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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

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Child Safety Advocates Urge Facebook To Scrap Plans for Instagram Kids

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  • Nearly 100 child safety experts and international organizations sent a letter to Facebook Thursday criticizing its plans to develop an Instagram app for children under 13.
  • Facebook claims the app will offer parental controls and is meant to create a safer space for kids, who are often lying about their age to access the normal version of Instagram.
  • Still, critics point out that children already on Instagram are unlikely to switch to a kids version. Many also cited concerns about screen time, mental health, and privacy, arguing that younger children are not ready for such a platform.
  • U.S. Lawmakers expressed similar concerns earlier this month, saying, “Facebook has an obligation to ensure that any new platforms or projects targeting children put those users’ welfare first, and we are skeptical that Facebook is prepared to fulfill this obligation.”

Instagram for Kids

An international group of 35 organizations and 64 experts, coordinated by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, released a letter Thursday urging Facebook to abandon its plans to release an Instagram app for kids under 13-years old.

Plans for Instagram Kids have been public for about a month after Buzzfeed News obtained emails about the app in mid-March. Since then, there have been widespread concerns about how such an app could affect children.

Thursday’s letter argues that a version of Instagram targeting under-13-year-olds raises concerns about privacy, screen time, mental health, self-esteem, and commercial pressure. Stephanie Otway, a spokesperson for Facebook, said the company understands the concerns presented by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

“We agree that any experience we develop must prioritize their safety and privacy, and we will consult with experts in child development, child safety and mental health, and privacy advocates to inform it,” she said.

“The reality is that kids are online. They want to connect with their family and friends, have fun and learn, and we want to help them do that in a way that is safe and age-appropriate. We also want to find practical solutions to the ongoing industry problem of kids lying about their age to access apps,” Otway added, noting the reality of how many children interact with age-gated apps.

Unlikely To Stop Children From Joining Regular Instagram

The idea that children would just switch to Instagram Kids received pushback from the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. In fact, the group’s executive director, Josh Golin, pointed out that most kids who are currently on Instagram are between 10 and 12-years-old, and they likely wouldn’t migrate over to Instagram Kids because it will be perceived as “babyish and not cool enough.”

The children this will appeal to will be much younger kids,” Golin explained. “So they are not swapping out an unsafe version of Instagram for a safer version. They are creating new demand from a new audience that’s not ready for any type of Instagram product.”

It’s unknown exactly how the app would work, but it would feature content similar to what is allowed in other age-appropriate apps, such as YouTube Kids. One of the few details given out so far is that Instagram Kids will be ad-free and feature parental control options.

Concerns over Instagram Kids has also come from lawmakers. On April 5th Senators Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), alongside Representatives Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) and Lori Trahan (D-Mass.), sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg expressing concerns that “children are a uniquely vulnerable population online, and images of kids are highly sensitive data.”

“Facebook has an obligation to ensure that any new platforms or projects targeting children put those users’ welfare first, and we are skeptical that Facebook is prepared to fulfill this obligation.”

See what others are saying: (TechCrunch) (BBC) (NBC News)

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Retail Sales Jump Amid Stimulus Spending, Unemployment Claims Plunge To Pandemic Low

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  • The Commerce Department released a report Thursday recording a 9.8% spike in retail sales for the month of March.
  • That surge was largely driven by stimulus check spending, with restaurant, sporting goods, clothing and accessory, and auto sales all being among the top-performing sectors in retail for the month. 
  • Coupled with that news, the Labor Department reported that 576,000 unemployment claims were filed last month — a pandemic low. 
  • That figure is still significantly higher than the roughly 200,000 weekly unemployment claims filed before the pandemic. 

Retail Sales Spike

U.S. retail sales for the month of March jumped 9.8% from February, according to a Thursday morning report from the Commerce Department.

That spike is largely thanks to the most recent round of stimulus checks from Congress.

March was the best month of retail spending since May of last year, which at the time saw an 18.3% gain following the first wave of stimulus checks.  

Sales in the bar and restaurant industry rose 13.4%, making them among the retail sectors that saw the biggest spikes last month. That’s largely a result of relaxed lockdowns stemming from the country’s current pace of around three million vaccinations a day. Meanwhile, sporting goods spending rose 23.5%, clothing and accessory sales rose 18.3%, and motor vehicle parts and dealer sales rose 15.1%.

“Spending will almost certainly drop back in April as some of the stimulus boost wears off,” wrote Michael Pearce, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics, “but with the vaccination rollout proceeding at a rapid pace and households finances in strong shape, we expect overall consumption growth to continue rebounding rapidly in the second quarter too.” 

