City Attorney Targets High-End Restaurants in Ocean Beach and Point Loma for Adding Surcharges

by on January 12, 2017 · 11 comments

in Culture, Economy, Election, History, Labor, Ocean Beach, San Diego

We’ve been following the developing story of how the new San Diego City Attorney, Mara Elliott, is targeting high-end restaurants for adding illegal surcharges to customers’ bills – or misrepresenting the additions –  all due to the January 1st increase in the minimum wage within the city.

A number of these restaurants are located in the Ocean Beach and Point Loma communities, as they are part of larger chains. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that –

“restaurant industry officials … estimated that about 30 local operators are adding surcharges of about 3 percent to bills in response to the minimum wage hike.  They include …  the Brigantine chain [and] Cohn Restaurant Group….”

The Cohn Restaurant Group – an eatery empire of 23 restaurants, most of which are within San Diego County, – has 3 restaurants in the Peninsula, Bo Beau’s and the OB Warehouse in Ocean Beach, and Corvette Diner at Liberty Station.

The Brigantine chain has six restaurants with that name, including one on Shelter Island, but also has Miguel’s Cochina, also on Shelter Island.

City Attorney Mara W. Elliott told the press that many restaurants have been upfront about the surcharge changes, but that others are either keeping the addition hidden until the bill appears, or are misrepresenting the surcharge as a “government mandated” charge. Both types of efforts violate the false advertising provisions in California’s business and professions code, Elliott said. Her office is sending letters to the offending restaurants with a demand that they cease their illegal actions or they will see the inside of a court room.

Mara Elliot stated:

“If a family goes out to dinner, they should be able to trust that the prices on the menu are the prices they will pay, especially when there is no legal basis for the imposition of an additional fee. That’s just treating people fairly.”

Elliot added:

“Many of these diners did not learn of this so-called surcharge, which is not mandated by an governmental entity until they received their check. At that point, of course, it was too late to send the food back.”

This happened to a recent diner at the OB Warehouse, who left this comment on an article about the practices by restaurants:

“Dined at OB Warehouse last night. I wasn’t aware until the bill came that 3% surcharge was added. A “Dear Customer” card was presented with the bill explaining the surcharge.

I emailed CRG [Cohn Restaurant Group] complaining about the surcharge and the response, while civil, basically said, other cooler cities accept it, so just shut up & take it un-hip San Diego!!

As of last Thursday, after numerous complaints, our new City Attorney is investigating so I am forwarding all info to her office.

I also note that on the reverse side of the “Dear Customer” letter was a list of charities supported by CRG. I choose not to support “San Diegans Against Lawsuit Abuse” (how can this be an actual legit charity). While many of the listed charities are reputable, I prefer to choose my own charities, thank you.”

Elliot pledges to investigate restaurants sneaking the surcharge in and San Diegans can help, by reporting it. If you have an improper charge complaint, call: (619) 533-5600 or  complaints can also be filed at  10News

News sources: 10News    , San Diego U-T



{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Frank J January 12, 2017 at 12:36 pm

I noted this a week ago in the San Diego Free Press:
Some greedy owners will look for any excuse. Rounding, say wages go up $1/hr from $10 to $11… about 10%. A restaurant likely has wage costs between 28% and 33%. Well… 10% of 30% is a 3% cost increase.
Now those who are suddenly making 10% more will likely spend it, even if half. So demand goes up. You are selling more of those $10.95 burgers and $6 draft beers. Seattle, San Francisco, Portland… All with high minimum wages, have a thriving restaurant business. Never in history has raising the minimum wage hurt the economy, just the opposite.
So, to Cohn and the greedy millionaires looking to maintain that same gross profit while blaming the working class, try this.
Give it a few months, there will be no change. If you insist, don’t tack on $.30 to an $8.95 item ($9.25)… It won’t sell as much. Tack .$70 on your high end items that the working class isn’t buying. $16.25 to $16.95, and sell just as many.
Add 01/12- I picked up a menu at a long time favorite pizza place on Garnet. Sure enough, prices are up 3% over last year end.


judi January 12, 2017 at 2:06 pm

I can’t understand how this can even be legal. You order something from the menu at a certain price. No where does it say that a 3% surcharge will be added until you get your bill. What would happen if you refused to pay it?

I said this at the onset – I will not do any restaurant reviews of restaurants that are adding a surcharge. I’ll miss the Brig and Miguels – but the extra monies that the waitstaff is getting is not enough to warrant this charge.


Kevin January 13, 2017 at 12:10 pm

No one is reading your reviews anyway. They’re always so negative and pedantic.


Frank Gormlie January 13, 2017 at 3:02 pm

Kevin, we published your comment just to let you know that judi’s articles are some of the most widely-read and popular on the OB Rag. In fact, hundreds – in aggregate, probably thousands – read her posts. And they’re not all “so negative” as Judi has reviewed a number of eateries that she said she’d go back to.


Debbie January 13, 2017 at 6:39 pm

Would you like to join us for the next lunch and give your input? If so, send Frank your contact info and we will coordinate a get together. I think if you met Judi you might have a different opinion.


Frank J January 12, 2017 at 4:25 pm

Here is a lengthy and interesting article some what related-
With a very uncertain economy beginning on the 20th ;( I believe that some prominent restaurant owners and managers will have to make some hard decisions. My hope is they are in favor of the ever-shrinking middle class.


RB January 13, 2017 at 9:40 am

All tips should be shared with the kitchen and other staff. With tips fairly shared with all employees, everyone would be paid more than a government minimum wage…….


fstued January 13, 2017 at 1:05 pm

A friend had diner there Friday night and couldn’t believe how bad it was. I don’t recall what it was but she said it wasn’t edible. Too bad I always like that restaurant and thought the Cohen’s have done a good job with their restaurants. I will be now asking before ordering about all the charges and the Where house will not be seeing me.


Greg January 13, 2017 at 4:16 pm

OB Warehouse isn’t worth the time even without the surcharge. Its just NOT good….which is sad because OB needs nice places to eat since we have more than enough Beer tasting rooms…


Shelly January 14, 2017 at 6:47 pm

Greg, try their BBQ potato skins. We had them last weekend and went back today just because we couldn’t stop dreaming about them.


Mike January 15, 2017 at 7:14 pm

Hmmm…. This might not be the right place for this, but then again, maybe it is. Anybody notice South Beach Bar and Grill got rid of all of their servers? C’mon, now. I have been going there for 10 years, but don’t think I am going anymore unless they bring on some service. Is this because of the min-wage increase?


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