SF restaurant owners are freaking out over a new state law banning service fees for many hospitality businesses, saying that it could drive prices up and keep consumers away.

Those service fees that you’re used probably used to seeing on your restaurant checks might not be there for much longer, and Bay Area restaurant owners aren’t happy about it.

It isn’t clear if California's recently enacted Senate Bill 478, aimed at prohibiting hidden fees commonly associated with hotel bookings, car rentals, and ticket sales, will also apply to dining out when it takes effect on July 1, 2024, as Eater SF reported.

This legal ambiguity caught the local restaurant sector off-guard. Service fees, typically calculated as a percentage of the total bill, have been a common practice in the restaurant industry. They've been employed to cover various expenses beyond ingredients and labor, including workers' compensation, healthcare costs, and even carbon offset fees. They have also provided an alternative to traditional tipping methods, like some places’ flat-service-charge models. (The law reportedly includes an exception for third-party delivery apps like Uber Eats and DoorDash, allowing them to include service fees.)

Restaurateurs are divided in their views on the potential change. Some are open to eliminating these fees, while others worry about the impact of the increased costs being shifted back to them. The prospect of raising menu prices, they fear, might deter customers. Additionally, some fear the end of service fees could result in reduced income for restaurant workers due to lower tips.

For instance, Chef Anya El-Wattar, owner of Birch & Rye, told Eater SF that they use a 4% fee to offset employee health insurance costs (after removing a policy mandating 20 percent gratuity after some negative reviews a few months ago). If this practice becomes restricted, she said the company might have to absorb these expenses and raise prices, making it challenging to keep her restaurant affordable. She’s reportedly afraid that higher prices may alienate customers.

Industry experts continue to await clarification, as the California Attorney General's office hasn’t issued any clarifications of the law yet.

Image via Unsplash/Nathan Dumlao.