The Widder Curry: ‘A Boycott I Unintentionally Breached’

by on November 16, 2017 · 10 comments

in Ocean Beach

The Widder Curry Pledges Not to Patronize Restaurants that Add Surcharge Ever Again

Several months ago I said/wrote the statement that I would not patronize a restaurant that charged a surcharge after the raise of the minimum wage.

Last week I attended a birthday celebration at BO-Beau’s in Ocean Beach, and at the very top of the menu was the following statement:

“A 3% surcharge will be added to all Guest checks to help cover increasing costs and in our support of the recent increases to minimum wage and benefits for our dedicated Team Members.”   

I was the guest of the “birthday girl”, and decided not to say anything about the surcharge for several reasons:  It was her birthday and she selected the restaurant; she and I do not see “eye-to-eye” on the politics of today; and it was not something worthwhile enough to spoil her special day.

But it bothered me then, and continues to bother me.  And … the fault is mine.  Yes, I am allowed one error a year and this was it!

For some reason I thought that BO-beau’s was owned by the same group that owns Miguel’s Cantina.  I had called Miguel’s and asked if they still charge the surcharge, and was told that they had dropped it. I assumed – wrongly – that BO-Beau’s had also dropped it.  (I had called BO-Beau’s with the same question, but only received an answering machine so was unable to get an immediate response.)

So let me reiterate this:  I will not patronize restaurants that charge a surcharge, whether it is listed on the menu or not.

And to assure that it doesn’t happen to me again, I did some research and found the following:

The Brigantine group started out with the surcharge.  Of the 3 restaurants that I called owned by them, they all told me that the surcharge has been dropped.  Good.  I can still go to the Brigantine, Miguels and The Steak House at Azul in La Jolla.

But what about some of the other ones?

That can be tricky.

I called Rocking Baja Lobster in Old Town, and the person I spoke to made the comment “we don’t charge it here but I think they still do at the Gaslamp location.”  I called the Gaslamp Rocking Baja Lobster, and was told that they do, in fact, still charge the 3% surcharge.

It is interesting to note that when the raise in minimum wage was passed, Rocking Baja made the following statement:

“My servers are making incredible tips — between $20 and $30 an hour — and with this increase, I can’t continue on and expect to make a living.”

Of course, I’m worried about a backlash (from diners), but I can’t think of anything else to do other than raise prices and I’ve already done that for the last two years.”

 Then I became curious about the Mira Mesa Rocking Baja, and called there.  They no longer charge the surcharge.  I can’t help but wonder why the surcharge is still at one location and not the others?  That could be a dilemma for me – I can still go to the Rocking Baja Lobster, but if I knowingly go to the Old Town one and know that a surcharge is added at the Gas Lamp, am I compromising my belief?  Yes. I think so, so no Rocking Baja Lobster for me.

I contacted three restaurants owned by the Cohn group, and found that all of those restaurants charge the surcharge.  Their comment after the new legislation went into effect was:

“’We’re still giving people raises, and we’re fine paying people $15 an hour, but a restaurant’s bottom line is such that all of a sudden you can’t just absorb that,’ said Cohn, who opted for a 3 percent additional charge for San Diego restaurants and 2.5 percent for those outside the city.” 

(The question also arises with the half-percent difference?  Should I eat in La Mesa and only pay 2.5%?  Same answer as Rocking Baja – I will not eat at any Cohn restaurant until ALL of the restaurants eliminate the surcharge.)

I thought I would check with some of the other restaurants that put in the surcharge at the beginning to see if they still were using it.

I found that Sammy’s Wood Fire Pizza, Bali Hai and Tom Ham’s Lighthouse are still charging the 3% surcharge.  The only one, apparently, that has found other ways of still making a profit and not gouging the public is the Brigantine group.  Hooray for them!

There may be others that had the surcharge and dropped it; there may be others that are still charging the surcharge that I am not aware of.

Whatever the restaurant may be, as nice as it may be, as good as the food may be, I will not patronize any restaurant that still charges the surcharge.  There are other ways of making a profit than stiffing the patrons.  Happy Eating!


