Local Restaurant's COVID Surcharge Backlash Makes National News
Wed, 05/20/2020 - 5:03pm admin
Ann Hines, contributing writer
A West Plains restaurant made national news this week when a receipt was posted on the social media site Twitter, causing a post or “tweet” to go viral. The restaurant, Kiko Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Lounge, was criticized for adding a $2.19 "Covid-19 Surcharge" to a $50.06 bill. The tweet garnered hundreds of responses, largely condemning the surcharge. Many tweets expressed outrage in comments such as this one, "I'll be... boycotting any company that does this... the feds gave everyone a stimulus for a reason. Seems they are taking advantage." (David Russell Knox @pureluck83) But others shared the view expressed in this comment, "They are being transparent instead of doing a full menu price increase. It's for PPE they are now required to have and keep you (and them) safe." (Elle R @InspireMePhoto)
In an interview, the managing partner, Billy Yuzar, described the backlash, and expressed concern for his employees. "We have been receiving calls from states like CA, NY, WA, OH, and TX, and even Canada." He said that while comments from local customers have been nearly all encouraging, those from out of the area were negative, some even combative. "One of my employees is a high school senior who is going to college on a full scholarship this fall. She is afraid to answer the phone now." He showed photos of the signs he had posted throughout the restaurant explaining the surcharge, but has now taken down. In response to the backlash, Kiko is no longer applying the surcharge.
Yuzar said he has been adapting to steep rising food costs and added expenses by providing family meals and creative specials for take-out. The restaurant has filed for federal assistance, but to date, has yet to receive any.
But Kiko was not the only local restaurant adding a surcharge, nor were they alone in receiving harsh criticism. The Fish Shack stated in a Facebook post that they have received "threats against employees and harassment" over a surcharge they had added. A manager, who refused to give his name, stated, "We just want to move past this."
Owners Brian and Jessica Staack of Bootleggers BBQ have discontinued the surcharge, and although initially absorbing the added costs, have begun adapting their menu prices weekly to reflect the fluctuations. Staack said he's pleased that prices are actually down this week. They also gave away "10,000 sandwiches in 10 days" last month in area towns from Willow Springs to Winona as part of Operation BBQ Relief.
Ostermeier Brewing Company in West Plains posted on their Facebook page, "No price increase, No covid-19 surcharge at OBC. We know our customers have been through enough. Just welcome back."
In Willow Springs, Pizza Americana owner Samuel Coursen expressed a desire to maintain "a sense of normalcy" for customers. Although he said they are experiencing price increases on everything from paper plates to meat, they have not raised prices or added a surcharge. He says they have adapted by discontinuing their specials, but otherwise have not made any changes.
The Willow Tree, reopened several months ago under new owners Mike and Chasity Wang, has not raised prices and does not plan to add a surcharge. "There's always another way," Wang stated. He has been looking for ways to compensate for the rising prices by shopping for different sources, and even creating new storage and freezer space in order to buy more in bulk. He has temporarily discontinued a couple of popular menu items, namely his hand-breaded chicken-fried steak and hot beef, due to the steep price increase, as he doesn't want to pass the cost on to customers. He hopes they will try other menu items in the meantime. He's looking to local beef vendors now to source his beef.
Alejandro Diaz, manager of Chapala in Willow Springs, said that customer responses to a surcharge had been mixed, and owners have now discontinued it.
Despite the different ways each restaurant has chosen to cope with this crisis, each demonstrated a desire to provide for their employees and to best serve their customers. As one of the hardest hit industries, restaurants continue to struggle with the fallout.