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Is the waitress obligated to tell you about happy hour drink specials?

  • c

Last night my sister and I went out to a mexican restaurant that we have been going for years. When I say years, we are not 'regulars', don't know staff, just go every few months. Its nothing fancy at all but they have a great margarita/chips salsa and always hits the spot and the price is right.

We get there and order 2 frozen margaritas, waitress says large or small, we say large. We have 2 each, great meal and ask for the check. The drinks were $40.00. I've never even spent that before in the past on the food and drink combined for one person. We figured it was a mistake since happy hour is 2 for 1. So we tell the waitress who says, its not happy hour on the large ones, I thought you knew. My sister says, how would we know if you didn't tell us? The waitress then walked away making a huffing sound. We paid and left, as we were outside, my sister said I'm going back in just to make a point of saying we should of been told then we decided against it and said we just won't go back. I know I will since I really like the food but this left a totally bad taste in my mouth. And also just left me mad.

Which brings me to my question, should the waitress of told us about the drink special? Or was it up to us to confirm it with her?

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  1. It is up to you to confirm. It would be exemplary service on the waitress' part to say, "just to let you know the large drinks aren't included in happy hour", but she didn't so who has to pay the price? You. Caveat Emptor.

    1. I personally find it distasteful for the server to bring up price. I would prefer it to be well marked on some type of menu. I think it's just a personal issue with me though.

      1. I wouldn't say the waitress is obligated to tell you the large margarita's were full price, but in terms of good customer service she made a bad move. Was the small-only stipulation printed on the menu or specials board? I would have paid the bill and left, but would probably call/write the manager the next day. The manager's response would determine if I went back. I wouldn't expect a freebie/discount/comp, just would want the manager to considering making the happy hour limitations more clear.

        I frequently go to a sushi bar that does 2-for-1 happy hour. Their servers always check over the order, remind customers that they can add one more item for free if they have an odd number, and make sure the customer understands which items will be charged and which will be free. The food is good, but there are other places with equally good food and similar specials. The extra service makes that place my go-to.

        1. How did you "know" it was two for one? Big sign? Menu? In which case there needs to be fine print. If you've always gotten small ones before, then I can understand your confusion. It would have been nice if the waitress had "remembered' that that's not your usual, and let you know, but it doesn't sound like you go there often enough for that. So the bottom line is, how did you know?

          2 Replies
          1. re: DGresh

            I knew because of all the times I went its always been 2 for 1 and I have never recalled it being for the small or large. And I've been going at least 6 times a year for the past 14 years. We went outside and looked for a sign, it does say Happy Hour 2 for 1 on the signs outside. I will make a point to walk over and take a pic of the sign and clarify what it said. I was just bummed, and I've waitressed for years and would of never not said, get the small its 2 for 1, but that is just me, I certainly realize people are different that's the way it is.

            1. re: c11

              If the sign says Happy Hour 2 for 1 (w/o caveats) you're entitled to be irritated, in my opinion.

          2. When we did a happy hour it was "well drinks and domestic beer 2-for-1." Unless someone asked, I didn't, frankly, have the time to explain what a "well" drink is to each and every customer. Occasionally, a customer would call for a brand of liquor. That's a "call" drink; not a well drink. The customer would not be entitled to a chip/voucher for a second drink. Occasionally someone would genuinely be uninformed (one lady was so pleasant; she thought the "well" meant the entirety of the booze inventory 'cause all the bottles are in one place) and I'd give 'em 2-for-1 on higher-end drinks.

            But the moment someone behaves entitled and starts to *insist* that I break the rules -- I stick to the rulebook.

            What, if anything, did the signage in the window/at the hostess station/on the menu/on table-tents say about their Happy Hour policy?

            The waitress was just doing her job -- you asked for the higher-priced drinks and she decided to serve them to you without question. At many of these low-priced places servers' sales are carefully monitored by management. There are definite perks to be earned by selling a costlier version of an item to the customer when a discounted price is available (e.g., customer orders a dinner-menu version of crab cakes for $12.95 when the "bar bites" menu offers the same thing for $10.95).

