- 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.
If I ever see this in my bill, I’m not paying it. You can take it off or keep the food. Your choice. Worst time ever to tax people who can least afford it even more. We are helping you just by continuing to patronize your business when we are all out of work.— Malik 💫 (@mr_mookie) May 14, 2020
If I ever see this on a bill I wld not pay it. Complete bullshit. I’m tryin to recoup too. Who am I suppose to bill ??? Is this evn legal ?— RC&M’s Mia (@maof4boysplus1) May 11, 2020
I’m sure it was disclosed. It’s a small price to pay to support them and keep them open.— MsWu (@mstinaswu) May 11, 2020
Not a bad idea! How do we expect small business to pay for PPE ????? It’s a small charge. If anyone has a problem with it cook your own dinner!— Colette Dimick (@ColetteDimick) May 14, 2020
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.
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)
CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart Helped Fuel the Opioid Crisis, Jury Finds
While all three chains have vowed to appeal, this ruling is a massive win for plaintiffs who argued that opioid manufacturers and retailers violated “public nuisance” laws when contributing to the opioid epidemic.
Jury Sides Against Retailers
A federal jury in Cleveland agreed Tuesday that CVS Health, Walgreens, and Walmart — three of the country’s biggest pharmacy chains — are responsible for contributing to the opioid crisis in two Ohio counties.
This is the first time that the retail arm of the drug industry has been held accountable for opioid overdoses and deaths. It’s also the first time a jury has been used to decide in a major opioid lawsuit.
Previously, only manufacturers such as Purdue Pharma and Johnson & Johnson faced settlements or penalties, though the latter narrowly escaped $465 million in opioid fines in Oklahoma earlier this month after the state’s Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling.
Many plaintiffs in thousands of similar lawsuits all across the country are seeing the Ohio jury’s decision as an optimistic sign — especially since most of them are using the same argument. Plaintiffs in Ohio alleged that either opioid manufacturers or retailers violated “public nuisance” laws by ignoring harm caused by opioid abuse that later snowballed into a full-fledged public health crisis.
Retailers Vow to Appeal
Unsurprisingly, all three chains have promised to appeal Tuesday’s verdict.
There is precedent to think this decision could be overturned. For example, the now-overturned J&J lawsuit first successfully used the public nuisance argument in lower courts, but during an appeal, the Oklahoma Supreme Court thought the plaintiff’s argument was too broad.
That said, every state has different public nuisance laws, so there may not be a clear-cut answer as to what actually could happen with all these cases.
Despite a pending appeal, the judge overseeing Tuesday’s Ohio verdict will make a determination on how much these companies must pay after additional hearings in the spring.
While the retail arm has largely avoided settling up to this point, if this case ultimately does not go their way, it could open the door for future settlements if they decide that route is less costly than going to trial.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Associated Press) (The Wall Street Journal)
Biden Authorizes Release of 50 Million Barrels of Oil From U.S. Reserve To Ease Gas Prices
Experts believe the release will, at best, provide temporary relief to extremely high gas prices but only if other countries tap into a significant amount of oil from their reserves as well.
Biden Taps Into Oil Reserves
President Joe Biden authorized the release of 50 million barrels of oil from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve on Tuesday in an attempt to bring down staggeringly high gas prices.
“American consumers are feeling the impact of elevated gas prices at the pump and in their home heating bills, and American businesses are, too, because oil supply has not kept up with demand as the global economy emerges from the pandemic,” a White House announcement reads. “That’s why President Biden is using every tool available to him to work to lower prices and address the lack of supply.”
As of Tuesday morning, the national average of gas sat at $3.40, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA). While down slightly over the last few days, the national average for November remains the highest it’s been since 2013.
Despite the announcement, Americans shouldn’t expect to see an immediate drop in gas costs. In fact, gas prices are unlikely to be impacted much in the coming weeks since the government’s reserve only stores crude oil, which will need time to be refined into gasoline.
Many analysts expect gas from the reserves to start reaching consumers’ pumps around mid-December, but even then, it will likely be used up in around a week. Last year, the U.S. used about 8 million barrels of gas from the reserve a day.
Those two factors are likely major contributors to why this news didn’t do much to calm the oil market. Following the announcement Tuesday, the benchmark oil price in the U.S. — measured by West Texas Intermediate crude futures — actually rose.
