The Controversy Surrounding “Wellness” and “Employee Benefit” Fees in Restaurants

12 December 2023

Hidden charges on restaurant bills spark outrage and debate

In today’s struggling economy, dining out has become a luxury for many. Restaurants that have managed to survive these tough times deserve commendation and support from both diners and the government. They play a vital role in fostering economic opportunity, community, and culture. However, a recent trend of restaurants implementing “wellness” and “employee benefit” fees has sparked controversy and accusations of exploitation. This article delves into the issue, exploring the arguments from both sides and examining the need for transparency and personal agency in the restaurant industry.

Hidden fees and public backlash

Last week, Philadelphia magazine reported that several popular restaurants in the Philly area, including Founding Farmers and FCM Hospitality, were charging automatic “wellness” and/or “employee benefit” fees to diners. These fees ranged from 3 to 5 percent of the total bill. The restaurants justified these charges by claiming they supported mental health resources and provided benefits to their staff. However, the public backlash was swift, with many diners expressing their outrage on social media. As a result, FCM Hospitality decided to eliminate their employee benefit fee, while Founding Farmers agreed to remove the fee upon individual diner request.

The problem with hidden fees

The practice of adding hidden fees onto restaurant bills has become a national trend since the pandemic, and it has reached a boiling point. While automatic gratuity is understandable to ensure fair compensation for service staff, forcing customers to pay for additional services for employees is seen as excessive. The argument for changing the restaurant business model to eliminate tipping and provide livable wages for workers is valid but requires a significant cultural and economic shift. However, restaurants exploiting these circumstances by implementing hidden fees only undermines the cause.

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The importance of transparency and personal agency

Transparency is crucial in addressing the issue of hidden fees. Restaurants should not slip additional charges onto diners’ bills without clear and visible explanations. Information about these fees should be prominently displayed on menus, marketing materials, and at the restaurant itself. For example, Founding Farmers should have made it clear to customers upon arrival that an additional fee would be charged, with the option to opt out if desired. Diners should have the choice to contribute to these efforts willingly, rather than being automatically expected to do so.

Finding a better compromise

The core of the issue lies in personal agency. Instead of implementing hidden fees, restaurants could consider either raising the prices of their dishes upfront or giving diners the option to choose whether or not they want to pay the fee. This approach is similar to how some retail stores ask customers if they want to round up their bill to donate the difference to a charity. Sneaky fees on restaurant bills should be eliminated entirely, but our commitment to supporting workers should not waver.


The controversy surrounding “wellness” and “employee benefit” fees in restaurants highlights the need for transparency and personal agency in the industry. While supporting workers is crucial, hidden charges on diners’ bills are seen as exploitative. Restaurants should be upfront about any additional fees and give customers the choice to contribute willingly. By promoting transparency and allowing personal agency, the restaurant industry can navigate the delicate balance between supporting workers and providing an enjoyable dining experience for customers.

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