            1 Reply
            1. re: shaogo

              Now that the OP has revealed that there appeared to be no caveats (and in fact weren't any on the sign that's outside -- that's supposed to "lure" customers in) I'm with her. She should've complained to the manager and gotten the 2-for-1; no matter what size the drinks.

              If the sign outside a place makes an offer, and the offer isn't modified by a brightly-lit sign or sign(s) indoors, the offer stands. It's particularly tacky if the offer made by the sign outdoors is modified by, perhaps, a tiny note on the menu customers aren't likely to take note of.

            2. There are things a server should do, and things she has to do.

              This is a case of the former, not the latter, unfortunately.

              1. You should have brought up the incident with the management and made them make some kind of adjustment.
                The waitress was definitely obligated to inform you when she asked if you wanted large or small knowing there was a special price.

                1 Reply
                1. re: monku

                  Simple. If there was no caveat or disclaimer of limits on the 2-for-1 on the outside sign there should have been something clearly visible somewhere inside (board, menu, etc.). Restaurant patrons are not mind-readers and it would be clearly misleading if there you had to "know that" on your own.

                  I would have been pretty upset myself. There is, however, something of any obligation on the guest's part to question such a situation unaccusingly and keep it calm until you have a clear picture of the situation. If you're sure you've been duped or misled, I'd let them have a piece of my mind if they didn't own up to it.

                2. So you could have ordered 4 smalls and received 4 smalls for free but ordering 2 larges does not qualify you for 2 larges for free. Totally stupid policy and without any reasonableness in the thought process, unless there is a maximum number you could order as smalls. So stupid policy and really bad server, that one calls for a zippo tippo.

                  Jfood came across a similar situation at a Tapas Bar recently. He ordered 7 tapas averaging $9.50 each and then saw that on that night if he ordered 8 tapas (his choice of which ones) the total price was $50 and 10 tapas for $60. When the server returned with the seven ordered, jfood asked for three more for round one. Then for round 2 he ordered the 8 tapas for $50. Interesting development when the bill arrived and there was also a 50% off wines for the evening and the reduced price was on the wines without jfood even knowing about that goody. so bill was 10 for $60; 8 for $50 and two bottles of wine, each 50% off. Jfood believes that the server would have charged the 10 & 8 for tapas when the final bill was tallied in any event but just did not convey to jfood when he ordered round 1.

                  But if the bill was by plate and jfood would have found out about the 10-pack and the 8-pack after the fact, there would have been some VERY interesting phone calls to the manager the next day.

                  1. hell I have no problem asking prices for well drinks, specials, fancy cocktails, it's my money and I choose how I spend it and if I think I am going for happy hour then I check. Same goes for half price apps on happy hour - always check. Got a coupon? Let them know before you order and check what's included.

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: smartie

                      I've worked in bars and bartended and have never run across anyone asking the price of a drink before ordering.
                      You are unique.

                      1. re: monku

                        I've worked in bars as well and I've definitely had customers ask for prices. smartie is in no way unique.

                        What kind of bars did you work? Super high end, divey, happy hour joint?

                        1. re: bookhound

                          White table cloth restaurants and high end clubs.
                          I've never asked the price myself.

                          1. re: monku

                            smartie is not unique, especially at a chip and salsa place.

                            Do you have much interaction with customers at white cloth restaurants?

                            1. re: bookhound

                              People waiting for a table come to the bar for a drink they don't ask about prices.

                              1. re: monku

                                White tablecloth customers expect to pay $21 a drink.

                                However, when working the trenches (can you say "value-priced restaurant and bar") there are those people who not only ask the price, they then comparison-shop. "How much is Grey Goose and tonic?" "$12" "Okay, how much is Stoli and tonic..." Get what I mean? If it's two deep at the bar a delay like this can impact one's tips very rapidly.

