Bob Dal Bello’s receipt for dinner at Big Al’s City Grill in North Naples was reasonable.
A few beers, nachos, ribs and a steak sandwich was $40.
But there at the bottom, after the subtotal and tax was a curious line item: “FL Surcharge Environment.”
“I looked at the bill and I said I had to at least ask what this is about,” Dal Bello said. “An unusual entry on a bill, that kind of surprises you.”
It was $1.46, just 4 percent of his Sunday dinner before taxes.
The amount didn’t bother him but something about the explanation gave him heartburn.
His server explained that the restaurant, instead of raising prices to offset the higher cost of waste management, was instituting this new fee, Dal Bello recalled.
“I figured they just didn’t want to change their menu,” he said.
Actually, what Big Al’s had initiated that day was a pilot program to help the restaurant move into the era of environmentally friendly business.
Big Al’s had been considering a green makeover, including switching to solar energy and changes in the way it disposes of waste products, said Richard Karp, spokesman for Big Al’s.
But to retrofit its three locations, North Naples, Bonita Springs and Fort Myers, the restaurant chain was looking at its own surprising bill of about $1 million.
“Waste removal, power, grease clean-up, it’s a huge expense,” Karp said.
They knew they couldn’t go it alone.
Having a fairly steady clientele, the store surveyed about 100 customers to see if they would be amenable to a 4 percent charge to help the restaurant pay for the cost of going green.
With the support of their customers, Big Al’s implemented the environmental surcharge Sunday at its North Naples location, Karp said.
The surcharge, while maybe less common in the restaurant business, is something consumers pay in other industries, including mechanics.
“Tire centers have shop fees and have been doing it for a long time,” Karp said.
Frank Panipinto, owner of Frank’s Tire & Service Center, said he charges a shop fee of 15 percent up to $15 to cover the cost of supplies.
“These charges, you can absorb them for a while, but it keeps going up and up,” Panipinto said. “Somehow or another it has to be paid.”
At Big Al’s, the policy going into the pilot program included reimbursing anyone’s fee if they didn’t want to pay it. But no one grumbled, Karp said.
One person questioned the charge and was OK with the idea once the impetus behind the surcharge was explained.
But after two days, Big Al’s pulled in just $200, Karp said, and they knew the plan wouldn’t get them where they wanted to go fast enough.
“We’re just not going to go forward with it,” Karp said. “We just can’t justify passing on any more than that to our customers.”
For David Maturen, it wasn’t so much the $1 extra on his bill, it was that he wasn’t informed beforehand.
There was no note in the menu, nothing to let customers know the charge was coming.
“It’s almost like a phone bill,” Maturen said. “All of a sudden you look and there are fees everywhere.”
Karp said customers can get their money back if they bring their receipt to the restaurant.
That’s something neither Maturen nor Dal Bello plan to do.
But for Maturen, the surcharge soured his taste for the grill.
“Would (the charge) have stopped us from dining that night? Probably not,” Maturen said. “But it would make me think twice before going back.”
Connect with Tara E. McLaughlin at www.naplesnews.com/staff/tara-mclaughlin/