{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Geoff Page November 16, 2017 at 11:08 am

Judi, Can you explain the problem with the surcharge? It seems to me that the restaurants would have to raise their prices if their labor costs go up. This surcharge appears to be an alternative to doing that, albeit an odd one. If they raised the prices to cover the wage increase, would you find that to be problem also? Just trying to understand.


judi November 16, 2017 at 2:03 pm

I do not mind paying more for an item on the menu if that is price. I will then leave a tip based on the amount of the bill. That way I know the server is getting the money.

To decide what I want to eat at a set price only to be charged an additional price on top of that is downright fraud. The comment from the Cohn group – “A 3% surcharge will be added to all Guest checks to help cover increasing costs and in our support of the recent increases to minimum wage and benefits for our dedicated Team Members.” is baloney – the server is not getting that additional 3% – the restaurant is getting it. Let them raise their price – then I know what I am getting.


retired botanist November 16, 2017 at 1:30 pm

Seems straightforward to me, with one question “How much is the owner making each year compared to the server?” In my world of math, if the owner is making enough to open new locations, then he’s making enough to absorb the 3%. Trying to justify their increases based on the pathetic wages servers make, give me a break…
“My servers are making incredible tips at $20-30/hr” …first I would question the consistency of that, and second make no mistake those tips are declared and taxed, so it is not $20-30/hr, deduct 28% tax immediately. Kudos to $15/hr, but frankly no worker in any position in this country should be making less than $15/hr. No need to over complicate it :-)


bocca bum November 17, 2017 at 6:35 am

I look at the issue like this:
Increased min wages to $15 are a good thing…GREAT actually!
If the increase causes the restaurant owner’s costs to go up 3% then that 3% should be split among the owner and his customers. 1.5% surcharge for his customers (or hide it in prices) and 1.5% in a decrease in the owner’s profit.

If a restaurateur can’t absorb a loss of a 1.5% profit then he/she should seriously think about reducing other fixed costs: marketing budget(-0.25%), food costs (0.25%), alcohol (1%) – for example. There any MANY ways to provide an increased min (working) wage for employees without putting that increase on your customers. The restaurants have some responsibility to reduce their free-cash-to-the firm (pure profit). After all, well-paid workers become consumers. And consumers are ultimately customers.


Bob Edwards November 17, 2017 at 8:45 am

Great article, Judi! I totally understand your not wanting to make a scene at your friend’s celebration as well as your dismay at discovering that the Cohn Group is still hosing their employees and customers. Geoff, your suggestion about a raise in menu prices is exactly right. If Bo-Beaux experiences a sudden rise in the cost of Brussel sprouts do they add a “Brussel sprouts surcharge” or do they just raise the price the next time they print their menus? If their laundry increases the cost of washing the napkins do we suddenly see a “linen surcharge”? No, it’s part of overhead and the cost of their food and drink items go up to reflect the increase in overhead. So when a living wage campaign is successful, why stigmatize servers with a surcharge that will likely result in lower tips for the staff instead of just hiking menu prices a few cents? The answer: it’s a mean, self-indulgent protest by the restaurant owners.


judi November 17, 2017 at 4:57 pm

Nice response, Bob. I haven’t heard of any of the Cohn restaurants closing because they are not making a profit.


Howard Kahn November 17, 2017 at 10:10 am

After a really bad experience at the Corvette Diner, a Cohn restaurant, where a friend of mine saw the 3% surcharge after he was given the check and went on a verbal rampage and ruined our dinner, I have not been back to a Cohn restaurant and never will. Above board restaurants raise their prices to meet increasing costs. They don’t hide it in a surcharge. Any restaurant that adds a surcharge is owned by a weasel, and I don’t associate with weasels.


Mari November 17, 2017 at 1:23 pm

I can’t agree with you more Judi! It is fraud and there are plenty of restaurants that don’t charge it.


judi November 17, 2017 at 4:59 pm

And my feeling, Mari, is if others can do it, and many of them are not as costly as the restaurants charging the surcharge, the others can do it too. I think they thought that if they started it all the other restaurants would follow suit. And because the other restaurantors did not follow suit, those are the ones I will patronize.


Judi November 29, 2017 at 8:52 am

Darn. Just found out that Vessels@ the Kona Kai charges a 3.5% surcharge. They don’t need the extra money. What a rip off


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