Local restaurants sued over surcharges

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- Lawsuits have been filed against some of San Diego's most popular restaurants. Attorneys from Hyde & Swigart say the surcharges range from 2 to 4 percent of the cost of the meal and are not always clearly disclosed- violating several statues of the state business code.

"If a steak is $52.50 then charge $52.50. Don't hide a surcharge and mislead customers," said Kevin Lemieux.

He has filed 15 lawsuits that ask restaurants stop adding surcharges to menus and refund customers.

Many restaurants have added the surcharges as a way to offset the city's new minimum wage increase of $11.50 an hour.

The jump in pay started in January. The California Restaurant Association says restaurants targeted in the lawsuits strongly deny the claims.

"This is a quick payday for a group of trial lawyers posing as customers. They go into the restaurants posing as customers and they are looking for a payday," said Sharokina Shams, vice president of public affairs for the restaurant association.

"The surcharges are not always popular but they are widely accepted in many industries, they are not illegal. They shouldn't be a surprise to customers, it should be clearly described on the menu."

The City Attorney's Office is also targeting businesses who are not clearly advertising the surcharge.

A civil enforcement action was filed against Barefoot Bar & Grill on Mission Bay for failing to disclose the surcharge and later adding it on the bottom of the menu in small print.

The City sent a warning letter to the restaurant citing a violation of false advertising. The City says it will watch the private lawsuits closely and hope the outcomes bring better consumer protections.

Some of the restaurants named in the suit include George's at the Cove, Mister A's, Sammy's Woodfired Pizza & Grill, and Cohn Restaurant Group.

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