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Customers Have Mixed Opinions About COVID-19 Surcharges

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  • Customers have begun noticing “COVID-19 surcharges” on their bills at some restaurants across the U.S.
  • Those outraged by the fees have been calling and harassing restaurants that are adding them, meanwhile, others argue that it’s a small price to pay to help keep these businesses open. 
  • Business owners have said the temporary fees are adjusted weekly to help cover the increased costs of meat, protective gear, and take-out packaging. 
  • They have also stressed that they are not trying to “get rich” off these charges but are just trying to take care of their staff and businesses during the pandemic.

Negative Reactions to Surcharges 

Several customers across the country have noted a coronavirus “surcharge” attached to the bottom of their restaurant bills, prompting a flood of different reactions online.

A $2.19 charge spotted at a restaurant in Missouri sparked a ton of frustration. “Scuse me … what? A covid surcharge…?” a woman posted on Twitter after she found the viral photo online and shared it.

That was met with loads of comments from users saying they would never pay such a charge, while others called it a small price to pay to help support the business.  

Billy Yuzar, the owner and manager of the Japanese steakhouse and sushi lounge, told Fox News that the surcharge was advertised online, as well on the store’s front door and register. He also added that he hadn’t heard any complaints from customers but was bombarded with negative reviews from people who haven’t ever visited his establishment. 

The restaurant eventually took to Facebook to defend itself after employees began facing harassment over the photo. “Please understand we are not doing this to take advantage of you guys!” it said.

“We are doing this hoping we can adjust the surcharge weekly rather than just raise all of our prices on our menu due to increase prices from our supplier on meat, poultry, seafood & produce.”

The restaurant also noted that businesses in the community, which use the same suppliers,  were also adding similar fees. “So why are we the one that [is] being harassed??!! Stop calling names to my employees!!” the post continued.  

In the end, the restaurant apologized, saying it will remove the charge and instead increase prices. It also linked out a CNBC report about changes in the meat supply chain related to the pandemic.

It is true that other restaurants in the area have implemented similar policies. Bootleggers BBQ, another West Plains restaurant, announced it was adding a 5% charge starting on May 8, and customers were initially supportive.

However, the restaurant was later met with several calls and messages accusing it of ripping off customers. “Sadly, these calls were from people out of our area and mostly out of state, not even our customers,” the owner Brian Stacck told NBC’s TODAY.

It too eventually decided to increase prices and remove certain items from its menu in place of the surcharge, promising to print new menus at least once a week to reflect its current limitations and changes. 

Staack told TODAY, “I have 26 employees that we have managed to keep at the same hours, or more, throughout this.”

“All I was trying to do was cover our added food cost and keep them working. But people who wouldn’t take the time to listen to me on the phone, or read our explanation on Facebook, would rather make threats.”

Not Just in Missouri, Not Just Restaurant 

Though most of the reported outrage seems to be coming from Missouri, there are other businesses across the country that have been implementing the fees and price increased for coronavirus related circumstances. 

In San Diego, one Mexican restaurant added a $1 extra charge for carne asada due to meat shortages.

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Covid carne asada surcharge: $1.

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A Texas BBQ joint also noted a price increase for brisket until the “market stabilizes.” 

And it doesn’t just end with restaurants. A dentist’s office in Jacksonville Florida reportedly started charging an extra $10 per appointment to cover personal protective equipment. Meanwhile, in Texas, some hair salons have started adding a $3 sanitation charge, according to KTRK-TV Huston. 

While many might be upset by these extra charges, they are legal, according to Gregory Frank, a New York City-based attorney.

“Generally, restaurants are allowed to structure their pricing however they like,” Frank told TODAY. “The important question is whether the restaurants are disclosing to consumers what they are paying before they pay it, so they can make their own informed choices.”

It’s also important to note that the cost of adjusting and reprinting menus might not make the most economic sense for every restaurant, especially if it hopes that the increased prices will only be short term. 

By adding the added fee to the final sale, Frank says business can also make customers feel more comfortable because they’ll know the temporary charge is related to the current circumstances. 

Positive Reactions to Surcharges 

Still, not every business has faced as much hate for their surcharges. At Goog’s Pub & Grub in Holland, Michigan, the response to surcharges was much more positive.

The store’s general manager and co-owner Palmer White told The Daily News Thursday that it recently increased prices by $1 per order from 86 cents before. “We’ve received overwhelming support. People have been very understanding,” White said.

Like at other businesses, this change is in response to increase meat prices, but its also aimed at covering the large amount of packaging take out orders require. 

“Takeout averages about 82 cents more per meal just to put that meal out cause you’re not just putting it on a plate or tray and washing that again. It’s the silverware, the boxes,” the pub’s other co-owner, Brad White, told Fox 17. 

“When this started, we were running about $50 for a case of burgers and then it was up to $55, $62, $66, $72 last week and they just told me next week it’ll probably be up to $88 a case, so almost double what we were paying.”

The pub also noted that it had given its remaining servers raises “so they can maintain a consistent income.” 

“They’re still getting tips. Actually, we’ve been blown away by people’s generosity. But tips are based on percentages, and sales just aren’t as high without all the alcohol and desserts,” Palmer added. “We’re trying to make sure they’re being taken care of.”

Both have said they plan to remove the extra charge once the damage from the virus settles.

“We’re not doing this to get rich,” said Palmer. “We just want to see our staff is taken care of, make sure people are fed, make sure our lights are on.

See what others are saying: (The Daily News) (Fox News) (TODAY

Business

Target Joins Walmart in Offering Free College Tuition To Attract and Retain Workers

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The decision makes Target the latest major company to dangle such incentives before employees, joining the likes of Walmart, Chipotle, and Starbucks.


