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Jun 24, 2010 03:17 PM

Charging for reservations?

Recently I made a reservation at Le Bernardin and they faxed me a form asking for my credit card #, name and billing information so they could have written authorization to charge me $250. They promised to refund the money or subtract it from the total bill, however there would be nothing preventing them from charging me any amount, as the number written on the form was illegible. If I tried to dispute the false charge they could then produce the signed authorization form and I would have little recourse.

I believe it is outrageous to CHARGE for a reservation and asking for people's personal information in this day and age where identity theft is rampant and credit ratings are so important is insulting and dangerous to both the restaurant and consumer.

When I refused to sign and return the form, after reading it, the young lady taking the reservation politely informed me my party of 5 could not eat there. I asked her to cancel the reservation.

Has this happened to anyone else? Has anyone actually agreed to sign this form? Am I the only one outraged by such presumptuousness?



Le Bernardin
155 W. 51st St., New York, NY 10019

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  1. <Has this happened to anyone else? Has anyone actually agreed to sign this form? Am I the only one outraged by such presumptuousness?>

    Yes, yes, and probably not. It's a way to protect a restaurant against no-shows. It's been the practice of some restaurants (The Terrace comes immediately to mind) for at least 20 years. You weren't being charged for a reservation. You were being very strongly encouraged to show up for it.

    1. Do you really believe the restaurant's intention is to commit a deliberate criminal act? This is done everyday at golf courses when you reserve a tee time. It guarantees your reservation and when you arrive at the course, you can choose to leave payment on the card....or pay in cash. One way or another, you're going to spend the money. It's really not a big deal.

      15 Replies
      1. re: fourunder

        No, I don't think they have any intention to defraud or rob me or anyone else, however once that information is in their possesion how can I be assured they will safeguard it properly. They are not subject to the regulations banks and other institutions that have access to such information are.

        I've worked in restaurants in New York and New Orleans on and off for the past 25 years and understand the need to encourage people to honor their reservations, but I've never heard of anything this extreme.

        1. re: chazfitzm1

          I'm curious to know if you have the same apprehensions in any other restaurant or store.....AFTER you make a purchase with a credit/debit card.. You may not give them your address, but that's easily obtained through any records search....and they probably will already have your telephone number. It's pretty clear that banking institutions have been hacked into and personal information has been stolen. It happens. With regards to the following concern:

          ~~~~~ No, I don't think they have any intention to defraud or rob me or anyone else, however once that information is in their possesion how can I be assured they will safeguard it properly. They are not subject to the regulations banks and other institutions that have access to such information are.

          Easy, they have their reputation to uphold.

          1. re: chazfitzm1

            I agree with you chazfitzm1; I've worked in enough restaurants to know that credit card fraud is a real, actualy problem. All it takes in one bad apple, and they exist everywhere from Applebees to Le Bernadin.

            1. re: reiflame

              But how is giving the card to the waiter after a meal any safer than giving the card number prior to the meal? If someone will steal your card number they will do it regardless of when the cc number is presented to him.

              1. re: bookhound

                If you give it to them several weeks prior to the meal they just have that much longer to steal it.

                1. re: reiflame

                  This is hardly the worlds most complicated crime. Someone who will steal your credit card number will steal it at any opportunity. But that's just my opinion.

                  1. re: reiflame

                    That's like saying you won't deposit a check in the bank for a few weeks because if you do, it gives them a few weeks longer to embezzle it. You are, at least with a credit card, protected from theft.

                    1. re: chowser

                      Sure, you're protected from theft but who wants to deal with the hassle.

                      Also comparing banks to restaurants is apples and oranges; I'm sure you can come up with a better simile than that.

                      1. re: reiflame

                        It's about theft of money left for longer periods of time. Mathematically, they have your number for infinity or infinity + a few weeks. It's the same thing in the end. Do you refuse to fly because you have to pay for your tickets well in advanced of the flight? I book overseas flights months in advance, giving them months to steal my money.

