Retail stores and restaurants are starting to re-open after being closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, and as state officials ease restrictions on gatherings, some consumers are eager to enjoy a meal, haircut or shopping trip outside the confines of their homes.
If you’re one of the people venturing out, you could find a surprise on your purchase receipt.
Near the bottom of the receipt, you may see a “COVID-19 surcharge” added to your bill, as Instagrammer @_streetsoldiers showed in a recent post.
This new surcharge is an extra fee that businesses can add to a bill to help alleviate the financial burden placed upon them during the virus outbreak.
For some businesses, like restaurants, expenses such as food supplies and third-party delivery fees (for services like DoorDash and GrubHub) have gone up considerably.
Other businesses, like hair salons, are losing revenue because they have to reduce the number of customers they see, in compliance with social distancing guidelines. And all businesses are now buying extra supplies to meet health standards.
As a result, business owners can opt to add a COVID-19 surcharge.
Rachel Gower, owner of the Upper Hand Salon in Houston, has added a $3 “sanitation charge” to customers’ bills, as a way of offsetting the costs of all the cleaning supplies they now must purchase to continue operating the salon safely.
“I think, as a whole, the industry is stepping up and really making sure we’re doing this right,” Gower told local ABC affiliate KTRK. “The cost of reopening includes all the extra supplies that we need and all the cleaning supplies that we need. It’s worth it! It’s absolutely worth it!”
For many business owners, the surcharge is a better option than raising prices across the board.
Needless to say, not all customers are happy with shelling out extra money, especially during difficult times. Twitter user @JonnaOdden posted an angry tweet about the extra charge, complete with a red-faced emoji.
Saw this pic on FB. Someone please explain to me why there’s a tax for ordering food during a pandemic?!?! #COVID19SurCharge #COVID19Tax pic.twitter.com/DufOj8vTvo
— Jonna Odden (@JonnaOdden) May 17, 2020
Other consumers have a bigger issue with businesses not disclosing the surcharge to customers before a purchase is made.
This is why restaurants like Kiko Steakhouse & Sushi Lounge in West Plains, Missouri, are clearly posting their policies on social media and on their front doors.
Please read & pay attention to all the signage we posted in front of our restaurant, today we added more signage so you…
Posted by Kiko Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Lounge on Saturday, May 9, 2020
Angry customers may wonder if these types of charges are legal. Attorney Laura Clubb told KFVS TV that these fees are typically not against the law, as long as they don’t step into price-gouging territory.
“What we have to look for are situations where people are in dire need of necessities and those necessities, the prices are being unreasonably inflated,” Clubb told KFVS. “If you do not want to go to a restaurant or you don’t want to pay the surcharge, you just don’t go.”
What can you do if you discover one of these COVID-19 surcharges on your bill? You are within your rights to ask about them, but experts emphasize the need for courtesy and patience when talking to the staff. No one wants a confrontation, especially the business owner, who likely added the surcharge to help keep the business open.
“Many business owners are scared and making decisions based on that fear,” financial podcaster Jen Smith told Lifehacker. “The proprietor may not even be a fan of the additional charge, but feels it necessary to make ends meet.”
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