Climate change surcharge: New 1 percent fee comes to these San Francisco restaurants

A handful of restaurants in San Francisco have opted in to a program that supports soil health and fights climate change — by making their customers’ meals a bit more expensive.

Bay Area restaurants that choose to participate in the state’s new Restore California program are adding a 1 percent surcharge on diners’ checks to support the initiative starting this month, according to a news release from Zero Foodprint, a nonprofit working with state agencies on the program.

Those restaurant surcharges will be funneled into grants supporting farmers and ranchers — money that will “directly fund carbon farming projects such as compost application, cover crop planting, tree planting and improved grazing management,’ according to Zero Foodprint.

“Restore California allows consumers to have a direct impact by shifting acres of farmland from extractive to renewable practices,” Karen Leibowitz, executive director of Zero Foodprint, said in a statement, comparing the agriculture-oriented program to how power “companies enable residents to improve the grid by funding renewable energy projects.”

Restore California is adamant that the program isn’t a tax.

“A tax is mandatory, and this is voluntary,” program organizers write on its website. “It’s more like a fundraiser for good food and farming. Restaurants and diners can opt in or opt out of Restore California.”

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SF Eater reports that “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.)”

But the surcharge apparently hasn’t panned out perfectly everywhere.

Brandon Kirksey, co-owner of the pasta restaurant Great Gold in the city’s Mission District, said that — a month after imposing the surcharge on checks in the fall — his restaurant decided to change tactics in response to “negative” feedback from customers who wanted it taken off their bill, Mother Jones reported.

“Having that additional surcharge on there I think made a lot of people feel uncomfortable. People get a little stand-offish when it comes to change,” Kirksey said, adding that the restaurant decided to raise prices on the menu by 1 percent instead of charging a fee, according to Mother Jones. “Ever since the verbiage changed, people are more excited to learn about it, rather than complain about the fee.”

It wouldn’t take many restaurants participating for the program to raise some large amounts of money.

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“If 1 percent of restaurants in California add a 1 percent charge with Restore California, the program would generate $10 million per year to implement renewable agriculture,” Restore California’s website says. “If every restaurant in California added a 1 percent charge, as much as $1 billion could go toward improving the food system each year, while actively pulling tons of emissions out of the atmosphere.”

According to Zero Foodprint, San Francisco’s restaurant week — from Jan. 22 to 31 — will be supporting Restore California, meaning more than 100 restaurants will be directing 1 percent surcharges to the initiative’s projects.