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Lawmakers want to amend law on restaurant fees – before it goes into effect

Flickr / Creative Commons

With just weeks until the law goes into effect, state Sen. Bill Dodd, a Napa Democrat, and other lawmakers want to amend it to clarify that fees can be charged as long as they are clearly advertised on restaurant menus.

The law signed in October by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Senate Bill 478, prohibits restaurants from charging undisclosed "junk fees." They had become more prevalent in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. The fees, usually a percentage of the bill, can sometimes show up on a check at the end of a meal without prior notice.

The original bill was authored by Dodd and outgoing Sen. Nancy Skinner, a Berkeley Democrat, and was specifically meant to target so-called drip pricing, which involves advertising a cheaper price than consumers ultimately have to pay.

Online ticket sellers, lodging booking companies and restaurants that did not disclose their fees beforehand were some of the main targets of the law.

Dodd said: "Many restaurants are up-front with their business practices but too many aren't.” This proposal, added Dodd, will level the playing field for all restaurants and address confusion and disagreement about what is permissible under state law.

The new bill, Senate Bill 1524, is supported by the California Restaurant Association and the Unite Here food workers union.

Sunni M. Khalid is a veteran of more than 40 years in journalism, having worked in print, radio, television, and web journalism.