                        1. re: chowser

                          All my banking and purchasing of plane tickets is done online; at no time does someone physically have a slip of paper with my credit card info on it.

                          And you underestimate the degenerates that you sometimes find working in restaurants.

                          You're still arguing apples to my oranges; keep trying.

                          1. re: reiflame

                            I know credit card theft happens but I pass over my credit card to cashiers all the time. It's a risk I'm willing to take. The risk is no greater if you do it in advance than if you do it when you're eating.

                            1. re: reiflame

                              Your card number is stored on any local hard drive for at least 24 hours, possibly longer on non banking days.. (restaurant, store, market, department chain, etc, etc)

                              Some online shopping companies will not charge your card immediately if the item you order is temporarily out of stock. In this case your card number is stored until the item is back in stock and shipped.

                              The transaction journal is accessible to anyone who can access the drive and find it.
                              Your "degenerates" can be working anywhere.

                              1. re: hannaone

                                There was an article in the Washinton Post today about how entering your credit card number in one site, clicking on an ad by another can automatically transfer your number to the next. That happened to my husband, not thinking. There was a pop up he thought was related to the site and clicked on it. The credit card company called us the next day because the charge from the second company looked suspicious.

                        2. re: chowser

                          Not if they have a signed form authorizing them to charge it.

                      2. re: bookhound

                        It is different because the waiter does not have a signed authorization form giving him permision to use your card that can be presented to the credit card company when you challenge an unauthorized charge on your account. I have no problem giving my card # to secure a reservation. The form they faxed me to fill out, sign and return blew my mind. If someone put a gun to my head and demanded I sign it or have my brains blown out, I'd have to think about it.

                2. I've had to confirm NYC restaurant reservations with a credit card for about 15 years that I can remember. Only within the last 10 have I been told of a "cancellation fee" or been charged ahead of time by a restaurant. But, hey, they tell you that it's a condition of making the reservation, take it or leave it.

                  It's not presumptuousness, rather, it's a sad reaction to the legions of boors who make multiple reservations of an evening and fail to call to cancel the ones they don't honor.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: shaogo

                    Silly question, but is there typically a time frame within which one can cancel with no cancellation fee? It seems as if hotels can allow one to cancel with no penalty up to 24 hours in advance, that a restaurant should be able to as well.

                    And what do you mean by 'charged ahead of time'? Do you mean the restaurant puts a hold on that amount, or they actually charge you? The former seems fine, the latter pretty ludicrous.

                  2. I have no problem with the concept of holding a credit card to prevent noshows. However, the reverse should apply as well. If not seated within 10 minutes of reservation time, the restaurant starts paying me. A round of cocktails or a starter or two should suffice for the first 10 minutes or so. Longer and the price goes up.

                    10 Replies
                    1. re: dbaublis

                      Wow. Ten minutes? I routinely am asked to wait 20-30 minutes after my reservation time at many Manhattan restaurants. Although we may have cocktails, I wouldn't think of expecting that they be given to me at no charge.

                      Perhaps you're an exceptionally punctual person. But I can tell you that I'm busy enough that I often keep folks who have appointments with me at business between 5 and 15 minutes -- if only that I'm on the phone or in another meeting and can't pull away.

                      Is ten minutes of your time really worth being reimbursed for? Do you leave the restaurant after a meal of 90 minutes or do you stay at your table for hours?

                      1. re: shaogo

                        I have no problem giving a restaurant my credit card # to secure a reservation or being charged a cancelation fee if I don't show up. My problem is with giving my personal information along with my credit card # in writing along with an authorization signature to a person I don't know. Anyone that would give out that information has no idea how easy it is to use it to destroy a person's credit for years to come in a matter of minutes. I had no idea that there were this many gullible people in NYC of all places. I'm SHOCKED at the response I'm getting. I feel like I live in some alternate reality, perhaps I'm the crazy one.

                        1. re: chazfitzm1

                          three thoughts......

