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Despite Full Reopening Coming Up, COVID-19 Surcharges Not Going Anywhere At Many Chicago Businesses

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Because the coronavirus numbers are looking so good, Chicago returns to a "full normal" this Friday.

But we've learned that the COVID-19 surcharges we have been paying lately may be here to stay.

As CBS 2's Chris Tye reported Tuesday, the surcharges that began as a way to help industries hobbled by COVID – so as to make up for revenue shortages and new out-of-pocket costs for cleaning. Those costs are not going to disappear come this weekend, and thus, the surchargers aren't either.

It really came about just about exactly a year ago - just about the time restaurants and salons reopened with restrictions amid falling COVID-19 infection rates.

New lines popped up on receipts – COVID-19 surcharges ranging from 4 percent to 26 percent around Chicago. It was a way to make up for limited capacity and new cleaning costs.

"It feels like a punishment when you see that line," said Ted Rossman, a senior industry analyst with "It's almost like, hey, what, are you going start charging me for the air conditioning, or if I go to the bathroom?"

Rossman said in New York, the charges have to disappear from receipts within 90 days of capacity limits going away. But not so in Chicago.

CBS 2 checked with the city's Business Affairs and Consumer Protection office. It turns out that businesses can keep those charges on as long as two rules are followed – one, the price increase must be disclosed prior to purchase, and two, businesses cannot claim that this surcharge is a tax.

At Harold's Chicken on Broadway in Lakeview, the surcharge dropped from a whopping 26 percent to 17 percent. They make it clear upon entry and they do not label it a tax – so they are inside the rules.

Managers also made it clear there is no plans to drop it even as the city is about to reopen.

One Yelp reviewer was not pleased, writing, "It's such a shame this place would do this," and, "You truly did lose a local customer forever today."

Another loser may be the staff at places keeping the surcharge in place.

"That can cut into the servers' wages, because lot of times, people see something like that, and they either think it's a tip - so they don't need to leave a tip - or they're mad about it, and they're like, 'Well, if you're going to gouge me like that, I'm not going to leave a tip," Rossman said.

While some eateries and service-oriented businesses may choose to get rid of the surcharge - or already have - Harold's manager said they are keeping their surcharge to make up for salaries and a jump in food prices.

One question that may arise is why these businesses don't just raise their prices to make up for salaries and food costs? Rossman said that is actually probably the best approach – customers do not like to feel nickel-and-dimed with line items. The airline and credit card industries are prime examples.

But for those raising prices and keeping the surcharge, it might be the easiest way for loyal customers to shop around.

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