spoke with says that a number of restaurants have even banded together to obtain insurance plans collectively. The owner of L.A. eatery Republique launched a “3% Healthy L.A.” initiative to provide benefits to his employees.
The move benefits both young and old restaurant workers. Older workers who are not yet eligible for Medicare find it difficult to obtain coverage, and younger servers can’t afford the premiums for private plans. Now, through the auspices of employers who have instituted the 3% surcharge, they will be able to obtain coverage. However, many diners still think it’s a cheesy trick to make them take notice that the owners were “forced” by Obamacare to make the charge and that this is their way of indicating that they are doing it “grudgingly.”
The result is, of course, that restaurant workers will be benefitting from the surcharge, whether it is given willingly or not. An entire segment of the American workforce that previously had to shop cut-rate plans on Medi-Cal or use Groupon bargains will now be afforded medical, dental, and vision care services. It’s important to bear in mind that, although many employers may not offer the program without a little grumbling and diners may feel a tad exploited, the end result is a beneficial one to those who serve in the restaurant industry and the motive may well justify the means.