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"Sharing Fee" Told Afterwards

Tonight, DH, DD, and I went out to dinner in a nice Italian restaurant in a hotel (but no associated with the hotel). DD is 9. I'm trying to lose weight but wanted to enjoy a nice meal without overeating, and you know how restaurant meals are large enough for 2-3 diners, right? Well, we ordered two regular entrees and 1 iced tea; this is what we normally do no matter where we are - we share with DD so that we don't overeat (cuz I can eat my meal AND some). We don't drink alcohol and again, in keeping with trying to lose weight, didn't want added calories from ordering soda, hence iced tea, which my DH doesn't drink. Our waiter was efficient but was not especially friendly (not surly, but used no more words than he had to). The food was great; my pasta had about 50 small tortellinis (as an example of the large entrees).

At the end of the meal, I hand him my Entertainment card - for those who are groaning, let me just say that we always tip on the full amount and then some. He takes the card and says, "there's a $6 sharing fee." While he was gone to get our check, DH and I discussed this "sharing fee," so when he came back, I asked if this was disclosed on the menu. He said, "It's not, but it is our policy. For pasta, we charge $6 and for steaks, we charge $10. There's nothing I can do about it." I replied, "It would have been good to know ahead of time because we could have ordered her something instead." He said, "oh" and did look surprised as if he hadn't thought of that. BTW, a grill cheese (yes, Italian!) was $8. Oh, and he didn't split the order - he gave us an extra plate (that cost $6 to wash, I guess).

We tipped our normal, based on the total AFTER deducting out the fee. We thought about not leaving as much for tip, but my daughter said, "no... we asked for more bread two times!" And in case it matters, we were there for no more than 1 hour, and there was no other diners waiting for a table.

What are your thoughts on what, if anything, I should have/could have done about this fee? We're not going back. My DH is a little upset... he told me to remember to post on Chowhounds! He thinks the waiter added it after seeing the Entertainment card (possible, since he said it right after he took my card); I thought he might have forgotten to say anything when I said my DD wasn't ordering anything. Thanks for your feedback.

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  1. As someone who have worked in the industry before, I can understand why the waiter had formed certain opinions of your party, especially if you were sharing with a 9 yr old and asked for bread twice. May be the sharing fee is at the discretion of the wait staff and he exercises this whenever he sees fit, granted that this fee should be been more prominently advertised. Incidentally, we almost always ordered an appertizer seperately for our 3 yrs old. Often, an appertizer is less than or same as the sharing fee. I supposed that you could have spoken up to the management about the sharing fee and they may or may not take it off for you, but either way, you are not going back there any way, right?

    6 Replies
    1. re: stjamesb1

      As a long term industry worker myself, I too, can understand why the waiter formed certain opinions of the party, but that does not excuse the behavior. Either you do have a sharing fee or you do not have a sharing fee. If you do, it should either be on the menu, verbally given as needed, or ideally, both. Otherwise, it's just plain sneaky. I don't care who the customers are, or what warning signs were raised. You can't have policies that are at the servers discretion. Especially ones that are not stated. One thing I have learned is that people will always surprise you. You have no way of knowing how they will treat you in the end, unless you treat them right in the beginning.

      Frankly, I think you should have definitely brought it up with management. If the server had simply forgotten to mention it when you ordered, he would not have conveniently remembered when you gave your entertainment card. Maybe, he just had a hard time telling you about the policy. Maybe he hates it, but knew that he had to tell you sometime, but the fact is, if it is a policy, you should have been warned at least when you ordered.

      1. re: hilltowner

        What does the waiter's forming an opinion about the customer have to
        do with whether the restaurant tries to exact an otherwise undisclosed
        sharing fee?

        1. re: taco_belle

          First of all I need to say that the rest/server in question was in the wrong. All fees and charges need to be disclosed prior to the customer ordering.

          As far as opinion forming and Entertainment book coupons/cards -

          The intent behind a restaurant agreeing to being included in the book is to gain exposure and attract new customers. A secondary goal is to assist the community in that much of the funds raised through sales of these books go to worthy causes such as school activities. I did that with my rest. The first and second year that I participated saw many new customers come in, some of which became regulars.
          The third year I began noticing a new class of diner showing up, the "coupon diner". The coupon diner does not eat out unless they have a coupon/card. The coupon diner NEVER orders anything other than what is covered on the coupon - no drinks, no appetizer, no extra of any kind unless it is free. The coupon diner invariably leaves no or little tip, regardless of the service they receive. The coupon diner trades coupons they do not use with other book holders to get more coupons for places they like. The coupon diner rarely introduces others to the rest. All in all a very losing proposition for the restaurant owner and servers.
          This class of diner became so prevalent that I completely withdrew from all coupon programs and turned to other methods to help support local schools, clubs, and organizations.

          Before any flames start - This does not justify bad treatment or lower service. It does not justify hidden fees and policies. NOT ALL coupon users are "coupon diners". But it does explain why sometimes an opinion is formed.

