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News Briefs: Dismissal of Lawsuit; COVID treats

A lawsuit over a 52-cent wellness surcharge brought against a Minneapolis multi-concept restaurant group last November was dismissed by a Hennepin County District Court judge in July.

Christopher Ashbach, who described himself to the local media as a social media influencer, sued Freehouse, a casual-dining restaurant, and its parent company, Blue Plate Restaurant Company, after he discovered a 3 percent surcharge on his bill that he claimed was not fully disclosed before he ordered. Although the additional fee was printed on both the menu and the bill, it was not on the daily specials’ menu from which Ashbach ordered. The judge, however, ruled that the fee was not hidden and the restaurant had properly disclosed the additional charges. 

Co-owner David Burley said the last thing he as an experienced restaurant owner would do is some kind of trickery. “That’s the short game,” he said, emphasizing they’re in it for the long game. A few guests have questioned the charge which has been added at all their restaurants, but no one else has complained. “We’re not the first; it’s pretty widely done. It’s become the new normal,” he said.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiff had accused the restaurant group of deceptive trade practices, theft, fraud and unjust enrichment, according to news sources.  Blue Plate owns eight restaurants, a food truck and an event space in the Twin Cities area.

Restaurateurs who add a surcharge to help pay for their employees’ health benefits or to offset a minimum wage hike will graciously remove it from the bill if the guest questions it. Which may be one reason Ashbach’s case never made it to class-action status.

“It’s nice to have it gone, although we were pretty confident that we were doing the right thing all along,” Burley said. Blue Plate co-owners, Burley and Stephanie Shimp, received Foodservice News’ Charlie Award for Outstanding Restaurateur in 2020.

The added expense and additional workload created by a lawsuit over 52-cents was made even more painful due to the stresses of running a business during a pandemic. Shimp's take on the situation was: “I’m grateful that the judge recognized the lack of merit in the allegations so we can put this behind us and get on with doing what we do best, which is taking care of our guests.” 

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We all know the best way to keep the coronavirus at bay is frequent handwashing, liberal doses of hand sanitizer and wearing masks, so what better way to get the message across than to frost it on top of a series of doughnuts? And no one will refute that as a year, 2020 only deserves one star at best. 

Meagan and Kyle Baker own the small custom bakery on Freemont Avenue in Minneapolis, and like many businesses in the last few months, Thirsty Whale had a series of business interruptions, from state-mandated closures to riots surrounding George Floyd's death to an employee testing positive for the virus. Each time the bakery closed for safety reasons, the business's revenue took a hit, Meagan Baker told the Star Tribune.  The box of specialty doughnuts sold for $30 and Baker referred to it as a "fundraiser" for the bakery. The specialty doughnuts were only available through August 12 and then Baker was ready to return to less infectious fare.  

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During Food On Demand's annual virtual conference in August, a panel discussed how the top four third-party delivery providers were faring. Here are a few of the insights from the 2020 FOD Consumer Study by SeeLevel HX:

In order for third-party delivery to be profitable for all stakeholders, customers must remain willing to pay higher prices for the food, either in fees or increased menu prices. The average cost in 2020 of a meal delivered by one of the top four brands is: DoorDash $29.21; Grubhub $31.20; Postmates $30.50 and Uber Eats $27.35  (DoorDash’s average cost in 2017 was $21.21 and Uber Eats’ was $20.74)

$52K is the average potential annual loss per restaurant unit from drive-thru order inaccuracies

38 percent of the respondents to a separate COVID-related consumer study found drive-thrus to be the most safe restaurant experience, followed by 21 percent favoring curbside pick-up; 15 percent preferring direct delivery by the restaurant; and 10 percent chose third-party delivery. 

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