Two weeks ago, diners at Portland, Oregon restaurant Biwa started receiving a notice with their checks (above) announcing a new five-percent surcharge on each bill to "provide health insurance and living wages for all of our staff." Biwa owners Gabe Rosen and Kina Voelz tell Eater PDX that the "health and wellness" charge was designed to help supplement the cost of health insurance, famously a rarity in the restaurant industry. To outfit the restaurant's 20+ employees with full health coverage, Rosen says he was forced to have to raise prices, but like the somewhat controversial Healthy SF measure in San Francisco — which also tacks a health surcharge to the end of restaurant bills — Rosen says the surcharge is a way to make guests aware of where the extra money went:
We raised prices five percent across the board, and we wanted to do it in a way that was very transparent, where we could show the guests, 'This is what we're doing. This is important to us.' We'd like to see this replicated, honestly. It's crazy to me that nobody gets insurance in this business.
Though Rosen says the response to the surcharge has been overwhelmingly positive (with no measured effect on tips), an online debate now rages as to the method: Responses range from appreciation to arguments that the charge makes check-splitting "awkward."