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Server Makes a Mistake - In Your Favor

Please help settle a debate/argument.

You and several other folks go out for dinner at a local, family-run place. You order cocktails, a bottle of wine, apps., mains, and a couple of desserts. Food is mediocre (in fact, you don't bother having any of the left-overs boxed to take home - and you ALWAYS take home left-overs). Service is pretty bad (in terms of botched orders, kitchen not producing all of the mains at the same time, server disappearing for long periods of time, water glasses never refilled) but it's not the worse you've had. Still, by the end of the meal you know that you'll not be returning.

And then you get the bill. What's this? It's suspiciously ... lower than expected. You start to scrutinize it and discover that your server has either decided to (unannounced) comp. you the cocktails AND bottle of wine or (more likely, especially given that the wine was listed at about the same price as the four mains combined) forgotten to include them on the tab.

Some at the table argue in favor of letting the server know about their oversight and asking for an adjusted bill. Others argue in favor of paying, leaving a decent 25% - 30% tip as a "thank you for the oops," and hightailing it out the door.

What do you do?

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  1. I would definitely tell the server....unless the server says that he/she comped you, it's unlikely (especially based on the description you gave) that he/she did. In which case, you are basically stealing from the restaurant. Technically not your fault, but the blame might get placed on the server or whoever made the mistake. If it was less than a 10 dollar difference, maybe it wouldn't be as big a deal. But any more than that is definitely not okay.

    Comparable situation: You go to clothing store and see a great outfit and see that the pricetag, which is stuck to the shelf, says 200 dollars. When you go to buy it, the checkout person (who seems inexperienced) only charges you 100. Would you just pay 100 and run out of the store, even though you *know* it should be 200? Hopefully not.

    Dave MP

    1. Likewise, if you go someplace and they give you too much change when you pay. Do you keep it or fess up. Hands down I give it back. It's kind of a karma thing to me. The amount of money gained by the error is not going to change my life so why keep it and potentially cause that server or store clerk problems when they come up short at the end of the shift.

      1. If they charged you for an extra bottle of wine, would you tell them, or just pay it?
        The honest thing to do is to tell the server and pay the correct bill.

        1. Tell, tell, tell. Karma, Karma, Karma!

          1. This will probably get me in trouble but I would tell about the missing items on the bill (becuase if they are not being comped you are taking money out of the resturants pocket that they didn't know about) but I would tip her on the amount she orginally presented. Since the service was generally bad anyway and she made the error on the bill, I think that is what I would do. I am sure that many would think that meanspirited and I had a similar experience many years ago with a handwritten bill. I left a cash tip on the table based on the total and when I got to the register I found they asked for more than the presented total becuse our server did not add the bill correctly. I did not go back and add to her tip either.

            1. Tell them. Especially since it's family - owned.
              Tip based upon your experience, for better or worse, not on what they let you "steal".
              The only time I'd consider keeping silent would be if it had been so outrageously bad that I was considering demanding to be comped on something. This does not appear to have been your situation. This happened once to me, and I let it go.

              1. Seems to me to be a simple basic moral values/ethics question. While I wouldn't say that the same thought would NOT cross my mind, I would have to be REALLY angry about the meal to not say anything. The error is symptomatic of the rest of the service, and you likely deserve some level of 'compensation' for the poor treatment, but I couldn't get comfortable with stiffing the place. I think I would speak with the owner or manager and describe the entire situation, making a point of how you could easily have stiffed them. Any business owner worth a lick would be very appreciative of the feedback.

                If nothing else, the way they dealt with this, once aware of it, would tell you whether this place deserves any further considertion at all.

                1. I'm not understanding why the quality of the food and service makes a difference in what should be done, unless it's to point out that the diners will never go back anyway.

                  But I'm still not sure how that would justify not speaking up.

                  1. Have we forgotten - thou shalt not steal. And another oldie-but-goodie - treat others as you would like to be treated.

                    1. Thank you, all of you, for your responses. I was really shocked when two of my dining companions were so strongly insistent that nothing should be said - they seemed to feel that there was nothing wrong with just paying the total and leaving - they acted like kids trying to get away with something. It was disconcerting, to say the least.

