"Enviro Charge": DC Restaurants’ "Transparent" Green Tax

Posted: Dec 03, 2013 1:00 PM

Before I enjoyed my Toasted Marshmallow milkshake from Good Stuff Eatery, a local Washington, DC establishment, I noticed a tax on my receipt that said, "enviro charge." Curious, I asked an employee what it meant.

He said it was a tax they charged for their environmental usage and, “Unlike others, we don't hide it.” I left the restaurant, however, still scratching my head. For further explanation, I emailed their PR contact, Jordyn Lazar.

“Both Good Stuff Eatery and We, The Pizza have a one percent environmental administration charge added to orders," she explained. "Our company prides itself on Goodness at all levels, including our environmental impact in the world. We used eco-friendly cleaning supplies, recycled construction materials and use local suppliers. These business practices come at a higher cost. We choose to work with environmentally conscious vendors and pay environmental charges to them. This charge offsets a minimal portion of these costs.

We hope that our customers will continue to support us in our efforts to help make our environmental impacts as minimal as possible. For those who choose not to participate, the charge is immediately removed.”

She then explained their restaurants are partnering with Plant a Billion Trees and directed me to Good Stuff Eatery’s Environmental section, where it explains, at the bottom of the page,

Our customers are part of the solution with us, 1 percent of your total bill is donated to plant a tree a day and sustain various environmental efforts.

Hm, so I wouldn’t have known about this charge if I hadn’t happened to notice the fine print on my receipt and asked an employee, or gone to their web page and scrolled down. After doing more research, it appeared I wasn’t the only customer to be a little irked about this largely hidden fee. Here were just a few of the comments from Popville.com regarding the tax:

“Yeah, sounds like a 1 percent arbitrary-markup-but-if-you-call-us-on-it-we’ll-just-drop-it tax. pretty cheeky.”

“Reminds me of the ‘hazardous waste’ fee or ‘shop materials’ fee with an oil change. It’s just a way to weasel more money out of the customer without being upfront about it. Sketchy sketchy sketchy.”

Spike Mendelsohn, a former contestant on Bravo TV’s "Top Chef," opened Good Stuff Eatery on Capitol Hill in 2008, and then We, the Pizza in 2010. He gave an interview in the Washington Post a few years ago about his restaurants and received a blunt question from one customer about their environmental charge.

“If you really want me to know what I'm paying for, why not a line item breakdown of all the costs that go into a $4 slice of pizza? How much the dough and ingredients cost etc.

I applaud you wanting to be environmental, I think its very noble. But you are really, really rubbing customers the wrong way with this "tax" - and on top of that passing it off like you are doing us a favor.”

Mendelsohn responded:

“I think I know who you are and I'm sorry that you feel that way but the answer you're looking for. I think I have explained to you before... We do a lot of green stuff in the company and it cost us a pretty penny. The environment tax comes out to a couple of pennies on your bill and we will always happily refund if you want.”

It may cost Mendelsohn’s company a pretty penny, but why should customers be the ones to provide them? Not everyone is as adamant about being green and, while many may applaud the restaurateur’s environmental efforts, customers didn’t ask him to employ these green practices, so why should they have to fund them? What if, instead of planting a tree, they just want to enjoy a shake and burger?

It looks like this tax is not only going to be limited to DC. Mendelsohn is opening a new Good Stuff Eatery in Philadelphia as it continues expanding. And, considering the Good Stuff Eatery employee's earlier comments about them not "hiding" the environmental charge "like others" do, it makes me wonder how many other restaurants are charging customers more green for being green.

What do you think? Would you be upset if you were being charged a not-so-advertised environmental fee, or do you think it's an ideal way to promote a noble effort?

Regardless of your opinion, hopefully this will encourage you to read your receipts before taking the first bite.

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