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Hillcrest restaurant accused of hiding hefty surcharge to check

Fiesta Cantina shocked one diner after he got his bill.
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The recent minimum wage hike that took affect on January 1, has put some business owners in a compromising position, especially those in the restaurant business.

Eateries are torn on whether to raise menu prices or add a surcharge to guest checks to help offset the dollar raise they must now offer lower-level employees.

The San Diego Reader recently came across one diner, Kevin Vasquez, who became offended when he was given his check at a Hillcrest  Mexican restaurant. 

Fiesta Cantina had added a 6.9-percent surcharge to his bill allegedly without warning.

"Nothing was ever said about it. Nowhere was there notice I was going to be charged," Vasquez told The Reader. "I wasn't told when I came in and I wasn't told when I ordered. To me, that's fraud."

The surprise monetary add-on left Vasquez in shock, but he also left with a different opinion of Fiesta Cantina.

"I feel bad for the servers who have to explain to customers it's so they can have a decent wage, This makes people mad at the servers," he said. "And I don't like being nickeled and dimed — they should just raise prices 25 cents."

The California Restaurant Association (CRA) opposed the wage hike since its inception, leaving Los Angeles attorney Daniel Sterrett to question if the CRA encouraged surcharges over menu pricing hikes.

"If one restaurant decides to surcharge, that's not antitrust," Sterrett said. "If a bunch of restaurants come together and levy very similar surcharges at the same time, that bears looking into because it could be colluding to set prices and that's an antitrust matter.... You can't legally have a bunch of businesses getting together and deciding it's time for a price increase."

The Reader reports that the CRA did inquire about whether a surcharge could be taxed, but CRA spokesperson Sharokina Shams says they are in servitude to their members and not the other way around.

"Where we come in is we help them speak to each other," she said. "We help them connect." 

San Diego professor On Amir instructs at the Rady School of Management and studies consumer behaviors.

"There are right ways and wrong ways to raise prices," Amir said to The Reader. “The surcharge doesn't create the image of fairness for diners who think you're underpaying your people and now I have to pay more because of your unfair labor practices."

It might be a good practice to ask when you enter an eating establishment if there will be a surcharge added to your bill, that way you won't end up as surprised as Vasquez was when he left Fiesta Cantina.