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Lunasia -- Charging for Nonexistent Hot Tea

My friend and I went to Lunasia in Alhambra for Dim Sum. We told the waiter we didn't want any tea so only iced water was brought to the table. I was surprised to see a $2 charge on the bill for "Hot Tea". When I inquired about this, the guy who handled the bill said it was a "seating charge". When I said "huh?", he clarified that it was for the iced water. Again, I said "huh?". Finally, the guy left then came back and THREW a revised bill on our table with the Hot Tea marked "Promo". Couldn't they have just taken it off the bill instead of giving some ridiculous explanations and still be nice about it and not throw the bill on the table?

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  1. Standard dim sum practice is a tea charge whether you drink it or not. That's why they were angry with you.
    I remember going with my daughter when she was an infant and they'd charge her for tea.

    2 Replies
    1. re: monku

      That sounds kind of nutso to me, but shouldn't they at least BRING you some hot tea if they're going to charge you for it?

      1. re: EWSflash

        It's a "set up" charge, but they call it a tea charge.
        The waiter was probably flustered because the OP answered "huh?" everytime the waiter tried to give an answer.

        The OP may have gotten away with "no tea charge" that time at that restaurant, but they might tell them not to come back again.

        I've noticed sometimes a person will occupy a table and people will come and go and that's the restaurants way of getting something for the traffic.

        Just pay it, it's part of the dim sum game no matter where you go.
        You're going to get charged whether you drink tea, water or nothing. It's the price to pay for occupying a seat.

        Some places charge $1 some will charge $2.

    2. This is typical for dim sum.

      You get charged basically for a plate setting, which includes tea service, plates, condiments, chopsticks, etc. Usually the bill refers to it as a "Tea" other times it will be "table setup" or something of that ilk.

      Think of it as the dim sum version of a "cover charge".


      1. I am in the San Francisco area and have never paid for set up or hot tea (unless I ordered it) for Dim Sum. Never heard of this.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Janet

          You probably don't look closely at the bill--usually looks like sales tax the amount is so small.

          1. re: monku

            I've dined solo before at some smaller NorCal places and never got charged that $1. Even if I got charged, a quick explanation would take care of it. Never even been told in Cantonese to my face that "oh this is house charge etc etc". Other than that, other times we do order and pay for tea, so I can't say I'm the exception.

        2. I hope you threw down the exact amount for the bill with ZERO tip~.

          5 Replies
          1. re: gryphonskeeper

            Because of the OP's ignorance the waiter shouldn't get a tip?

            1. re: monku

              No, for the throwing the bill at him. There are ways to be decent to a customer, even one who as you pointed out, was ignorant to a custom. That customer was not belligerent and should not have had his bill thrown at him so disrespectfully.

              1. re: gryphonskeeper

                Well, of course that's the case, right? Of course the waiter "threw" the bill at the table ... it's not like the OP could be biased or anything ...

                1. re: ipsedixit

                  I tell ya I have worked in the biz for a while, and I never treat a customer like dirt unless they deserve it. (one particular <insert word that rhymes with rich and begins with the letter be here> comes to mind) One way to kill a business in this economy is to make the customer feel slighted.

                  1. re: gryphonskeeper

                    Well, certainly I was not impugning you (or your customer service abilities).

                    All I was trying to point out is that we only have the OP's version of what happened -- i.e. the bill was "thrown" down on the table. Maybe it was, or maybe the OP was taking liberal iterary license with this description. Who knows.

          2. WHo doesn't drink tea with dim sum?

            1. I bet if you spoke fluent Cantonese, they'd waive the charge.

              These $1 to $2 per person tea charges can be quite outrageous. Charging an infant is absurd. I had that happen to me a few years back as we had a 3 year old in our party who didn't even drink tea (in Northern California), we made a polite stink about it, and the waiter took care of it.

              Now if this really bugs you, then treat this tea charge as they do in certain part of Hong Kong. There's a loose term called "tea money" that's thrown around to basically mean loose change/tips on top of mandatory 10% service charge. Foreigners in Hong Kong think that the mandatory 10% charge means tips and they think they shouldn't leave any more, but locals just leave the coins behind (and/or add a few more coins). Except this is optional yet strongly recommended by many. Another loose example I can think of is 50+ year old Wing Lai Yuen in Hong Kong, a very famous place for HK style Sichuan and excellent dan dan noodles. They have some killer appetizer side dish things that they put on every table, like marinated fried peanuts and pickled veg. They taste great. Then at the end of the meal, they end up charging you for it. Spring Deer (which interestingly has the same Chinese name as Joe's Shanghai in NY...) in HK, famous for Peking Duck and other classics, does the same thing....basically the senior waitstaff spend their pre-dinner hours preparing these peanuts as a way to get some additional tips and revenue, considered a kindness in payback for the time and consideration (whether you care for it or not).

              So feel free to reciprocate with no tip (or one penny) whatsoever and not partronize such a place. Things should be a bit more clear and up front.

              However if you find that more SoCal places are doing this, and if you worry about tea for caffeine content, then order caffeine free tea like chrysanthemum, if you are going to be bilked and billed anyway.

              1. Yes, the waiter threw the revised bill on the table. There was definitely nothing gracious with the manner he dumped it on top of the bill folder. And no, I was not making a scene out of this. I was very calm and I was not using my "stage voice" at all. I also left my usual 20% tip in spite of all this silliness.

                I still don't get why they have to charge a set up fee. Other restaurants don't charge a set up fee and you even get better service, e.g., fresh plates for each course, a new round of silverware, etc. How would we react if restaurants started charging for rolls or the bread basket or the amuse bouche?

                As I write this post, it brings to mind Petrillo's Pizza in San Gabriel. They do charge extra for a second basket of bread! However, their other location in Glendora does not charge for bread at all. In fact, they constantly give you more bread, which is so good, at no extra charge at all. Same owners, different neighborhoods. Hmmmm.

                4 Replies
                1. re: gdtobme

                  A fair amount of restaurants charge for bread. There are a couple posts about it if you do a search.

                    1. re: gdtobme

                      There is no excuse for rude behavior from a waiter. That said, he is probably not used to customers questioning the tea charge, as it is standard practice for dim sum the world over. Very few people ever ask about it. "Other" restaurants don't charge this because they are not Cantonese dim sum restaurants.

                      1. re: PeterL

                        I don't know about 'the world over' - we used to go to Dimsum (yum-cha) regularly in Australia and I don't remember ever seeing/hearing anything about a tea or setup charge. You paid for what you ate and that was that.

                    2. I'm in Toronto, Canada. I'm fairly confident this doesn't happen de rigueur here, at least not at my usual haunts. Anyone care to disagree with me?

                      In fact, my usual place gives the tea no charge, IIRC.

                      1. I go to dim sum places in Seattle. Never have seen this sort of charge and I do not always get tea.

                        if they want to charge a set up, then call it a set up and let people know ahead of time there is a set up charge per head. people do not like surprises on their bill.

                        1. Not gonna venture an opinion as to whether it's right or wrong, but it's pretty typical at the dim sum places I go to. You're going to take up a seat, you pay a buck. In exchange, you get tea if you want it. In the grand scheme of things, this doesn't strike me as a profound injustice.

                          1. The charge should state the truth about what it's for. I've seen it before, and I am more used to its absence than its presence. I usually have two thoughts - 1: Sneaky way to squeeze an extra dollar, and 2: Do they really need the dollar that bad?

                            That said, I have the perfect solution. You see the charge, keep calm and enjoy your meal. Then, don't return. It's only a buck, and you're only a customer.

                            1. It's a seating charge - they call it a tea charge but you pay it whether you drink tea or not.