Could NYC restaurants charge an administrative fee?

The restaurant business is a tough one, especially in New York City, where everything from rent to labor costs more, and owners struggle to maintain talent in the kitchen.

"The restaurant industry is experiencing a cook shortage of epic proportions," said James Mallios, managing partner at Amali on East 60th Street.

Mallios is among the city restaurateurs pushing for the right to charge diners an administrative fee that he says would better compensate cooks and other back-of-the-house staff. Right now those fees are prohibited by the Department of Consumer Affairs.

"Cooks and people who work in the kitchen would be able to have a greater salary or compensation parity with servers and bartenders and runners who work in front of house," Mallios said.

Last year a number of restaurants did away with tipping altogether, instead raising menu prices to offset higher wages. But many establishments are leery of scaring diners away with higher prices and would prefer the option of a clearly disclosed fee, said Andrew Rigie, the executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance.

"Some restaurants want to add a 3 percent administrative fee, for example, and customers would still tip," Rigie said. "Others want to eliminate tipping and add an approximate 20 percent administrative fee. It really comes down to what works for different businesses."

The Hospitality Alliance is pushing for the Consumer Affairs Department to amend its rules, but City Hall may not be on board.

While the mayor's office did not immediately return a call to Fox 5, a City Hall spokesperson told Crain's New York Business: "We have yet to hear how this fee on consumers would find its way to the employees working in the back of the house."

If the rule is changed it would ultimately be up to diners to vote with their feet.

"Depending on the restaurant, if it's my favorite I don't think I'd mind if they did that," Nadine Jackson said of administrative fees.

"Having it the on menu or somewhere it's visible, you know, upfront, I think that that makes me comfortable," said diner Clarissa Blackwood. "If it's a turnoff, it's a turnoff. If it's a one drink and leave then it's a one drink and leave."