                                It literally becomes a dance, bouncing from question to question and then needing to interrupt, saying "one moment, please, I'll be right with you" and then taking one order or so, then returning, to continue the listing of prices for the customer (who's so myopic they have no idea they're holding up a whole lot of people). On a busy night, regular customers will take over and let outsiders know everything they need to know about pricing. More often than not, the person who wasted my time will proceed to complain that they're not getting a "comp" shot when the folks who helped me (and the time-waster) are getting one. The nerve...

                                1. re: shaogo

                                  I think it depends on the area. $21 a drink would send people packing even at a high end restaurant in my area.

                        2. re: monku

                          you misunderstood me, I ask if it's happy hour exactly which drinks are included in happy hour. There are bars that only allow for well drinks, draft beers not bottles, and cocktails made with well liquors.

                      2. I would have been pissed. I think it is dishonest by omission on the restaurant's part as well as the servers to not disclose that large drinks aren't included. I would have been talking to a manager before I left---I'm with your sister.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: sparkareno

                          I guess the waitress and the manager would have said (for the last time you went there) Gotcha!

                        2. Bad enough that the waitress didn't tell you. Then she walks away and makes a huffing sound without answering your sister's question. I hope you didn't leave a tip. There's no way of knowing the reason why the waitress didn't tell you about the drink special, but she could have at least apologized or explained, or said something rather than storming off. I would let the manager/owner know about this in a letter. Especially if you enjoy going there and like the food.

                          1. That's irritating and the waitress should have said something. Happy hour rules are often irritating - nothing worse than being told that happy hour only applies to those three tables over there (that are already full) but not to the thirty other open tables in the establishment. Sheesh.

                            Usually I ask the server what is on happy hour special is just to make sure I order the right thing and don't miss a good deal. It's better if there is a specific happy hour menu, but barring that, it's a good idea to confirm that your order qualifies, if you're counting on the deal. I give extra points to the server who comes back before happy hour ends to see if we want to order a last round or some more food at HH prices.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: akq

                              And the servers who suggest that you wait to order because in 15 min happy hour begins and there are specials.

                            2. If you thought that you were getting the Happy Hour special, you should have confirmed with the waitress.

                              Your tip should be based on how well the server took care of you. Need any more be said?

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: rich in stl

                                Why confirm with the server if she already thought the large margarita was included in the special? And even if the service was adequate, the server's attitude was not. Reason enough to not leave a tip.

                                1. re: rich in stl

                                  "Your tip should be based on how well the server took care of you. Need any more be said?"

                                  Notice "took care of you"? Yup zippo on the tippo

                                2. Want the flip side? I recently sat down at a Japanese grill-your-own at 6:58 - happy hour (half price drinks AND appetizers) ends at 7:00. A waiter - not the one that ended up serving me the rest of the meal - raced over to tell me to get an order in quick, so I could take advantage of the reduced prices. Someone racked up major karma points!

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: small h

                                    one more step, from a bartender: I will, for regulars/good customers/if I am in a good mood, ring in a HH drink for someone that is still working on their previous drink, then give it to them(after HH has ended). helps the karma as well as CASHma!:-)

                                    1. re: nkeane

                                      Clone yourself, why don't you. The bartenders used to do this for me at the Tile Bar in Manhattan, perhaps because I was drinking their kids through college. Or because I'm just that awesome a person.

                                    2. re: small h

                                      And the flipside of your flipside - recently a friend and I showed up at bar/restaurant at about 3:45 - happy hour started at 4. Waitress volunteered that she would take our serve us our drinks right then but not run the order through the computer 'til after 4. Big tip for her.

                                      1. re: cookie monster

                                        I went with a friend to happy hour a few weeks ago Friday after work, we ordered one drink at 6.30 then at 6.55 we ordered a second drink each saying to the server we want to order now to take advantage of happy hour. About 45 minutes later we ask for our check and the second drinks are full price. I called back the server and told her we had ordered it from her at 6.55 but she argued back that since she had put the order into the computer at 7.01 we were not entitled to the half price drinks!
                                        Some back up from a neighboring table finally persuaded her to get the check changed but my friend and I were annoyed.

                                    3. The waitress should make you aware of the happy hour specials, but it is up to you to figure out the rest. Had you not minded the price of the drinks, would you really have wanted the waitress to call you out on how much you were spending?