Unemployment Hits Pandemic Low

The retail sales data came around the same time that the Labor Department released this past week’s unemployment figures, which dropped to a new pandemic low of 576,000 claims. 

That’s a massive difference from almost exactly a year ago when 6 million people filed for unemployment in a single week. It’s also a significant decline from the 769,000 people that filed jobless claims last week, especially since some analysts had predicted there would be around 700,000 jobs lost with this week’s report.

That said, unemployment claims are still much higher than the around 200,000 a week that were being filed prior to pandemic closures.

“You’re still not popping champagne corks,”  Diane Swonk, chief economist at the accounting firm Grant Thornton, said according to The New York Times. “I will breathe again — and breathe easy again — once we get these number[s] back down in the 200,000 range.”

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNBC) (Fox Business)

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Hundreds of Businesses and Celebrities Join Growing Fight Against Restrictive Voting Efforts

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  • In a letter published Wednesday, hundreds of major companies, law firms, corporate leaders, and celebrities banded together “to oppose any discriminatory legislation or measures that restrict or prevent any eligible voter from having an equal and fair opportunity to cast a ballot.”
  • The list of signatories includes companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon; celebrities such as Demi Lovato, Katy Perry, and Samuel L. Jackson; and billionaire investor Warren Buffet, among others.
  • Though the letter does not address any specific voting legislation, it was organized by Kenneth Chenault and Kenneth Fraizer, who also organized a letter late last month in which more than 70 Black executives urged companies to take a stand against GOP-led restrictive voting proposals being floated in dozens of states. 

Hundreds of Companies Oppose Restrictive Voting 

The number of companies speaking out against a series of GOP-led voting proposals is growing, despite calls from notable Republicans for boycotts against companies doing so.

In a letter published Wednesday morning, hundreds of major companies, law firms, corporate leaders, and celebrities united behind what journalist David Gelles described as “the biggest show of solidarity to date.”

The letter itself doesn’t specifically call out Republican voting efforts. Instead, the statement reads, “We stand for democracy,” with the signatories also vowing “to oppose any discriminatory legislation or measures that restrict or prevent any eligible voter from having an equal and fair opportunity to cast a ballot.”

Still, the letter comes in the middle of an ongoing battle between corporate America and the GOP, which is backing dozens of state proposals that many have condemned as restrictive and discriminatory against poorer individuals and people of color.

The slew of companies that signed Wednesday’s letter includes Target, Netflix, Bank of America, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, Starbucks, Amazon, Mastercard, American Airlines, United Airlines, and others. 

The letter also boasts star-power from celebrities like Demi Lovato, Katy Perry, Gwyneth Paltrow, George Clooney, and Samuel L. Jackson, among others. Notably, billionaire investor Warren Buffet also added his name to this list.

Companies Debate Taking Action Against States That Pass Restrictive Voting Measures

Wednesday’s letter was organized by Kenneth Chenault and Kenneth Frazier, who late last month also organized a similar letter from a group of more than 70 Black executives. That message, which urged companies to speak out against the GOP-led proposals, has largely been credited with helping to catalyze the fight between the GOP and corporate America. 

This past weekend, the two also partially led a Zoom call that featured over 120 CEOs and business leaders. 

During that call, participating executives considered a number of possible steps, including pulling donations to politicians who support restrictive voting measures, refusing to move business or jobs to states that pass such laws, and even relocating events; however, no hard plans were actually set into motion.

Still, some groups have already gone forward with various forms of protests against such laws. Last week, Major League Baseball announced it was moving its All-Star game out of Georgia, which recently passed a series of restrictive voting measures. On Monday, actor Will Smith and director Antoine Fuqua also announced that they no longer plan to film their runaway slave thriller “Emancipation” in the state.

Some Companies Didn’t Speak Out in Wednesday’s Letter

Both federal and state Republicans have been very vocal as businesses have continued to lob criticism at their proposed laws. 

Last week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell warned businesses to “stay out of politics,” though he later walked back that statement.

Two weeks ago, the Georgia state House voted to strip Delta Airlines of its tax breaks after the company spoke out against the state’s new voting laws. In fact, that reprimand might explain why it and other Georgia-based companies like Coca-Cola were absent from Wednesday’s letter. 

According to The New York Times, people involved in the process of organizing this letter said those companies feared more blowback and also did not feel the need to speak up again.

Connected to that, The Times reported that some companies originally tried to have the line of “oppos[ing] any discriminatory legislation” removed, but they later signed anyway after Chenault and Frazier insisted the line was crucial.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (The Hollywood Reporter)

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