Restaurant surcharges & service charges: threat or menace?

Was invited to Jon and Vinny’s recently, and was pretty shocked the 18% service charge did not go to the waitstaff. So 38% with no purchase into how they actually compensate their employees.

Service charges typically aren’t distributed like tips. They help boost wages for kitchen staff, cover health insurance, etc.

The note on the J&V check says, “This helps us facilitate a higher living wage for all employees.” Their BOH help wanted ads say “Benefits & Perks: Health Insurance, Dental Insurance, Vision Insurance.”

A few years ago the district attorney in San Francisco filed suit against restaurants that labeled surcharges “health care” on their checks but did not spend all the money on health care.


Why not just raise the price . Without all the jiberish.

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I’m theoretically pro service charges, and of course I’d like pay to be more equitable between front and back of house.

Problem is I have no purchase into how these business are actually distributing these charges, and facilitate is pretty squirrelly language. If that flat fee for all service is 25% even I’m fine with that. Compelling another tip for waitstaff (who should definitely get paid fairly) when I have no knowledge of how front and back of house is compensated, that’s what I find frustrating.

The info that follows is not corroborated, but flipside is that it’s an article of faith these service charges are distributed equitable or as indicated.

From my understanding of Danny Meyer’s experience with service fees built into price, there’s sticker shock on the menu. But once you get the bill and see the service charges, not much you can do. Human psychology is interesting…

Jon & VInny’s check specifically says, “Gratuity is not expected.”

One place I go to regularly has a 20% service charge and no tip line on the bill. Some customers complain about that. I like it.


The person who brought us the check specifically mentioned, with a puppy dog look, that they did not get any of the service charge. And at Jon and Vinny’s, there’s a line for additional tip. Given social pressure, it’s not the most customer friendly policy. And it’s not like Alimento’s for example, which was confusing but not seemingly extractive.

I am with you on the flat charge for all service etc. What I balk at is businesses burdening customers with unclear, opaque charges that may or may not go to the people intended. Can chalk that whole Reddit thread up to hearsay (there’s a former Kismet employee claiming the charge was not distributed as described), but it’s not crazy to wonder how these charges are distributed, as we often see wage theft cases.


It was in their interest to say that, but it’s not necessarily true. They may get a nigher hourly wage or benefits. Or they may not. Jon & Vinny’s help-wanted ads for servers don’t have the same line about insurance that the ones for cooks do.

I’d say it’s not in a restaurant’s interest to be so opaque about what service charges are used for, but try to eat at Jon & Vinny’s without a reservation.

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I noticed at AOC they have a 4 or 5 % Healthcare surcharge iirc but the menu said if you ask they will remove it from your bill. Guessing not many ask and it’s a nice good will gesture


It’s business drafting off a social movement, equitable wages for the working class, for their own benefit. Regardless of how these charges are described, if tips become flat service charges that business owners can legally skim, I’m gonna have a problem with it.

More generally, there’s been a renegotiation the last decade of the power dynamic between customers and restaurants. Without explicitly appearing as such, the tip vs service charge debate is part of that. It’s why tipping is sticky for some. It gives the appearance of control, and the last decade’s discourse was largely that diners should cede control of the experience to chefs.

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Good service requires a good tip. It’s not the fault of the server who has nothing to do with the bill . It’s the owner . If you dont like it . Dont go there ever again. Simple.

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Sure, I agree! Will probably limit my visits to Jon and Vinny’s and that restaurant group.

But it might be good to have regulation on this stuff. Restaurants can’t legally garner tips. But if service fees are something restaurants can disburse as they please, we’re in a different situation, and it’s not one that voting with your wallet aka the market will solve.


Every restaurant with a service charge should be this transparent.


Agree! I’m not against the service charges. Just be straight forward about it and don’t expect me to tip on top of 25% service fees.