                          1. You're not being asked for your Social Security Number.

                          2. Scribble a signature that does not resemble your own.

                          3. Next time....Tell them you do not own a facsimile machine.

                          1. re: chazfitzm1

                            I don't think you are crazy. I'd have no problem with using a credit card to hold a reservation, and allowing a $250 hold on my credit card account, but I wouldn't want to put all of that information in writing. Isn't part of the reason the industry has moved toward the swipe, hiding the digits of cards on printouts, and digitalizing personal information is to deter identity theft? This practice of writing it out and faxing it, so that it falls on the floor of some random office to be accessed by anyone passing through, is really out of sync with how most places do business today. At a minimum, it seems anachronistic.

                            1. re: chazfitzm1

                              but you do the same thing when you pay with a credit card at the restaurant, don't you? or anyplace else you use a credit card. ever order anything online or over the phone? how is this different?

                              unless you only use cash in your life, this seems a non issue

                              1. re: chazfitzm1

                                Seriously, how long have you been using credit cards? In the absence of the physical plate, a merchant has to have your card number, name, and billing address to process the transaction.

                                That's why you have to give this information every single time you buy anything by fax, telephone, or internet. If only gullible people gave out this information, internet commerce would immediatley grind to a complete halt.

                                The notion that someone can use that information to "destroy a person's credit for years to come" is preposterous. You're just wrong about that. The worst that can happen is that an unauthorized user can charge something to your account. And if you promptly notify the issuer of the unauthorized charges, they will be reversed. What's so hard about that?

                                You can be SHOCKED all you want, but your SHOCK is a product of the fact that you're badly misinformed. Of course, maybe you do live in an alternate reality, in which case all bets are off.

                                1. re: alanbarnes

                                  I would have agreed with you until someone used my credit card to sign me up at which gave them access to my credit report, etc. etc. I would not have believed how easy it was. Yes, I did get reimbursed and the expert consensus was that these were amateurs. If they had not been, with access to all my credit reports and my ss# I could have had my credit destroyed "for years to come."
                                  Even though there are many consumer protection laws in place, the reality is that correcting identity theft is not as easy as it seems even after you do the right things.

                                  BTW, I did fax Le Bernardin this info when requested 2 years ago for a reservation and I would do it again.

                              2. re: shaogo


                                this brings the notion of entitlement to a new level......

                              3. re: dbaublis

                                When an airplane is delayed by bad weather, how long before you think they owe you a free flight voucher?

                                1. re: dbaublis

                                  "However, the reverse should apply as well. If not seated within 10 minutes of reservation time, the restaurant starts paying me."

                                  You should expect your reservation to be cancelled by the restaurant 5 minutes after your reservation time. If they're that busy, they should have no difficulty replacing you.

                                2. Let's see, jfood has no problem since he has done so with

                                  - restaurants
                                  - golf courses
                                  - spas
                                  - hotels
                                  - airlines

                                  If you are concerned about "however there would be nothing preventing them from charging me any amount" then simply write on the authorization form "not to exceed $250.

                                  Are you they crazy one? The same question has been asked many times about Yossarian in Catch-22.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: jfood

                                    yep agreeing with you Jfood, and add to this list the bowling alley, car rental, utilities and insurances you pay with revolving credit card. Of course there is always the bar who holds your card when you start a tab - what's to stop the bartender going to Macy's or the boutique next door while you are drinking your margarita?
                                    As long as they have a clear cancellation policy (unlike an airline which often has no cancellation policy) I don't see an issue.

                                    1. re: jfood

                                      Catch 22 was my first "favorite book."

                                      1. re: jfood

                                        Agree 100% (well maybe not spas, never been to one). Anytime there have been quietionable charges all you have to do is call, they investigate and reverse the charges if the establishment can't substantiate it. I did get my CC info stolen once, but it was from dining at a restaurant, not reserving - that particular place had an employee that was skimming CC info and selling it. You have to be careful about who you give it out to but a reputable establishment wouldn't worry me.