The Oceanaire Seafood Room has removed a 3-percent surcharge from receipts and is offering to refund customers who paid the surcharge, the company said late Thursday.
Oceanaire, the 12-unit division of Houston-based Landry’s Inc., added the surcharge at several units to accommodate increased minimum wages and other costs, said Tim Whitlock, chief operating officer of Oceanaire Seafood, in an email.
Oceanaire alerted customers on menus and receipts with the note: "Due to the rising costs of doing business in this location, including costs associated with higher minimum wage rates, a 3% surcharge has been added to your total bill.”
Customer reaction was negative, said Whitlock, who is also senior vice president of operations for the brand.
"Due to rapidly rising industry costs, I elected to implement a minimal surcharge at a couple of the Oceanaire restaurants,” Whitlock said. “Although notice of the surcharge was placed on all menus, as well as signage in the stores, we did receive negative feedback from our customers.”
The response led the brand to remove the added charge.
“I quickly recognized that I made a mistake and immediately removed the surcharge from these locations,” Whitlock said.
At least one other Landry’s unit, Mastro’s Restaurant in Chicago, instituted a similar surcharge, although with different phrasing. Landry’s representatives did not respond to questions about the surcharge at that brand.
“A 3% surcharge will be added to all Guest checks to help cover increasing costs and in support of the recent increases to minimum wage and benefits for our dedicated Team Members,” according to a line on a Mastro’s receipt in late July.
Oceanaire is offering to refund customers who paid the surcharge, the company said.
“I ask that all customers who still have their receipt, please return to the location and we will happily refund the surcharge amount,” Whitlock said through a media representative.
Tilman Fertitta, Landry's CEO and chairman, said in a statement Friday afternoon: "With more than 500 properties, I rely upon the decisions of others to help run my day to day operations for Landry’s. Unfortunately, I was not made aware of the surcharge that was put in place at my Oceanaire restaurants and the management team has been reprimanded.
"I ask that all customers who still have their receipt, please return to their nearest location and we will happily refund the surcharge amount," he said. "This additional cost has been removed from all Landry’s restaurants effective immediately."
Oceanaire is among other restaurant brands to find consumer pushback on the surcharge.
Last August, Restaurants Unlimited Inc. discontinued a 1-percent “living wage” surcharge it added to checks at restaurants in Portland, Ore.
Seattle-based Restaurants Unlimited, which has casual-dining restaurants in 10 states under the Henry’s Tavern, Kincaid’s, Palomino and Stanford’s brands, added the surcharge with the notation “LWageSC” on checks after Oregon increased its minimum wage to $9.75 an hour.
Oceanaire has locations in 10 states and the District of Columbia.
Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected]
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Update April 19, 2017: This story has been revised to include Tilman Fertitta's comments.