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Trendy Italian Restaurant Added COVID Surcharges to Customers’ Bills After the Law Had Expired

A regular diner called them out on the erroneous charges

Pedestrians pass by corner restaurant Don Angie in the West Village.
Don Angie in the West Village.
Alex Staniloff/Eater NY
Erika Adams is the editor of Eater Boston.

One of the NYC’s most sought-after Italian restaurants — and recent host to First Lady Jill Biden — Don Angie had been adding a 4 percent COVID-19 recovery surcharge to customers checks for over two months after the city’s emergency allowance expired, according to both the restaurant and a regular diner who spotted the erroneous surcharge on a recent check.

A spokesperson for the Michelin-starred restaurant confirmed to Eater in an email that Don Angie had been adding the surcharge to checks from August 17 to October 24. They say it was an accidental move as they were not aware that the city had ended the mid-pandemic surcharge allowance in August.

The emergency legislation allowing restaurants to apply COVID-19 surcharges to checks was first instated in October 2020, and remained open to use until 90 days after NYC resumed indoor dining at full capacity (which happened in May 2021). Restaurants could charge up to 10 percent on bills under the COVID recovery surcharge, and many have utilized it over the past year. It was meant to offset the extra costs of running a restaurant during the pandemic, including buying sanitary items like gloves, masks, and plastic dividers, while revenue was down due to limited-capacity indoor dining. Any customer could have requested to take off the surcharge if they didn’t want to pay, according to Don Angie.

The West Village restaurant, which is owned by upscale restaurant group Quality Branded, stopped applying the surcharge across the board after a regular customer, Ron Nigro, questioned a $9.72 surcharge on a recent $243 dining bill, according to text exchanges between Nigro and Don Angie staff that Eater has reviewed. A staff member asked how the restaurant could make the mistake up to Nigro, who then asked for a public apology and a donation to charity equalling the amount of money collected from all customers with the surcharge since August 17. “I’m not looking for remuneration or anything,” Nigro says. “It’s just a wrong that has been committed.”

Don Angie has since donated $10,000 to City Harvest, according to the restaurant spokesperson, although “we made a charitable donation as an additional gesture” and “it wasn’t meant to remunerate for the charges,” the spokesperson said in an email. Don Angie is also offering to refund anyone who dined at the restaurant and paid the surcharge after its expiration. Nigro says that the restaurant has not responded to his further requests for a larger charitable donation and a public acknowledgment of the erroneous charges.

“We’re truly sorry for any mistakes we’ve made while navigating the ongoing, nebulous rules and regulations surrounding COVID,” the spokesperson said over email. “This was just that — an unfortunate, honest mistake. Our top priority is to always take great care of our guests, which is why we addressed Mr. Nigro’s concerns immediately and with a solution that owned up to our mistake.” Don Angie declined to comment further on the situation. None of Quality Branded’s other restaurants in NYC, including Midtown’s Quality Bistro and steakhouse Quality Eats, have used the surcharge at all, according to the spokesperson.

“I had no issue in paying it when it was appropriate to pay, as it was helping everyone out in a bad situation,” Nigro says. “But it’s against city regulations at the current time. The playing field should be equal among all.”