Sudden new fees charged to millions of Americans by Big Tech vendor Toast spark congressional query

Congressional leaders will be demanding answers from a powerful Big Tech titan that is subjecting millions of American diners to surprising new fees — without the consent or control of the restaurant owners who are providing the food service.

The federal reaction comes after a FOX Business exclusive report on Tuesday about the outrage caused by a new fee imposed by Boston-based vendor Toast Inc. 

“We are going full steam ahead with investigating the propriety of their way of doing business,” Rep. Mark Alford, R-Missouri, told FOX Business this week.

Restaurateurs who rely on Toast for point-of-sale services have reported they are losing business as a result of new fees tacked onto customers’ bills. They call the tech company’s apparently unprecedented fees on customers “medieval” and even “unethical.”

“People are incredibly angry and feel incredibly betrayed,” restaurateur Elizabeth Van Wie, whose family owns Zookz Sandwiches in Phoenix, Arizona, told FOX Business.

Rep. Mark Alford (R-Missouri) expressed concerns about a Boston-based Big Tech restaurant point-of-sale vendor after FOX Business reported on the outrage restaurateurs are feeling about Toast’s new fees placed on millions of consumers for online orde (Office of Rep. Mark Alford / Fox News)

Alford, a member of the House Committee on Small Business, brought his concerns to colleagues, including committee chair Roger Williams, R-Texas, after speaking with both constituent restaurateur Matt Wilhelmson and FOX Business this past Monday. 

Toast is a cloud-based third-party point-of-sale vendor used by more than 85,000 restaurants. 

“This is a story that impacts every American.” — Rep. Mark Alford of Missouri

It is exploiting its access to point-of-sale systems to force fees upon customers without the business owners’ consent, then taking the money for itself, Toast clients allege. 

“My contention is that it’s absolutely unethical and illegal. And if it’s not illegal, it should be,” said Wilhelmson, who owns Koehn Bakery in Butler, Missouri.

In this photo illustration, a Toast Inc. logo is seen on a smartphone and a PC screen. (Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images / Getty Images)

House members “want to get some answers as to what’s going on and how Toast operates,” said Alford, adding that the committee is drafting a letter for the vendor expressing its concerns and requesting responses.

“This is a story that impacts every American,” Alford also said.

Van Wie of Phoenix, a longtime Toast customer, said the vendor has been unresponsive to her concerns and outrage.

“It’s like we’re living in a medieval feudal system where Toast can just impose things on us at will. I feel like a complete serf, like I’m being dismissed, like I’m just told what do to and that I just better shut up and take it.”

Matt and Kim Wilhelmson, owners of Koehn Bakery in Butler, Missouri, are furious about new fees being charged to their customers by third-party vendor Toast Inc. “My contention is that it’s absolutely unethical and illegal,” Matt Wilhelmson told Fox (Courtesy Matt Wilhelmson / Fox News)

Toast began unilaterally adding a 99-cent “processing fee” to online orders of $10 or more in various locations around the country earlier this year. 

It rolled out the plan nationally on Monday.

The fee is being charged to consumers — not to the restaurants that are paying Toast for its services.

Toast is then lifting the fee for itself, its clients say — paid for by diners who, in most cases, never heard of Toast. 

“It’s like we’re living in a medieval feudal system where Toast can just impose things on us at will.” — Restaurateur Elizaeth Van Wie

“Toast did us dirty,” fumed one Toast customer on the company’s own client forum.

The 99-cent fee appears as a line item on a diner’s bill, added remotely by Toast. In states with a meals tax, consumers pay taxes on the fee. 

Restaurants must report the added charge as income — even though they say the money is being lifted out of their bank accounts by Toast.

Fee by Toast Inc.

Giuseppe’s Lunch and Catering of Fenton, Missouri is among thousands of restaurants printing out checks for customers with an “Order Processing Fee” added to the bill by point-of-sale vendor Toast Inc. This is taking place without the consent of the (Courtesy Giuseppe’s Lunch and Catering)

Operators allege that the fee is especially harmful to small businesses that rely on high-volume small orders.

The 99-cent fee appears to represent a 10% penalty on the consumer for ordering online a $10 sandwich or pizza. 

