Diners in SF are likely sick of surprise surcharges at this point — and many have argued that local restaurants long ago should have just rolled those "SF Mandates" charges into their prices and stopped surcharging us. But some of the city's fancier spots have joined in a new initiative to fight climate change that involves a new, additional surcharge on checks — sometimes 1% of the total bill, and sometimes between 10 and 35 cents per guest.
It is called the Restore California or Zero Foodprint surcharge, and the group behind it is the Perennial Farming Initiative, a group started by Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz, who co-founded Mission Chinese Food, Commonwealth, and The Perennial in SF — the latter two of which shuttered in 2019. The mission, as Eater reports, is to collect funds and then distribute grants to "help local farmers implement climate beneficial farming practices," while also helping restaurants to "reduce and offset their carbon footprint." In short, the group is seeking to "unfuck the planet," as they say on a signup page. The program is working in cooperation with California's Healthy Soils Program, and the California Air Resources Board, and the first grants are expected to be dispersed in May 2020.
As the group explains, with California boasting a restaurant industry worth an annual $97 billion in revenue, it would only take 1 percent of the state's restaurant to adopt the surcharge to raise $10 million per year. And that money could be put toward encouraging farming that traps more carbon in the ground, rather than releasing more into the air.
The SF restaurants so far participating include Atelier Crenn, Benu, Cala, Chez Panisse, Flour + Water, Flour + Water Pizzeria, Mission Chinese Food, Mister Jiu's, Namu Stonepot, Mikkeller Bar, The Progress, and State Bird Provisions (see the full list here). And, because the surcharge is optional, if you spot it on your bill and you don't want to pay it, you can ask your server to remove it.
Restaurants have the option of either putting a flat 1% Zero Foodprint surcharge on bills, or they can undergo an assessment of their carbon footprint and then apply a rate of 10 to 35 cents per guests to checks based on that footprint, as a sort of offset. At pricier spots like Atelier Crenn and Benu, the few cents per guest is hardly going to be noticed. But at more mid-range restaurants, yet another surcharge may not be so welcome, no matter how noble its purposes. Eater notes that five-month old Mission spot Great Gold (which opened in August in the former Foxsister space) has already nixed the surcharge due to diner complaints.*
Restaurants who do want to join in the Restore California movement can sign up here.
*This post has been corrected to show that not all the participating restaurants are using the flat 1% surcharge.