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Sports Reporter’s Ignorant Tweet About Restaurant Business Gets Swiftly Roasted

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Darren Rovell, formerly of ESPN/CNN, complains about Arami’s 2-percent health insurance surcharge on his $94.29 meal

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A sushi restaurant’s dining room.
Darren Rovell on Tuesday ate at Chicago’s Arami in West Town.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago
Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

Former ESPN and CNN sports business reporter Darren Rovell dined at one of Chicago’s best sushi restaurants Tuesday night when he visited Arami in West Town. Rovell, who doesn’t always endear himself to his audience, posted his receipt for his meal and proceeded to complain about Arami’s optional 2-percent surcharge that pays for health insurance coverage for its employees. The fee amounted to $1.69 on Rovell’s $94.29 dinner for one.

Rovell tweeted: “The food was good tonight, so I don’t mind paying for the health insurance for the guy who made my sushi. Wait, what.”

Collision 2019 - Day Two
Darren Rovell doesn’t know much about restaurants.
Photo By Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images

He discovered the optional surcharge on his receipt and wrote that he’d never seen the practice. Apparently, the 2000 Northwestern University grad wasn’t used to paying for health insurance as a student while dining at old Evanston restaurants like Dave’s Italian Kitchen and Davis Street Fish Market.

Twitter quickly exploded with glee with posts dunking Rovell’s reluctance to pay the fee. Rovell attempted to reason with respondents, posting that he didn’t mind paying for health care. He took issue with it being broken down on the receipt as a separate line item. In a follow-up tweet, Rovell asked “I have no problem with the health insurance. It’s the line item. Is there a line item for electricity?”

Followers didn’t buy the backtracking. More and more restaurants are working on finding ways to provide health care for their employees — it’s better than turning to online fundraising. Restaurant owners find it challenging to get an insurance plan to cover small businesses. It’s much easier for bigger companies — such as ESPN, CNN, or the Action Network (where Rovell currently works) — to find insurance companies willing to work with them.

Rovell often tweets about stadium food, so he’s not a complete stranger to the industry. Nevertheless, here are some of the best reactions to Rovell’s tweet:

Rovell would have been wise to attend last week’s Eater Talks panel discussion at the Ace Hotel. The conversation centered on the economic pressures restaurants face. Chicago is an extremely competitive restaurant market. Panelist Kevin Boehm, of James Beard Award-winning Boka Restaurant Group, said that Chicago diners should expect to see more restaurants use surcharges on their receipts.

If restaurant owners raised prices to pay for health care without explanation, as Rovell suggested, diners — especially at a neighborhood restaurant like Arami — have the option to take their business to another sushi restaurant; there’s plenty in West Town. The playing field isn’t even. That’s the logic Illinois Restaurant Association President & CEO Sam Toia applied when talking about the proposal to eliminate the city’s tip credit. That’s a policy which would require restaurants to pay servers the minimum wage while not counting their tips toward the $13-per-hour minimum in Chicago.

Arami owner Ty Fujimura is an expert at running restaurants. He owns Michelin-starred Entente in River North and SmallBar in Logan Square. Fujimura said he instituted the surcharge last month at Arami. It’s a practice popular Chicago restaurants including Bixi Beer, Daisies, and Giant employ. It’s also something diners in markets like San Francisco and New York see on a more regular basis. Fat Rice, which features food from Beard-winning chef Abe Conlon has a 4-percent surcharge in place in Logan Square.

While Fujimura wouldn’t comment on Rovell’s attempt to equate electricity to health care, he did share a few thoughts.

“We are constantly trying to provide the best quality of life for all we work with,” Fujimura wrote to Eater Chicago. “Offering health benefits for our staff is certainly the right thing to do. However, it is quite an expensive investment. So we ask diners to invest alongside us. The support is amazing.”

Restaurant owners, including Fujimura, have said some customers ask their servers about the surcharges after getting their checks. When offered an explanation, most customers are satisfied. They’re happy to help a restaurant retain its workers through supporting benefits. They’d rather pay a little more than see their favorite restaurant close. Most of Rovell’s Twitter followers seem to understand that, but the sports business reporter does not.


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