Some Bay Area Restaurants Add ‘Wellness Fee' to Their Menus

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As Bay Area residents start heading back out to their favorite restaurants, they might find a new fee on their bill.

Several eateries say the price of getting everything is going up, including good employees and at some point, they need to pass that cost on the customers.

A restaurant in San Mateo has only been open for three weeks, and it’s already dealing with new economic realities. 

"It's the cost of the high wages in the Bay Area," said Marr Levin, co-owner of Refuge Restaurant.

He said rising inflation means everything he serves costs more and it also means the wages he pays need to go up just to attract enough employees.

As businesses struggle to catch up after the COVID-19 pandemic, some have decided to add a “wellness fee” to their menus. NBC Bay Area’s Raj Mathai spoke to Laurie Thomas, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association for her take.

"We had trouble getting equipment, we have trouble getting food, meat prices are through the roof, chicken wings are, if I don't charge double digits, I'm losing money, you know?” said Levin.

So now, Refuge adds what it calls a 2% "wellness fee" to its bottom line. Literally, the bottom line on its menu.

Pinstripes, a nearby restaurant and bowling alley, is also dealing with rising costs, and has decided on a wellness fee of 3%.

Customers say they're ok with it if it goes to employees.

"We always pay it, we're big tippers .. It's our way of helping," said one customer.

And the county says it understands the economic realities, and hopes businesses are honest about what they're charging.

"If business owners choose to do it, they need to be extremely transparent up front,” said David Canepa, San Mateo County supervisor. “And they need to say, within their wellness fee, what the wellness fee is for."

Some Bay Area restaurants said that in addition to offering higher wages, they plan to bring workers back by offering extra benefits, including a healthcare package.

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