Eric Stockmann, owner of Giuseppe’s Lunch and Catering in Fenton, Missouri, said he’s lost 70% of his online orders since Toast began slapping his customers with the extra cost in June.

“We’ve spent a long time encouraging our customers to order online. It’s more efficient in every way,” Stockmann told FOX Business. 

“And now it appears to the customer like we’re penalizing them for ordering online.” 

The fee is levied even on orders placed through a restaurant’s own website, as well as through third-party Toast partners such as Uber or GrubHub. 

Eric Stockmann, owner of Giuseppe’s Lunch and Catering in Fenton, Missouri said he’s lost 70% of his online business since Big Tech point-of-sale vendor Toast Inc. began imposing new fees on customers without his consent. (Courtesy Eric Stockmann / Fox News)

The penalty charged to customers comes in addition to the contractual fee that restaurateurs pay Toast to process online orders, as well as the percentage fee restaurants pay for every credit card transaction processed by the vendor.

The receipt includes a note at the end, added without input from the shop owner: “The Order Processing Fee is set by Toast to help provide affordable digital ordering services for local restaurants.”

Toast Inc. promotion

Toast promised restaurant owners its new Order with Google partnership was a “free integration” to existing services. Instead, the service now has a new fee imposed remotely upon restaurant customers without the business owners’ consent. (Screenshot from Toast Inc. promotion / Fox News)

“’Order Processing Fee’ is a bogus, unethical and a very bad business practice on the part of Toast,” wrote one restaurant client in a post on the vendor’s community forum. 

“How can you punish a customer for ordering from us?? And you are doing it in our name!”

Consumers are blaming eateries for the new charge — feedback that, in turn, is forcing restaurateurs to do damage control as they attempt to please longtime customers or win over new guests with online promotions.

“The fee is buried in taxes and other costs. The customer doesn’t even see it until they come to the restaurant. It looks super shady,” said Van Wie, the Phoenix sandwich shop owner. 

Restaurateur Tony Naser, left, of Massachusetts, is angry about new fees imposed on diners by a Big Tech vendor. Rep. Mark Alford (R-Missouri) vows to take action. “This is a story that impacts every American,” Alford said. (Kerry J. Byrne/Fox News Digital; Office of Rep. Mark Alford / Fox News)

“Toast has clearly demonstrated that they’re not interested in partnering with us, that they don’t care if we lose the customers we already have.” 

She said restaurateurs around the nation are meeting online to consider a “mass exodus” from Toast. 

“Business owners say switching point-of-sale vendors represents a significant investment of time and money.”

But business owners say switching point-of-sale vendors represents a significant investment of time and money and can be especially burdensome on small operators. 

Toast began testing its new 99-cent fee on restaurant customers in various locations around the country after partnering with Google in February. 

Pizza shop owner Tony Naser of Crush Pizza in Quincy, Massachusetts, is furious over a new fee for online orders being billed his customers, without his consent, he said, by point-of-sale vendor Toast Inc. “People are freaking out. Business owners ar (Kerry J. Byrne/Fox News Digital / Fox News)

“We are thrilled to collaborate with Google to help Toast customers maximize their online presence and take control of their ordering channels,” Aman Narang, COO and co-founder of Toast, said in a statement at the time.

Toast rolled out the feature nationwide on Monday. In promotional materials sent to its client restaurateurs, it said the new “Order with Google” feature was a “free integration.”

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Toast now says the new fees on customers are for the good of all involved, adding that it’s using the money to fund its own research and development.

“This change helps fund product investments, [including] continued innovation in support of helping restaurants maintain the direct relationship with their guests.” — Toast to FOX Business

“To help fund ongoing innovation in restaurant technology, we are updating our pricing model to add a nominal $0.99 fee (this is not a surcharge) paid by guests on orders $10 and over on Toast online ordering channels,” Toast said in a statement this week provided to FOX Business.

“This change helps fund product investments, such as those highlighted above, and continued innovation in support of helping restaurants maintain the direct relationship with their guests.”

Toast, a publicly traded company (TOST), suffered a net loss of $275 million in 2022, according to its SEC filings. It is on pace to fare worse in 2023, with an $81-million loss in the first quarter.

However, Toast’s stock price has surged 30% since February 28. 

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