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Moral Quandry: I got undercharged (long)

You often read/hear of people getting overcharged, but this time I got undercharged, and my conscience is bugging me.

Today I went to a restaurant that's locally owned, mom & pop kind of place (actually maybe just mom, no pop). I've been here twice before, the first time alone, 2nd time with 2 others, and this time with 6 others. The owner clearly recognized me. Our group got comped dessert on the house (sticky rice in coconut milk, yum!) which was a nice touch. I got the bill: $79.78. I collected $14 from each person since service was really nice (though sparse) and $13 each would have left a tip less than 15%. I added another $2 to make the bill an even $100.

When I got back to work I took out the bill so I could write down a list of what we ate & the prices (I took home the sheets our server used to write down our order, with prices added next to each dish).

Then I noticed there were no prices next to the softdrinks. And then I noticed there was no line for tax. Then I added up all the prices and it came to $90.65, not $79.78. Includng the softdrinks, and including tax it should've been ~$102. So we paid LESS than the total should've been before any tip.

I'm returning next week with a different group and I'm not sure what I should do. I can't inflate the tip next week since I can't expect that group to subsidize today's lunch! Do I slip a $20 to the owner discreetly? Will she be offended? Do I return to the restaurant on Monday, order a drink and pay $20 extra?

How do I know if she made a mistake (I was kind of rushing her to tally our bill), or if she wanted to partially comp us so that we'd return/spread the word etc? (She knew I'm returning next week since I made a reservation when I went up to ask for the bill)

Or do I just shrug it off, feel happy that someone was nice to us, and spread the karma some other way like dropping a $20 into the donation box next time I'm at my local State Park?

I guess I've never had this experience so I'm not sure what to do.

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  1. Call them and tell them of the discrepancy; let them decide how to handle it. They will appreciate your honesty.

    3 Replies
    1. re: OCAnn

      Absolutely the right thing to do.

      1. re: pikawicca

        To make it easier for the Owner to assess what happened, I would send her a copy of the bill with a note. (Restaurant owners cannot always deal with a situation at the time you find it convenient to call--may feel like more of an annoyance than a help.)

      2. re: OCAnn

        I'm "stupidly honest" as one BIL puts it. I would go back in or write A Letter, with a copy of the receipt. Then let them decide. Most of the time, the owner/unit manager laughs and gives it to me. The one time the owner didn't, we got comped big time the next visit. ;) Karmic value.

      3. You may want to also consider that when and if this was noticed, the server may have had to make up the difference. Sadly, lots of places penalize the server for any mistakes. So do give them a call please.

        1. They comped your dessert, you should be at least fair, maybe even generous in making the discrepancy up to them. Do it next time (before you order) and instead of being just "regulars" you'll practically be family.

          1. I don't understand the issue here. If the owner figured up the bill, assume that she knew what she was doing. You are a good repeat customer bringing in new customers. She was saying THANK YOU.

            In my mind, calling attention to it would be embarrassing for all concerned. It would question her competence or force her to verbally explain her non-verbal thanks. If it helps your conscience, give the bucks to the park - god knows, parks need the help.

            And next time, be an even more generous tipper to thank her back.


            2 Replies
            1. re: Phoo D

              Interesting. My impression was that the OP was uncertain whether the total tally was an oversight or intentional. As one who doesn't care to make assumptions, I think a quick call would clarify the situation.

              Would this cause embarrassment to either party? Maybe, maybe not...it's a minor inconvenience for a clear conscience.

              1. re: Phoo D

                We have two asian restaurants that we frequent. Many times, our drinks were comped, or a dish or two. I think this is a little thank you for the business, bringing in customers or a larger group.

              2. Is it possible the number 9 was misread as a 7 and your bill was in fact $99?

                1. I say just bring it up to the manager and more likely than not he/she will shrug off the measly amount of money but be very grateful for your honesty. I once walked out of Dottie's True Blue Cafe in San Francisco, got all the way to work, and realized I had walked out without paying. I went back the next morning, and no one (including the owner) remembered there being $10 missing from the end of the day round up. I am still pretty sure I didn't pay, even though I'm so absent minded I may have paid and just forgotten.

                  Long story short, they thought it was hilarious that I obsessed about it enough to come back, refused to take my money, and insisted that had I not paid the head waiter would have chased me down the street.

                  1. Ok, I went back to the mom & pop place today (couldn't get out of work at a non-lunch-rush time and I don't live near the place).

                    The owner recognized me and I greeted her in my stilted 3rd grade level vietnamese and she greeted me back, correcting my form of addressing her as we chatted for a little bit about where I was born, etc. I took out the itemized (handwritten) bill and the credit card receipt and said I think she undercharged me last time, maybe she forgot to include the last dish we ordered as an add-on, and maybe she forgot to include tax. She said let's see, let's recalculate, and proceeded to add up the dishes using the cash register. Meanwhile I perused the menu. She turned back and said it's correct, $79.

