LOS ANGELES – A diner stirred a debate online after discovering that the Sherman Oaks restaurant where she and a friend recently had lunch added a 5% fee to her bill to collect money for employee health benefits.
The woman known as Ashley Nichole posted her story to her TikTok account, @ashnichole_xo, asking viewers if they’ve ever seen anything like it.
“I’ve never heard of that before,” she said in the video. “I had to find out: Is that normal? Have I been living under a rock and this is a normal thing or is this weird?”
Nichole recounted the entire experience in her Tik Tok video, which had nearly 890,000 views as of Thursday, Jan. 26.
Nichole and a friend met for lunch at a favorite Italian restaurant, Osteria La Buca, in LA’s Sherman Oaks neighborhood. As they were signing the bill to pay the check Nichole noticed the extra charge — $4.75 listed for employee health.
She shows viewers the bill in her video.
“Immediate thought is: ‘What is employee health? What does that mean?’” Nicole says in the video. After she and her friend guessed at it, she decided to ask the restaurant about the charge.
“As we’re walking out, I go up to the hostess and I’m like, ‘Hey, quick question, just curious,’” Nichole says. And she showed the hostess the bill.
“And she goes, ‘Oh, that’s our health care,’” Nicole says. “And my reaction was, ‘Your health? Your health care?’ and she goes, ‘Yes, our health care.’”
Nicole asked viewers for feedback, saying she’d never heard of such a charge. Reaction was mixed.
“That should be illegal to charge customers for staff health care insurance,” one wrote.
“That’s an employer dodging their responsibility to their employees!” another said.
“Wait! What? How is it now a customer’s responsibility to [pay] for their healthcare?” someone asked.
One person suggested she should ask to see the health care policy. “You’re paying for it.”
While most comments lambasted the policy, others appreciated that the restaurant was up front about it.
“The cost could be added to your menu items and you’d never know or care,” one said.
Only about 40 percent of hotels and restaurants in the United States offer any type of health insurance, and only 29 percent of jobs offer retirement benefits, The New York Times reported, citing a 2019 National Compensation Survey by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Restaurants that add charges to the bill may tack on as little as $1 or as much as 5% of the total, The Times said. For some, the charge is voluntary.
The Times tracked the origin of the surcharges to 2008 after San Francisco voters approved an ordinance requiring businesses with more than 20 employees to set aside money for health care.