Target Launches Debt-Free Education Asssitance Program

Target announced new employee perks on Wednesday that it likely hopes will help attract and retain workers. 

Starting this fall, Target will cover the cost of tuition, fees, and textbooks for both part-time and full-time workers who pursue degrees or certificates at more than 40 participating institutions.

Employees will have at least 250 different business-aligned programs to choose from, including Business, Computer Science, Design, and more.

Target will also fund advanced degrees, paying up to $10,000 each year for master’s programs at those schools, and it’s offering up to 5,250 for those pursuing non-master’s degrees or business-aligned programs at one of the select schools.

The company said it plans to invest a total of $200 million in the education program over the next four years, and employees in the U.S. will qualify as soon as their first day.

“Target employs team members at every life stage and helps our team learn, develop and build their skills, whether they’re with us for a year or a career. A significant number of our hourly team members build their careers at Target, and we know many would like to pursue additional education opportunities. We don’t want the cost to be a barrier for anyone, and that’s where Target can step in to make education accessible for everyone,” said Melissa Kremer, Target’s Chief Human Resources Officer.

Companies With Similar Perks

Places like Chipotle and Starbucks have already had similar education programs in place, but more companies have been introducing or expanding on similar policies as businesses across the country struggle to find and retain workers amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Just last week, Walmart announced that it will cover the full cost of college tuition and books for itsemployees, after previously requiring them to pay $1 a day for the assistance. Those workers can now select from around 10 academic partners.

While many have applauded these actions from big corporations, others have noted that it makes it tougher for smaller businesses to compete since they don’t have the same resources at their disposal.

There is some concern about how this could change the business landscape in the future as a handful of large companies dominate in their own sectors and siphon a lot of the talent, forcing smaller competitors to close. Still, others argue that this was already happening. At least now, the big players are investing and support their workforce while doing it.

See what others are saying: (CNBC) (The Hill) (Forbes)

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Tencent Stock Plummet as Company Weighs Video Games Ban for Kids in China

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The world’s largest game developer appears fearful that the Chinese government will launch another crackdown on gaming similar to one it launched in 2019 when it limited game time for minors.


No More Video Games

Tencent Holdings, Ltd. — China’s most valuable corporation and the world’s largest gaming company — announced Tuesday that it would consider completely banning games for those under 12-years-old in China.

Tencent also announced that it will now limit playtime for Chinese minors to just 1 hour during weekdays and no more than 2 hours during weekends and holidays. Under a Chinese law set up in 2019, game developers are required to limit minors to just 1 hour and 30 minutes of playtime during weekdays and 3 hours during weekends and holidays.

Additionally, the company explained that it will move forward with plans to enact systems that bar those under 12 from engaging in microtransactions, starting with the largest mobile game, “Honor of Kings” (王者荣耀). It’s possible the ban will extend to some of Tencent’s other holdings, such as “League of Legends” (Riot Games) and “Path of Exile” (Grinding Gear Games), although these changes will likely only affect Chinese users.

Tencent’s decision comes just a day after the Economic Information Daily, a subsidiary of state media giant Xinhua News, said in a now-deleted article that video games were “spiritual opium” and that no industry should continue in a manner that will “destroy a generation.”

Likening video games to opium holds cultural significance in China, which has long disliked narcotics and is sensitive to comparisons to the drug. Using such language, especially by state media, is often seen as a sign that the government is ready to crack down on the industry.

Crackdown Fears

Those fears largely played out over a 24-hour period as shares for Tencent and NetEase, another large game developer in China, plummeted. Tencent’s shares dropped by 11% on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, although it eventually settled at just a 6% loss by the end of Tuesday.

It wasn’t just Chinese gaming companies that were worried. The announcement sent ripples across the entire industry as Nintendo, Capcom, and Nexon shares all were heavily affected as well. One of the reasons that such an article can cast widespread concern is that China has increasingly become the largest market in the $180 billion video game industry, making it larger than the global movie industry and North American professional sports, combined.

Coupled with the recent fall of ActivisionBlizzard’s stock over the last two weeks due to its sexual assault lawsuit and other industry shakeups, over a trillion dollars of market value was wiped out at one point on Tuesday.

See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Time) (Fox Business)

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Google Is Banning “Sugar Dating” Apps as Part of New Sexual Content Restrictions

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The change essentially targets apps like Elite Millionaire Singles, SeekingArrangements, Spoil, and tons of other sugar dating platforms.


Sugar Dating Crackdown

Google has announced a series of policy changes to its Android Play Store that include a ban on sugar dating apps starting September 1.

The company’s Play Store policies already prohibit apps that promote “services that may be interpreted as providing sexual acts in exchange for compensation.”

Now, it has updated its wording to specifically include “compensated dating or sexual arrangements where one participant is expected or implied to provide money, gifts or financial support to another participant (‘sugar dating’).”

The change essentially targets apps like Elite Millionaire Singles, SeekingArrangements, Spoil, and tons of other sugar dating platforms currently available for download.

Search results for “Sugar Daddy” on Google’s Play Store

What Prompted the Change?

The company didn’t explain why it’s going after sugar dating apps, but some reports have noted that the move comes amid crackdowns of online sex work following the introduction of the FOSTA-SESTA legislation in 2018, which was meant to curb sex trafficking.

That’s because FOSTA-SESTA created an exception to Section 230 that means website publishers can be held liable if third parties are found to be promoting prostitution, including consensual sex work, on their platforms.

It’s worth noting that just because the apps will no longer be available on the Play Store doesn’t mean the sugar dating platforms themselves are going anywhere. Sugar daters will still be able to access them through their web browsers, or they can just sideload their apps from other places.

Still, the change is likely going to make the use of these sites a little less convenient.

See what others are saying: (The Verge)(Engadget)(Tech Times)

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