This week's restaurant review, in which we consider République, the gorgeous restaurant from Walter and Margarita Manzke in the old Campanile space, is out. In the review, we take stock of the building's history, the Manzkes' fantastic food and the service, with impressions both positive and negative.
What you won't read in the review is anything about the 3 percent service charge added to each bill, which covers health care costs for all employees of République. That's because, frankly, when the charge was explained to me (as it is to every customer when the bill is presented, along with an invitation to consider the charge when tipping), I didn't think much of it other than experiencing a brief feeling of the warm and fuzzies knowing that the folks who had just served and cooked for me weren't going to lose everything if they had the audacity to become ill.
Silly me. That 3 percent charge has become quite controversial.
According to a number of local news organizations who interviewed customers, many people are unhappy about the charge. This unhappiness is mirrored in some of République's Yelp reviews, where one reviewer states, "It is not MY responsibility to take care of YOUR employee's healthcare." I wonder where this person thinks the money might come from to cover employee healthcare, if not from paying customers - a restaurant's only source of revenue.
The truth is that, with the mandate from the Affordable Care Act, all businesses with more than 50 employees will be required to provide healthcare for their full-time workers. République falls into this category. So they have to find a way to pay for healthcare and, being a restaurant, that money will have to come from customers.
They basically have two options, other than cutting everyone's hours to part-time. They can do what they've done and issue a surcharge, or they can roll the cost into the prices on the menu, thereby taking away the transparency and choice their current system allows. If you don't want to pay the charge, you can take it out of your tip - or even ask it to be removed from the check. Does that make you uncomfortable? Probably not as uncomfortable as being sick with no insurance.
Even if the Affordable Care Act was not a factor, République's policy is an example of a business in the private sector coming up with an elegant solution to the healthcare needs of its employees - compassionate capitalism at work. I assume people are shocked because it's unusual, but the whole point is that the current situation, where very few restaurant workers have health insurance, is not working. Something unusual must be done to fix that problem.
People have also expressed concern that they aren't sure the money will actually go toward health care. I'd wager that if healthcare was not being provided by the funds, the very first disgruntled employee to be dismissed from the restaurant would be crying foul from the rooftops.
A similar charge became citywide policy in San Francisco. And it's true that many of those restaurants did not use the money for healthcare. But when something like this is mandated, it makes the likelihood that businesses won't comply properly all the more likely. When a business takes something like this on voluntarily, chances are they mean to follow through.
I'm curious what people who are offended by this charge would have République do. Raise prices? Cut everyone's hours? Or give you the option as the customer to help offset those costs, with the specific knowledge that your few dollars are making it possible for everyone in the place to have access to health care, and the option to withhold those few dollars if it suits you?
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It doesn't seem controversial to me at all.