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Jun 9, 2007 05:47 PM

Unrequested Bottled Water Refills?

We were at La Ciccia in SF last night and had a really delightful meal. However, about halfway through the meal, once we'd started in on wine, the busboy just showed up with a second bottle of S. Pellegrino and refilled our glasses. We didn't even realize it until he walked away. We were pretty much done with the water at that point, so it just proved to be an uncomfortable interruption. DH and I just sat and stared at it for the rest of the meal. When the bill came, there it was - an extra $6.00 charge that we didn't approve.
We decided not to order dessert at that point. My question is, is there anyone who thinks this is a good practice? Under what circumstances would this be OK?
We left the restaurant having a bad feeling about an otherwise fantastic meal.

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  1. Giving the restaurant the benefit of the doubt, one might say they were just trying to keep your water glasses full, something which a lot of people on this board complain about restaurants not doing. However, I agree with you that they should not bring something to the table that they are going to charge you for unless you order it. It is uncomfortable when the old "second bottle of water" trick is pulled on you, and it does, as in your case, leave a bad taste in your mouth (pun totally intended). They should not have brought it without asking if you wanted it.

    1. It is not good practice. Why didn't you say something? It's like when the server keeps on pouring wine in your glass when it's not empty or when you don't want him to. I don't drink, but my SO has no problems putting his hand over his wineglass, and, with a smile and in a nice tone, say, "Thank you, but I'll take care of the pouring."

      1 Reply
      1. re: gloriousfood

        The rough part with that is management NEVER likes to see a guest pouring anything for themself. But in special cases...

      2. I agree with the posters upthread. Glasses should not have been refilled from a new bottle that you have not ordered. But I have to say, this has never happened to me in any restaurant I have eaten in here or abroad.

        13 Replies
        1. re: Gio

          Happens all the time in NY and is something that I keep an eye out for. On occasion, I've been at restaurants where one bottle of Pellegrino will fill four glasses. Even on an expense account dinner, I keep an eye out for unrequested refills. Much better to ask me if I want another bottle of water.

          1. re: MMRuth

            HMMMMM..... perhaps I wasn't paying attention. I'll keep an eye out from now on too.

            1. re: MMRuth

              That's the other thing - they were using 750 mil bottles and not 1 liter bottles, so the one bottle barely filled both of our quite large water glasses. We would have said something, but we didn't notice until the bus boy had walked away, and at that point, we just didn't want to make it any more uncomfortable by bringing it up with our (very busy) server. I know we should have said something, but my entire point is that we shouldn't have had an issue to begin with.

              1. re: foodiegrl

                Why would you be uncomfortable about bringing it up with your "(very busy) server"? You were their very paying customer. You were served something you did not order, not given the opportunity to correct the situation, and then charged for it.

                By preying on people's embarrassment at "making a scene", or "offending" someone, unscrupulous restaurants such as this one are able to steal from their customers.

                Indeed you shouldn't have had an issue to begin with. But they caused an issue and preyed on your likely reticence to make things right. You left with a bad feeling anyway. How would asking them to remove the offending item from your bill make it worse? They should have comped you desserts to make up for your catching them :-)

                1. re: embee

                  I have to pipe in here to say that I eat regularly at La Ciccia, and it is as far from unscrupulous as any restaurant I know. If the owners knew you left with a bad taste in your mouth, they'd be very upset! This sounds more like a poorly trained, thoughtless busboy, and you most definitely should have brought it to the attention of the manager/owners! Indeed, you should have said something to the busboy as soon as you realized what was happening. I am confident that they would have taken it off the bill immediately. Indeed, it wouldn't have surprised me if they would have brought you comp'd something or the other...

                  I never order bottled water there, btw, ALWAYS only tap (after all, in San Francisco the water is good, IMO, so really I rarely order bottled water anywhere) , and have never felt anything less than very welcomed with extremely gracious service.

                  For those who don't know the restaurant, FWIW, it is mid-range, perhaps even lower end of mid-range for San Francisco, not a high end place....and a very good value for the quality of the food.)

                  1. re: susancinsf

                    It certainly would have been appropriate for the OP to bring the gaff to the attention of the server or the manager, if she felt comfortable doing it, but IT WAS NOT HER DUTY TO DO SO. Some people feel uncomfortable calling a problem to the attention of a restaurant for many reasons, not the least of which is the sometimes negative response that is received. This thread would, in my opinion, be best spent on how to avoid such a situation (and some have offered some positive suggestions), and not on criticism of the wronged party.

                    1. re: ddavis

                      "How best to avoid such a situation": speak up! Not only are you helping yourself, but you just might make the restaurant think twice before it does this the next time to others. Janetofreno sums it up the best below.

