How carefully do you examine the check when dining out?

Maybe it’s time to start taking a closer look.

When a company accepts credit and debit cards, they pay a percentage fee to the card processor, usually between 1.5% and 3.5%. In the wake of rising inflation and ongoing supply chain issues, more businesses, including restaurants, are passing credit card charges on to consumers.

It’s perfectly legal, but a bill a lawmaker plans to introduce Monday would ensure consumers are informed of the fees before making a purchase, NJ Advance Media has learned. It will also prohibit companies from charging consumers more fees than they pay to the credit card processor.

The bill would require notification from all merchants, but it specifically targets restaurants, saying the notification must be “in the customer entrance area or on a printed menu.”

While businesses can pass the costs on to consumers, consumers have the right to know the terms of a sale before the transaction is made, said Assembly Deputy Speaker Paul Moriarty, D-Gloucester, sponsor of the bill. law.

“A person dining in a restaurant should be made aware of the extra credit before ordering a meal,” he said. “A reasonable consumer may choose to dine elsewhere or stop at an ATM rather than pay the extra charge.”

Under current law, New Jersey merchants are not prohibited from imposing reasonable surcharges to recover credit card charges, the Consumer Affairs Division said.

But in recent months, restaurant customers have complained about charges appearing on checks without prior notification. It may be easy for a clothing retailer to post a notice of charges next to the register, but in a restaurant, if the charges are not displayed on a menu or with clear signage, customers can order and eat their meals. before knowing the fees. . By the time they see it on an invoice, unless they have brought cash with them, there is little other choice.

Violations would fall under the Consumer Fraud Act and carry a maximum fine of $10,000 for a first offense and no more than $20,000 for any subsequent offenses, the bill says.

The New Jersey Business and Industry Association says it has seen anecdotal evidence that more companies are tackling fees as they deal with inflation eating away at their margins.

“There are only a limited number of additional costs an institution can absorb and remain solvent at the same time,” spokesman Bob Considine said.

He cited a restaurant with a limited number of tables that does most of its business during the summer. He faces more than $150,000 a year in fees for credit card transactions, Considine said.

“We had a member who applied these surtaxes to consumers and consumers didn’t respond positively to it,” he said. “In this case, and others, that credit card charge is just rolled into the cost of the menu item.”

Consumers who believe a company is not following the law can file a complaint online with Consumer Affairs on its website or by calling (800) 242-5846.

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Karin Price Mueller can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @KPMueller.