The odds for keeping delivery fees and large-party gratuities aren't looking good

Working Lunch: The Biden administration doesn't get that those aren't true "junk fees."

Lobbyists, like the politicians they strive to influence, tend to be optimistic about the outcome of whatever struggle they’re currently waging. So when the chief lobbyist for the restaurant business says he’s worried the industry will be dealt a significant setback by the Biden administration this fall, there’s reason to take notice.

The concern in question is the administration’s plan to outlaw restaurant surcharges in its quest to protect the public from so-called junk fees, the extra charges some industries sneak into their bills to squeeze a few more dollars out of customers. The example often cited is the addition of a service charge to the cost of a concert ticket even when the seller does nothing more than accept payment.

Appearing in this week’s Working Lunch podcast, National Restaurant Association EVP of Public Affairs Sean Kennedy noted that the Federal Trade Commission is stretching its definition of junk fees to include several common and non-controversial add-ons to restaurant bills. Among the examples he mentioned were delivery fees and the mandatory gratuity many restaurants tack onto the tabs of large guest parties.

That surcharge has been used for eons by restaurants, without pushback from customers, he stressed. It’s a stretch to regard that as a junk fee.

Yet, the association’s chief lobbyist said, “I’m really concerned about this one.”

The administration’s promise to protect consumers from true junk fees is political gold, Kennedy indicated.  “I’m concerned they’re going to say, ‘Pedal to the metal! The hell with this! We’re going to deliver something for the Biden administration.’”

What’s the industry doing to carve out exceptions for certain restaurant surcharges? Listen to this week’s episode for a recount of how the association brought nearly 600 restaurateurs to Congress to get the executive branch’s attention.

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