                                      1. Next time you go, speak to the manager. "I noticed the Happy hour sign outside saying that your drinks are 2 for 1. Last time I was here, I was told by the waitress that 2 for 1 only applied to small drinks. Is that still your practice?" If he/she says "yes", tell them to change the damned sign.

                                        1. If you've been there many times before, surely you know what you usually get to drink, and if you always go and always get happy hour prices, it would be the regular margarita that you get, no? Has nobody ever asked you if you wanted a large margarita instead of the regular, in all your previous visits?

                                          If I got a huge drink that was twice the size of what I usually get, and I was concerned about the price as one of the reasons I ordered it is because it's 2-for-1, I darned sure would say to the server when the drinks were set down, "whoa, these are a lot bigger than the ones we usually get for happy hour, are these 2 for one also?"

                                          She upsold you and you took the bait, didn't ask appropriate questions and then ended up paying for it. It's not kind or nice, but it's what servers are pushed to do to sell more. They're not going to off the cuff say "Oh, would you like the regular or the large? Just so you know, the large is not only not included in the happy hour price, it's X dollars more than the regular one." Just like when they say "would you like sour cream with that" and I reply, "is it included?" or "would you like mushrooms and onions with your steak?" and I say, "is it extra?" or "would you like your baked potato loaded?" and I say "is it extra?" It's unfortunate to have to discuss these little things, but if you're going to dine out, you have to be aware that the people there are working to try to sell you as much stuff as they can while delivering a pleasant customer service experience for you. It's like having a really nice car salesperson - just because they're nice and friendly doesn't mean they're not getting over on you. Their job is to sell, and to make it pleasant during the selling process.

                                          5 Replies
                                          1. re: rockandroller1

                                            let jfood ask you a question if you do not mind

                                            - If you can order a 12 oz beverage for $5 and get one 12 oz beverage for free and then you order round 2 of the same order. So 48 oz for $10
                                            - If you order the larger drink of 24 oz for $10 and you get a second for free. So 48oz for $10
                                            Why should A be OK and B not?

                                            1. re: jfood

                                              Maybe the time it takes to order, get and drink the drinks vs. the length of HH - if you can buy-one-get-one free ("BOGO") on a large drink, you're probably done for the evening and not going to have a full price drink. If, on the other hand, you have to order the small drinks, you maybe have time during HH for your two small drinks (assuming the server will only bring one at a time), and you won't have time to order and consume the second set of BOGO drinks before HH is over...so you may have to order one or more at full price.

                                              Same reason a lot of places may only allow you to order one drink at a time and won't serve or ring in another round of HH price drinks until you are finished with your current drink - they don't want someone ordering 4 HH drinks right before HH is over and sitting there after HH to finish them.

                                              1. re: akq

                                                not exactly within queuing theory but jfood was waiting for you or another server to say they love the doiubles because it has a higher price leading to less trips and a higher tip per drip.

                                              2. re: jfood

                                                it isn't really about the total volume of the drink-- it's about the volume of liquor the drink contains. many places with 2fer1happy hour specials will exclude drinks with (commonly) more than 4 shots of hard liquor in them, for example. so the 4 oz martini will be on hh special, while the 6 oz martini will be excluded-- or in the op's case the margaritas containing upward of 4-5 oz of hard liquor.

                                                the bars do this for liability/customer safety reasons, because for many people the difference between pretty happy at happy hour and totally sloshed hammered annihilated is in there with the second happy hour round. as a bt i can asses someone who's asking me for their second happy hour round of 2 fer 1 gin & tonics, bottled beers, or glass of house wine, and feel comfortable with their "verticality" after 2 more drinks. if someone who's already had a 2fer1 round is asking me for a double long island iced tea in a pint glass, 2fer1, they are asking for a *lot* of liquor, and i'm not going to be comfortable serving it to them, nor is the establishment in a good place wrt legal & responsible alcohol service.

                                                1. re: soupkitten

                                                  now that's a good analysis. thanks soupy