The owners of the high-end restaurant Republique added something new to the menu recently: a 3 percent surcharge to every bill to cover employee health care costs.
The added fee — labeled “Surcharge Healthy L.A” on customers’ bills — was getting mixed reactions from customers at the Hancock Park restaurant, where dinner for two can easily exceed $100.
Some voiced their complaints on the restaurant’s Yelp review page.
“We spent $150 for two of us and you want me to pay an extra 3 percent. Because I can afford to eat here then I should be able to afford that fee? Absurd,” one customer wrote.
The La Brea Avenue restaurant — which opened in November in the space once occupied by La Brea Bakery and Campanile, receiving acclaim from restaurant critics — declined KTLA’s request for an interview. A spokeswoman said the restaurant had been “inundated” with media requests regarding the surcharge.
But Republique released the following statement regarding the surcharge:
“We would love to personally explain the 3% charge to you. Despite how this has been portrayed by some media outlets, it has nothing to do with Obamacare mandates. The Surcharge concept is that it is a deduction from the gratuity that is endorsed by the service staff so that all the kitchen, the chefs that cook your food, can also receive a benefit from the gratuity. It can be taken off the check if you the guest prefers to not pay it that way.
“The 3% charge at République is a small fraction of a typical gratuity, and if deducted from the gratuity it provides something for all the people who have worked to provide the meal and the service. The fundamental problem with the gratuity system in California, is that a gratuity can be part of a pool and shared only by front of the house staff. No one in the kitchen including chefs, cooks and dishwashers can be included in the tip pool.
“Consequently you have servers and bartenders and other front of the house people that make $30-60 per hour in tips while the kitchen staff makes a fraction of that. A clearly stated surcharge which is put on the check allows us to distribute it more evenly to all the employees. If it were simply a blanket service charge, typical at many restaurants, we still would not be able to distribute the funds to our kitchen staff. All the people in a restaurant such as Republique work incredibly hard to produce and serve the food and beverages.
“This simple charge is transparent, and can be removed, and it directly benefits all the staff, kitchen and front of the house. Moreover, it enables us to make all of our staff full time (servers included) and to provide them with insurance instead of excluding them as they would be if they were part time employees. Is it unfair to servers for them to essentially include their co-workers in the gratuity in this manner? We have made it optional and people can opt out but I guess I would ask the question of my patrons why they are so offended that a portion of their gratuity was shared with the cook or dishwasher as well as the busboy? Our staff is very happy with the arrangement and the near unanimity of our customers are as well.”
KTLA’s Kimberly Cheng contributed to this article.