                    Now I suck at math so I had used Excel and it was clearly $90 total, plus tax, plus the softdrinks which had no prices on the bill but had prices on the menu. So I said I added it up and it's around $100. I asked if she included the eel dish (the one we added late in our meal) and she said yes. What about tax? The cash register adds the tax automatically. I was going to ask about the softdrinks when the pop overhears us so he comes over to help. He recalculates it in his head says something to the mom I didn't quite hear and she says "Don't worry" to me in english. He tells me "it's okay" in english then jokes in vietnamese, something like "next time you can overpay!"

                    So I'm flustered and I say Okay! Next time is tomorrow! This reminds the mom that I had wanted to pre-order the menu for tomorrow's lunch so the topic is dropped quickly as I place the order for tomorrow. Then I order my lunch takeout and chat with the owners for a while, thank them and turn to leave. As I start to leave, I see a tip jar on the counter and realize I could've dropped a big tip in the jar. Doh! By the time I realize this, I'm practically at the door. So I kept on going. But it's been eating at my conscience. I'm still guilty about it but now it's clear they shrugged off the difference. I guess I'll try to discretely tip the tip jar tomorrow.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: Alice Patis

                      Does this tip go to the owners--they were the ones shorted...

                      1. re: Alice Patis

                        Thanks for the update, Alice. Your conscientousness is admirable, but I wouldn't stress about it further. You went back and gave them a chance to recalculate and they said it was right, even if "right" may not be mathematically correct. I would hesitate to correct their math or further insist the bill was higher since it may undo a nice gesture or call into question their competence.

                        Having eaten w/ you the next day and seeing the place and owners, I'm sure they appreciate you being so enthusiastic about their food and spreading the word to others. That payment is probably more valuable then 20 bucks...

                        I have a feeling that you double checked the bill real good when we went the next day. :-)

                        1. re: Alice Patis

                          I think it's clear the owners wrote off the difference, perhaps it was an intentional error in the first place? Accept it graciously.

                          I once tried to pay someone online for something he sent me. We had been emailing and he asked me for some advice about how to market his product (non-food). I told me what little I knew and for the next few months tried to get him to invoice me but he never would. I gave up but remained a good customer. This was just his way of saying thank you.

                          1. re: Alice Patis

                            If it's a Karma thing you're worried about, don't fret. You went back and tried to make ammends. By coming back time and again, you continue to re-pay these kind folks. Get it?

                            1. re: Alice Patis

                              Alice - I've read this thread with interest, and I think what you did was admirable. I agree with everyone - bringing people back there to show your friends your appreciation of their excellent food is repayment enough (but throwing something in the tip jar can't hurt!).

                              It's like that (dating myself) very old Herbal Essences commercial - it's so good that you told two friends, and they'll tell two friends, and so on, and so on.....

                            2. My stepfather used to be a restauranteur, and my parents (and I) regularly patronize restaurants owned/operated by his friends. They/we're often comped various food and drink items. Unless items (not just food, but stuff at stores as well) are rung up on computers, some owners also tend not to add tax to transactions with regulars.

                              Maybe the "mom" did grossly undercharge you, but consider it good karma. Just continue to be an awesome customer and leave a great tip next time?

                              1. Yeah and I'd like to add just one minor comment. Soft drinks, for the most part, cost the restaurant next to nothing, esp if they are fountain drinks. I've waitressed in a bunch of restaurants and though management might keep their eye on just about anything we ate or drank, soft drinks were always unlimited and really a non entity. So if they didn't charge you for them (whether intentionally or unintentionally) it's really ok, it's not like they seriously lost any money on you. And the fact that you continue to patronize their business (both on your own and with large groups) I'm sure is more than enough pay-back for them.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: twentyoystahs

                                  That's so true about soft drinks. We used to go some places where one of our friends would just go through gallon fulls of the stuff, and they never seemed to charge her. Try that in a "nice" place where they bring out little glass bottles of Coke on a silver tray for $4 a pop! Ouch!


                                2. This happens to me all the time, I've wondered if it's some kind of new marketing strategy. I'm initially not sure what to do, but if the person is nice I'll tell them. The other day I was charged correctly at a taqueria but the (annoying) chef gave me more than I had ordered... I decided to just take it as I'd been annoyed.

                                  1. At our local sushi place, where we have been once-a-week regulars for about 9 years, the sushi chefs are less than scrupulous about writing down everything we order as we order it. They might fill in the order sheets during the meal, but if they're slammed then they don't do this until we ask for the check. The sushi isn't itemized on the check, it just says "sushi." Items we have ordered from the kitchen are itemized. We've for sure been undercharged on occasion, and once recently it was so obvious that I asked our chef about it and he just waved it off. I'm positive we've been overcharged occasionally too, but I'm figuring it all works out in the long run. I wouldn't feel the same way in a place we didn't patronize all the time, and many times in restaurants of varying degrees of fanciness we have corrected bills where we were undercharged as well as overcharged.