Last week, Biden asked the Federal Trade Commission to look into “mounting evidence of anti-consumer behavior by oil and gas companies” amid rising gas prices.
Price Concerns Persist
In its announcement, the White House said the U.S. release is being taken “in parallel with other major energy consuming nations, including China, India, Japan, Republic of Korea, and the United Kingdom.”
A number of analysts cited by various news publications have predicted that this kind of multi-country release is the only chance the U.S. actually has of meaningfully impacting gas prices.
“The bottom line for motorists is this moves the needle — but barely, and maybe not for a very long period of time,” Patrick De Haan, an industry expert at Gas Buddy, explained to The Washington Post. “It’s certainly something, but how much that something is will be contingent on how much the other countries put in.”
It is currently unclear how much oil the other countries plan to release, though Indian officials have said the country will release 5 million barrels from its reserve.
Efforts could also go south in the long-term if the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) pushes back. It previously warned of a possible response if Biden decided to make this type of release, with the organization arguing that the U.S. has no real justification for needing to tap into its reserve.
“There’s a threat this could lead to a risk of prices being elevated for longer if OPEC holds back meaningful production increases as a result,” De Haan told The Post.
Overall, the release of oil is a tricky situation for Biden. He was already facing stacking criticism from Republicans for recent inflation and supply chain bottlenecks. Even now, many have said the release of 50 million barrels isn’t good enough on its own.
On the other side, Democrats like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) have argued that tapping into the reserve could provide temporary relief.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Business Insider) (Fox Business)
Looters Launch Coordinated Attacks on High-End Stores Like Louis Vuitton in Chicago and San Francisco
It’s unclear if the multiple attacks in each city are connected, but police have described the events as coordinated and planned.
Raid on San Francisco’s Union Square
Dozens of individuals looted at least 10 stores in San Francisco’s Union Square on Friday, though that’s far from the only seemingly organized raid that occurred over the weekend.
Cell phone video from the incident shows multiple people running into a Louis Vuitton store and emerging with armfuls of merchandise. KGO-TV reporter Dion Lim shared images of the store picked clean in the aftermath, with its windows shattered. Burberry, Fendi, and YSL were among the other businesses she said looters targeted.
Video shared by Twitter user @CARLITOSGUEY shows San Francisco police officers swarming a Mustang outside of the Louis Vuitton store and beating its windows with their batons. They then pull someone from the passenger’s seat and pin that person to the ground.
At a news conference on Saturday, police told reporters they “were confronting an armed individual” in the Mustang. That vehicle, along with another, has now been seized by the department. Police also said they have so far made eight arrests connected to the incident.
Police Chief Bill Scott has called the attack “concerted,” saying, “There’s no doubt in my mind that this was not unplanned.”
In total, over $1 million in merchandise was stolen.
Other San Francisco Raids
Friday’s raid was quickly followed up the next night when around 80 looters ransacked a Nordstrom near San Francisco. All but three thieves managed to evade authorities.
At least two store employees were assaulted during the attack, including one worker who was pepper-sprayed by looters, according to a press release published Sunday by the Walnut Creek Police Department.
Like the previous raid in Union Square, police described this attack as “clearly a planned event.”
On Sunday night, yet another raid occurred at a jewelry store in Hayward, which is about 30 miles outside of San Francisco.
As of Monday afternoon, investigators have not been able to confirm whether these attacks are connected, though in recent years — and especially in recent months — they have become increasingly common.
For example, in May, Walgreens said it closed 17 Bay Area stores because of rampant shoplifting.
“We are exploring every single possible criminal charge related to the conduct,” San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin said Saturday. “We will use every tool in our tool belt.”
Chicago Louis Vuittons Raided
The attacks in San Francisco follow a similar event that happened in a Louis Vuitton store in the suburbs of Chicago this past Wednesday.
During that heist, a group of 14 seemingly unarmed individuals ran into the store in broad daylight and began stockpiling merchandise sitting on shelves.
So far, police have not made any arrests; however, they said they have retrieved one of the three vehicles the looters used as getaway cars.
They also confirmed that no one was injured during the attack but that $120,000 in merchandise was stolen.