                      1. re: ddavis

                        I didn't mean to imply that it was her duty to do so (and don't think I did, actually). However, I DO think it is a true shame that the OP would leave a restaurant as wonderful as La Ciccia (one of my very favorite places) with a bad taste in her mouth, when if she had said something, I am sure it would have been rectified.

                        As to how to avoid it in the first place: OP said herself she didn't notice till the water was poured. So how could she avoid it?. So, I guess under those circumstances, the only way to avoid it in the first place would be not to order bottled water. As I mentioned in my original post, that would certainly be a viable option at that particular restaurant.

                      2. re: susancinsf

                        I don't live in SF and do not know the restaurant at all. My comments were directed at restaurant customers in general and, on reflection, I probably should have omitted the phrase "such as this one".

                        That said, you do seem to agree with my point that the customer should have said something. MOST of the people I know will accept egregious actions and failures in restaurants rather than appearing "unseemly".

                        I have been victimized by bottled water scams, in many cities, far more frequently than can be attributed to server/busser error. It is not the norm, but it shouldn't ever happen. It's usually just one bottle, but it's pretty shocking to see a $24 charge for water (which has happened) on a tab when bottled water wasn't ever ordered.

                        1. re: embee

                          I am intrigued by the statement "MOST of the people I know will accept egregious actions and failures in restaurants rather than appearing 'unseemly'"

                          Even if it is not the nature of the restuarant to cheat customers (and that's what it is) by bringing unsolicited bottles, it is entirely possible that the busboy had previously worked in restaurants where that is the norm..and he thinks its expected of him by management......and the only way the owners/management will know about it is if the customer speaks up.

                          Why are people so afraid of "creating a scene"? Pointing out that you were billed for something you didn't order is perfectly acceptable and even proper behavior, IMO. If everyone just lets things slip "this one time" then there will be lots of slips.

                          1. re: janetofreno

                            Tis true. Most of the people I know will say everything is great even in a situation where (1) it isn't and (2) the restaurant is one that would sincerely want to know a problem existed and would happily fix it.

                            I don't understand this point of view. I don't know why people are afraid of "creating a scene". But many are embarrassed, or even afraid, to say anything. And I'm not just referring to possible scams. It's routine behaviour for many people and it perplexes me.

                            If I am in a cheap, informal place with no pretensions, I'm inclined to ignore small problems myself. But if a restaurant is pricey, or is pretentious at any price level, I will - respectfully - make my feelings known and expect a solution.

                            If a gaffe is really bad (steak requested rare served well done; items not ordered/received charged for), I expect it to be fixed - even in a diner.

                            Usually there are no issues at all. Items are replaced or removed from the bill; mixed-up orders are corrected. Occasionally a place will go well beyond my expectations to fix a problem.

                            Of course, sometimes staff doesn't care or even gets nasty. See the many postings about Edward Levesque in Toronto for a good example of such a restaurant.

                            I sympathize with staff when a complaining customer is obnoxious or obviously out of line. But I won't return voluntarily to a restaurant that can't solve problems gracefully.

                            1. re: janetofreno

                              This is what I completely don't get: why one must "cause a scene" to get something removed from one's bill? All you have to do is say, politely, "I see that we were charged for one bottle of water, and we only ordered one." No scene necessary. If the restaurant chooses to make a stink (and I really think most of them won't -- you certainly wouldn't pay J Crew for a shirt you didn't order that ended up in the box with the stuff you did -- or then again, it sounds like some of you would for fear of offending J Crew), then I wouldn't go back to that restaurant again. But people, you're paying customers! And you're adults! Learn to speak up for yourself and what you want (and what you're paying for) firmly and politely, and you won't have this problem! Why all the sturm and drang?

                            2. re: embee

                              For embee: I believe you that you have been victimized by bottled water 'scams'. So have I, the very few times I've ordered bottled water. However, in this case, if you ever do get to SF, try La Ciccia, and once you do I think you will understand why I am sure that that this was undoubtably an isolated incident, NOT a scam! (which is all the more reason to speak up, so yes, I agree that speaking up is a good way to address it. As is not ordering bottled water, particularly in SF, where the tap water is quite good. IMO, of course.)

                  2. We almost always request tap water, but when we order a bottled water I state plainly we are only ordering this one bottle all other refills will be tap. Never had a complaint.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Eric in NJ

                      No way I would ever pay for anything I didn't order. For me it's that simple. And if they had refused to take it off the bill, it would have come out of the tip.

                    2. I've had the unrequested bottled water refills happen, too. Just last weekend at Bar Americain in NYC, actually. I find it to be about the lowest thing a restaurant can do. They'd never just bring another bottle of wine, or bring a second helping of dessert or anything else they charge for without asking or without the customer ordering it. I have no issues saying "oh, no thank you, we didn't ask for another bottle" in that case and it certainly, in my mind, reflects poorly on the restaurant.