SAN DIEGO -- Customers at some local restaurants could soon see a fee added to their bills as the minimum wage inches toward $15 an hour.
Local restaurateur Arturo Kassel owns five restaurants in San Diego County, including Prepkitchen and Whisknladle. Because of the minimum wage hike, he plans to eliminate tipping at his restaurants, and instead, place a 20 percent service fee on every check.
"It's scary," he said. "This is no doubt this is uncharted territory for San Diego."
It's a step Kassel said he needs to take for the good of his eateries.
The additional fee will start Jan. 1, when minimum wage again increases statewide. Kassel said most people who come to his restaurant already tip 20 percent.
"All they're giving up is control, or this illusion of control," he said.
That control would go to Kassel, who said he would then be able to more evenly distribute the money between tipped staff like waiters and hosts, and the non-tipped workers, like cooks in the back.
Kassel said waiters and waitresses make $25 to $50 an hour, but cooks make between $13 and $15. He said he'll also be able to provide health benefits -- and pay servers some commission -- with minimal food price increases.
"Because the system just does not work at $15 minimum wage," he said.
Restaurants across the county are also trying to compensate. Pacific Beach Cantina began charging a nearly five percent cost-of-living fee earlier this year.
"I think the consumers are going to see it's going to increase prices," bartender Seth Dominique said in January. "You're going to pay more for cheeseburgers, hamburgers and everything else."
Kassel said the fee will be on the bill even if the service doesn't merit a 20 percent tip.
"You don't get to choose the price of your dish based on how much you enjoyed it," he said. "Why should service be any different? Why should our guests determine how much our employees make?"
Kassel said they can instead determine if they'll come back, and what they tell their friends.