Despite its reputation as a tourist draw, San Francisco saw more than 400 restaurants closed during 2019.

In 2019, many business owners found it too challenging to run their restaurants in a high-priced city. According to data gathered by Yelp, San Francisco had 411 restaurant closures between Jan. 1 and Oct. 31. In that time, some of the notable closures included Plouf, Rosamunde Sausage Grill, Dosa, and Famerbrown, which had 14 to 23 years in service. The elegant Jardinière, which opened in 1997 by chef-owner Traci Des Jardins, also bid farewell after 21 years.

…A special hearing at City Hall brought together 41 restaurateurs who shared their complaints to San Francisco supervisors over various issues that have plagued the restaurant industry. The labor shortage, maintenance costs and high rent were among the topics raised.

“Those types of fees have continued to put a lot of strain and pressure on industries where we just don’t have any margin,” Laurie Thomas, owner of restaurants Terzo, Rose’s Café, and a member of the board of directors at the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, told SFGATE. “We’re not like software, restaurants are different. We’re lucky if we keep 3 to 5 percent at the end of the day.”

Well, it turns out that there may soon be another reason for diners to reconsider their eating options. Some restaurants are adding a “climate change” surcharge to the bill.

Diners at some of San Francisco most popular restaurants might notice a new line item on their bills this month, a one percent add-on that’s known as the Restore California surcharge — a fee that’s intended to assist in efforts against climate change.

In a city where additional charges are as common as “unexpected” Muni delays, one might be tempted to roll one’s eyes at the sight of yet another additional cost to dine out. But this one has the support of San Francisco’s leading restaurant trade group, making it a veritable unicorn in the world of restaurant emoluments.

However, the charges will be “optional.”

…If you choose to opt in, it purports to make your meal more climate-friendly: The charge will fund a new program called Restore California, which is managed by the nonprofit Zero Footprint.

Restore California provides funding for farmers to build healthy soil, and more specifically funds “carbon farming projects such as compost application, cover crop planting, tree planting and improved grazing management,” according to a press release. Zero Footprint estimates that if a mere 1 percent of restaurants in California add the 1 percent surcharge, in a $97 billion restaurant industry, the program would generate nearly $10 million in the program’s first year.

But I can well imagine the glares, self-righteous scoldings, or taunts one might get if a diner “opts out.”

Sure you can opt out . . . but Big Sister is watching.


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