Pricing Transparency Without Hidden Mandatory Junk Fees. Does This Apply To Restaurants Too? New California Proposed Law (SB 1524 ) Says "No!" Can This Be Right?

Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell LLP


Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell LLP (JMBM) is a full service law firm handling corporate transactions, litigation, labor & employment, real estate & land use, intellectual property, hospitality, entertainment, bankruptcy, and taxation, trusts & estates matters. From Los Angeles, San Francisco and Orange County, we serve our clients' needs worldwide.
For more than 20 years consumers have complained about hidden mandatory fees, junk fees, resort fees, destination fees, service fees, administration fees, health fees, surcharges, connection fees, and similar charges, whatever they are called.
United States Media, Telecoms, IT, Entertainment
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For more than 20 years consumers have complained about hidden mandatory fees, junk fees, resort fees, destination fees, service fees, administration fees, health fees, surcharges, connection fees, and similar charges, whatever they are called.

California's new "Honest Pricing Law," SB 478, cracks down on hidden fees, requiring businesses to advertise and list a price that includes all mandatory charges. This applies to most goods and services, but a new bill, SB 1524, proposes an exception for restaurants.

SB 478: Transparent Pricing and the End of Junk Fees

SB 478, taking effect July 1, 2024, prohibits businesses from advertising a misleadingly low price and then tacking on hidden mandatory fees at checkout. This includes service charges, resort fees, and other surprise surcharges. Consumers have long complained about these "junk fees," and SB 478 aims to create price transparency. California's Civil Code Section 1770(a)(29), amended by SB 478, prohibits unfair business practices like misrepresenting product qualities. Importantly, it requires businesses to advertise prices that include all mandatory fees, excluding only government taxes and reasonable shipping costs. This transparency aims to protect consumers from unexpected charges. Certain industries, like those complying with FCC regulations for internet access or those already subject to federal and state disclosure laws for financial services, are exempt from this specific provision.

SB 1524: A Special Exception for Restaurants?

Introduced on June 6, 2024, SB 1524 would allow restaurants to continue adding mandatory service charges, gratuities, and other fees on top of their advertised prices, as long as these fees are clearly disclosed on menus or advertisements. The proposed amendment to Civil Code 1770, would add a new subsection 29(D) to exempt restaurants from the transparent pricing mandate of in that section by adding this language:

(D) For purposes of this paragraph, "advertising, displaying, or offering a price for a good or service" does not include advertising or displaying the price of individual food or beverage items sold by a restaurant, bar, or other food service provider, or sold pursuant to a contract for banquet or catering services, provided that any service charge, mandatory gratuity, or other mandatory fee or charge is clearly and conspicuously displayed on the advertisement, menu, or other display.

The Debate: Transparency vs. Industry Flexibility

This exemption has raised concerns about consumer protection and a level playing field for businesses. SB 1524's proponents, including the restaurant industry and the labor union UNITE HERE, argue that it allows restaurants flexibility in covering costs like employee benefits. Opponents argue that this exemption undermines the core purpose of SB 478 – price transparency for consumers. They question why restaurants should be treated differently from other businesses and point out the Federal Trade Commission's stance that hidden fees are deceptive practices.

The Future: Will Restaurants Get a Pass on Hidden Fees?

Whether SB 1524 passes remains to be seen. It faces opposition from consumer advocates who prioritize transparency. The coming months will reveal if the logic of SB 478 – honest pricing for all – prevails, or if restaurants win this special exemption.

Potential Outcomes of SB 1524

Note that SB 478 is a law effective July 1st, requiring businesses to advertise all-inclusive prices for goods and services, excluding only government taxes and reasonable shipping costs. SB 1524, on the other hand, is a potential carve out of SB 478 for restaurants, but to be effective, SB 1524 needs to be passed.

So is SB 1524 the Beginning of Even More SB 478 Carve Outs?

Who knows? The debate surrounding SB 1524 extends beyond the restaurant industry. It raises questions about exemptions for other industries. If restaurants win a carve-out, could hotels, ticket sellers, or other businesses seek similar exemptions from the transparent pricing requirements? The outcome of SB 1524 might also influence the Federal Trade Commission's role in regulating hidden fees. The FTC's existing stance against hidden fees could inform future regulations aimed at creating a level playing field across industries. Ultimately, this case could be a turning point in establishing clear and consistent pricing practices nationwide.

But keep in mind, SB 478 stands on a long-standing and well-supported platform against Junk Fees. Since 2012, the FTC has issued reports and proposed rules suggesting that the use of deceptively attractive low prices to catch consumer attention is bait-and-switch, consumer fraud when there are other mandatory fees or charges (junk fees) that will be added to the cost. See:


SB 1524 presents a significant challenge to California's push for transparent pricing. The outcome will impact not just restaurants and consumers, but potentially set a precedent for businesses nationwide. The question remains whether the focus will prioritize consumer protection through clear pricing or industry flexibility with carve-outs.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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