Deceptive fee tacked onto your restaurant bill? DC attorney general issues consumer alert

If you’ve noticed some extra fees and charges tacked on to the end of your bill after a recent dinner out in D.C. and wondered if restaurants are really allowed to do that, you’re not alone.

The Office of D.C. Attorney General Brian Schwalb has taken the step of issuing a consumer alert about deceptive fees at D.C. restaurants to let diners know what restaurants are — and are not — allowed to do.

The consumer alert comes as the office says many District consumers have raised questions about the fees.

In general, restaurants are allowed to charge the fees, but under D.C.’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act, they can’t hide them, bury them in fine print or only let you know about them after you’ve ordered, according to the attorney general’s notice.

Restaurants also must clearly and accurately inform diners why the fee is being charged and must use the fee for the stated purpose. For example, “service fees” must go “fully and directly to service worker,” the consumer notice says, unless other uses are prominently disclosed to diners.

The attorney general’s office says restaurants cannot use “ambiguous or misleading language that fails to fully convey to a diner how a fee will be used.” The example given: restaurants charging a “restaurant recovery fee” but not explaining what the fee will actually help recover.

Restaurants also must “clearly and prominently disclose fees” at the beginning of the ordering process — not spring it on you at the end of the meal. The notice could be provided in bold print on the menu or even communicated verbally by a server.

The attorney general’s office enforces D.C. consumer protection laws and wants to hear from you if you’ve encountered deceptive fees at D.C. restaurants.

You can fill out a complaint form online to share a potential violation with the office. You can also call the office at 202-442-9828 or email

Jack Moore

Jack Moore joined as a digital writer/editor in July 2016. Previous to his current role, he covered federal government management and technology as the news editor at, part of Government Executive Media Group.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up