Diners at some of San Francisco’s most popular restaurants might not notice a new line item on their bills this month, a one percent climate change add-on that’s known as the Restore California surcharge.
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.
In April of 2019, the California Department of Food and Agriculture and the California Air Resources Board, both of which are state agencies, announced that they had partnered with a San Francisco non-profit called the Perennial Farming Initiative, an organization founded by Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz, the restauranteurs behind Mission Chinese Food, the Perennial, and the since-shuttered Commonwealth.
The collaboration, called Restore California, is intended to “help local farmers implement climate beneficial farming practices,” via a series of grants, its website reads. How that will actually be done is still unclear, as the farmers’ grant application deadline was Monday — and those applications won’t even be reviewed until April, with fund disbursement planned for May of 2020.
With terms like “grant” and “disbursement,” savvy readers likely realize that this is where surcharge comes in. As part of the partnership, all California restaurants were invited to add an optional (that means, yes, a diner can indeed ask to have it removed) fee of one percent of the total bill to every diner’s check. According to Restore California, with a $97 billion restaurant industry, if only one percent of the state’s restaurants implemented the surcharge, it would generate $10 million in the first year alone. In addition to grants to farmers, the money collected by California restaurants will go toward existing programs intended to improve soil health and fight climate change.
Though the plan was announced in April, it didn’t kick in until January of 2020. And while every restaurant in the state could participate, so far, it’s mostly upscale restaurants, most of them in SF: think Atelier Crenn, Flour + Water, or Lazy Bear, for example. (A full list of participating restaurants is here.)