Lawsuit in San Diego accuses Local Restaurants of False Advertising on the Menu
Around fifteen lawsuits have been filed against over a dozen restaurants in San Diego, accusing them of levying a surcharge without properly notifying the customer beforehand, according to the San Diego Union Tribune.. There is a proposal to convert the lawsuits into a class action lawsuit. Presently, the lawsuits are filed by multiple attorneys representing their clients and some attorneys are themselves the aggrieved plaintiffs in the case. These lawyers are local residents and have been charged the unadvertised and untold surcharge.
Many restaurants in and around San Diego have initiated a surcharge citing the increase in minimum wage. Rising labor cost seems to be the primary reason behind this move but restaurateurs also explain that a surcharge is intended to reduce the income inequality or pay gap between kitchen staff and servers. The wait staff gets tipped and they earn much more than the kitchen staff or the back of the house staff. Waiters or servers are not compelled to share their tips with backend staff or anyone. This leads to further disparity between incomes, which is often unequal to begin with.
The lawsuits do not dispute the right of the restaurants to levy a surcharge. They are primarily accusing the restaurants of false advertising as the menus don’t clearly state there is a surcharge in the end. Diners who expect to pay fifty dollars end up paying two to three percent more because of the surcharge. Many diners do not even notice this surcharge till they get home or review their expenses much later. There is also an implied accusation that the restaurants may not pass on the surcharge to its staff. Instead, they make rake in the profits without really addressing income inequality or the persistent pay gap.
Some of the defendants in these lawsuits are George’s at the Cove, Cohn Restaurant Group and Woodfired Pizza & Grill. The lawyers representing the different aggrieved parties cite the state business code, false advertising, unfair competition and other statutes of the California Consumers Legal Remedies Act to support their case. Interestingly, many restaurants have actually rolled back the surcharge, raising questions if it was entirely a legal move or a reasonable one. Many restaurants were served a warning in writing and they have since started mentioning the surcharge on their menus. However, some restaurants have taken no such measures. Even some those who have mentioned the surcharge have done so in a questionable manner, by using tiny font and almost unnoticeable print.
The lawsuits are seeking damages, mostly in refunds for customers who have paid the surcharge. The lawyers are also seeking their own legal costs. The restaurant association considers these suits to be a little more than a shakedown. Many are seeing this as an attempt to squeeze money out of the restaurant chains and hospitality groups. Since many of the plaintiffs are actually lawyers by profession, most restaurateurs consider this an attempt to gang up against the industry for a quick payday. The lawyers deny such allegations and they cite that they are in fact regular customers of the places against whom they have filed the lawsuits.