                      Thankfully, the bill came to me and I was able to flag down the server (that was part of the issue - they left the bill and disappeared again, giving us plenty of time to discuss what to do) and get the total adjusted. Sad thing: when it was adjusted, the server managed to take off two of the entrees - at that point I decided that the new "total" was right and paid that amount (and left a 20% tip, 'cause I can't imagine tipping under that).

                      I felt like not saying anything was nothing more than stealing. It was upsetting that the "what to do" conversation carried over to the drive home - the only thing that I could see to do was to have the bill corrected, I was shocked that people that I otherwise thought as being morally and ethically upstanding would be so adamant about being quiet - it was like they felt entitled to the "freebies" because of the other disappointments with the meal.

                      And yes, it is (at least partially) a karma kinda thing for me - do right and the world'll be a better place.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: ElsieDee

                        I would have done the same thing. Tried to fix it the first time. Left it alone the second time.

                      2. A customer told me that sodas were left off his bill last time he ate at my restaurant and as a friend of his paid for the meal and didn't mention it until they had left the restaurant it was too late for him to make good that day.

                        He offered to pay for them but I declined and thanked him for his honesty. It was something I took up with my servers at the next staff meeting and will continue to remind them to add everything they sell to guests immediately. It affects me as well as their tips.

                        1. You did the right thing, I think that's what my life is based on.

                          What's the question, the waiter makes a mistake and you ding the owner and tip the incompetence? Am I missing something.

                          You bring the waiter over, show the mistake, get the right bill and leave the tip based on the service provided, which in this case will probably be negligible.

                          Before I go to sleep I brush my teeth and lookin the mirror. That's when youknow you did the right thing.

                          1. That discussions like this even take place make me depressed and I fear for the future of the Republic. Restaurant bills are one of the few places in life that are black and white----it's numbers. You always pay for what you order. If you are overcharged, you have it corrected, If undercharnged, ditto. The issue of how much to tip is unrelated to the issue of being honorable and getting a correct bill.

                            1. This reminds me of my favourite dining moment. There were quite a few of us out for dinner together at a pretty shmancy restaurant. One of my cousins decided to pick up the tab - a very generous and unexpected gesture. It turns out that, in doing the addition on the credit card slip, my cousin made a substantial error in the restaurant's favour. The waiter noticed the mistake and pointed it out to him - at which point he left the total as it was, but added the difference to the waiter's tip. We were all very impressed.

                              1. I have no idea if this is what happened or what, but consider that the server may have intentionally left stuff off the bill in the hope that you would bridge the gap in your tip. It's a win-win for you and server, but a loss for the house. It happens...

                                1. Tell the server as it is the right thing to do - what comes around goes around.

                                  1. I would tell the server. I was on a first date recently and the server forgot to include the bottle of wine. I was so impressed that my date was honest and had the integrity to tell the server.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: financialdistrictresident

                                      I'm not a big believer in Karma. I prefer morality. I hope the reason people do the right things are because that's what makes a civil society. I guess the thought that bad will come back on you is better than nothing.
                                      Being so impressed that your date was honest, as you should be, almost expresses surprise. Too bad we've come to that.

                                    2. reminds me of a time when I bought 2 coffees in a little bakery in London and gave them 10 pounds. They gave me change and I put it in my back pocket without checking. When I got home I realised they had given me change for 20 pounds.

                                      The next day I went down to the bakery and told them they had given me too much change and gave them back the extra 10. They were thrilled to bits and gave me some bread which I didnt really want but ..

                                      later that week I won 10 pounds on the lottery, and then the following week I won another 10. Karma huh?

                                      1. As much as I would like to think that I would do the 'right thing', I'm not sure I would. In all honesty, tho, given this set of circumstances, I'm probably not in a good mood (poor service, underwhelming food), and I'm likely to think of this as bad karma for the server/restaurant. I'm not particularly proud of my answer, but I have to admit that the thought would cross my mind.

                                        1. I alway tell the server. A few times in the last year, I've actually been presented with checks for other tables which I knew where cheaper than our bill would/should have been.

                                          I definitely thought about paying the check for the wrong table, especially in one instance where the service and food was terrible, but I just couldn't do it and told the server and got the correct check. Karma, morals, whatver you want to call it, I just couldnt do it. Not to mention, I didn't want the server, no matter how bad they were, to potentially have to pay the difference due to the error (although I'm not sure if they would have to).