Several restaurants in the Santa Barbara County area are charging mandatory service fees and surcharges without adequately disclosing those fees to customers, the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s office announced Wednesday, which places those restaurants in potential violation of consumer-protection laws.
The Consumer and Environmental Protection Unit “has become aware” of “several” restaurants adding service fees and surcharges “without conspicuously disclosing them to customers before they place orders,” the District Attorney’s office said in a press release.
“We have complaints so far, about five restaurants are adding fees or surcharges,” Santa Barbara County Deputy District Attorney Christopher Dalbey told Claudia Buccio of KSBY. “There’s usually three, four or 5% added to the bill with either no prior disclosure or a prior disclosure that is insufficient.”
The lack of adequate disclosure potentially places these restaurants in violation of California’s False Advertising Law, the DA’s office said. The law prohibits businesses from making any untrue or misleading statements or advertisements in connection with the sale of goods or services
“We would have the choice whether to pursue it as a criminal or civil matter and either instance,” Dalbey said, “there can be a financial penalty.”
Restaurants, to be in compliance with the law, must “prominently disclose” all added fees and charges so that a patron is fully aware of the entire price that will be charged – prior to placing the order, the release said.
As for what consumers can do to protect themselves, Dalbey said: “Check at the top or bottom of the menu to see if there’s any disclaimers. I would always look at your receipt, even if someone’s in the habit of throwing out receipts, just take a quick look at it to make sure there’s nothing else added on there.”
If you wish to report any undisclosed restaurant fees or surcharges, the DA’s office says to complete the Consumer Complaint Form on its website.