          1. re: hannaone

            That's really interesting that you saw a pattern of the Entertainment book users. Hmmm, maybe in the beginning, it was more the charity-minded (specifically those with more money) folks who knew about the book, and then later it was found out by more the bargain hunters. Anyway, yes, I agree... I do understand why coupon users aren't always looked upon favorably... I guess deep inside, I just wished it didn't happen.

            I've bought the book for many years... maybe 20? Just seems like a really long time. Especially when I just starting working and then immediately bought a house (great idea thinking back, but at the time... there were many times when we only had money for mortgage and gas and sometimes had to go back to our parents' houses for rations!), my husband or another friend and I would use the card/coupon just as you mentioned (two of the cheapest entrees, water only), but we always tipped accordingly (OK, maybe the first year I only tipped on the actual bill and didn't add back in the deducted meal because I didn't know better, but I did quickly after reading it on the coupon/book). Now we order however we feel like, which sometimes just ends up the old way.

            By the way, the other day we went to Peter's Cafe in Millbrae and asked for a plate for my DD just in case she wanted to eat (she had already had dinner earlier). The server smiled and said, "of course." My DH tipped a couple dollars more just because of that! :-) We always get good consistent efficient service there.

            1. re: boltnut55

              It wasn't just the entertainment book users, and not every user was the type of diner I described. We participated in several school and charity coupon books also. The "coupon diners" would collect coupons from everyone they knew whether they themselves bought the book or not. I even had one party try to present three different coupons from different offers, as well as the E book coupon. They were extremely upset when I told them I could accept only one coupon.
              I always gave everyone the same service regardless. I just wanted to explain in my earlier post why some people do form an opinion.

      2. re: stjamesb1

        restaurant veteran here too. surcharges are not at the *discretion* of the waitstaff. either it's house policy or it's not. if i were his manager, i would have fired him.

        to the op:
        i would definitely have asked to see a manager, explained the situation and if not offered to have it removed from the bill, refused to pay the sharing fee.

        tell your friends. and don't go back. bad word-of-mouth can kill a place. most times, deservedly so.

      3. If it wasn't printed on the menu or posted somewhere, and especially if it wasn't printed _and_the server didn't say anything when you ordered, I'd have definitely said something to the manager about it. Policies that aren't posted aren't actual policies that customers can work with.

        I agree about not going back, it sounds like a sketchy sort of thing. And a $10 "sharing" fee for a steak is absurd regardless.

        1 Reply
        1. re: ccbweb

          How about the name of this particular restaurant so other's don't get caught in the same trap? My husband and I use Entertainment cards when we can, but I have always shown it when the server first comes to the table. I used one to take my Mom out to lunch one day and the waitress spieled off a bunch of menu items that weren't included. When I pointed out to her the coupon clearly stated the items were included she checked with her manager and when she returned and told us it's their policy, so we ordered accordingly. I always show any gift cards/coupons before we order. Saves potential hassels and misunderstandings later. As far as the sharing fee goes, that's ridiculous. My husband and I share appetizers all the time and we've never been charged a sharing fee. If it wasn't clearly noted on the menu I'd have protested.

        2. Fees *must* be disclosed up front so that you can plan your meal accordingly. It should at least have been printed on the menu but ideally also disclosed by the server. You cannot be held responsible for additional charges you are not made aware of.

          You had/have every right to address this w/ mgmt.

          Assuming you resolve the fee issue satisfactorily (and I don't think it is too late) why wouldn't you go back (as you indicated that you enjoyed the food)?

          2 Replies
          1. re: HDinCentralME

            "Fees *must* be disclosed up front so that you can plan your meal accordingly. It should at least have been printed on the menu but ideally also disclosed by the server. You cannot be held responsible for additional charges you are not made aware of."
            ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
            I completely agree with this. They cannot tack on a fee without having previously disclosed it to you - restaurant policy or not. When the three of you were sitting there and you only ordered 2 entrees, the waiter should have immediately understood that you were sharing - and disclosed the sharing fee *at that time* -- NOT when you paid the bill. The fact that their "policy" is not even on their menu, as stated by the waiter, makes this very suspect. How can they charge you for something they haven't told you about ahead of time?

            A call to the restaurant management, even a day after the fact, should resolve it.

            1. re: LindaWhit

              Agree completely with the above. I would have demanded to see the manager, and have said "I don't care what your 'policy' is. It's not on the menu nor was it told to us. We're not paying it."

              And yes, I would've taken some out of the tip.

              I'm confused as to why you don't say what place this is.

          2. I wouldn't have paid it.

            You can't be charged for something you didn't have a chance to agree to. If it were on the menu and you missed it, that is one thing. If its not there, they have no business charging it. Especially if they didn't plate it as two smaller entrees.

            The "nothing I can do about it" is a load of hooey. Restaurants have great discretion in what they charge for and what they comp. If he had to talk to a floor manager to do it, that is easy to do.

            Next thing you know they will try and charge you for taking a bite of someone else's dish.

            1. I don't think the fee should just not be counted in computing the tip - I think it should be deducted from the tip.