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Aug 13, 2010 11:46 AM

Do you check your bill? No, no, I mean REALLY check your bill?

Has this ever happened to you?

Lets assume you order the following and your tab looks like this:


Eggs - 5.50
Bread - 1.25
Ham - 2.75
Milk - 2.20
Tax - 1.15

Total: 13.85


Well, unless you really scrutinized the bill you wouldn't realize (at least not easily) that you're being overcharged by $1. The correct total should be 12.85.

It's hard to catch at first glance because it looks "right" and if the server is caught, they just brush it off as a math error and come back, innocently, with the correct bill.

This can happen (quite often from what I'm told) whether the bill is handwritten or machine printed.

Have you ever caught something like this?

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  1. I round up, accounting for some tax. I know how much cash I will need. This is in grocery stores as well as restaurants.

    As soon as something is off (in this case, I would have had $12 plus tax in my brain) (Seeing $13.15 would not have bothered me, $13.85 is wrong), I re- add everything.

    I catch it a lot more lately. Yes, I am an Engineer.

    1. When jfood was in B-School his first accounting professor taught him how people use a tape machine to do EXACTLY what you describe.

      hit total
      roll tape up
      enter $XX
      Roll back to beginning
      start entering numbers
      hit total

      And yes this did happen to jfood

      Took little jfoods to dinner 11 years ago. two grilled cheese, two sodas, one coffee. paid and drove them to ballet. something bothered jfood. so he dropped them off and went back to restaurant and asked for the tab. Yup, exactly $10 too much. "Refund 100% or police are called". Response..."Must have been a mistake." No problem in refund. Lots of smiles.

      Next day jfood speaking with his admin about it who used to be a server at said restaurant. Her comment..."Oh management tells us to do it all the time. Big party lots of booze add $40. noone ever added the bill up."

      1 Reply
      1. re: jfood

        Yeech!! Now another thing to increase my paranoia!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      2. Back in the days of handwritten bills, my father always added and claimed he very often found mistakes, although he thought they were really mistakes. Used to annoy my mother immensely. Now with computers I figure I'm safe, but maybe not. However when I eat out (which is rarer and rarer now) I do just glance quickly at the bill, but never sit and add it up due to socializing or whatever. Hard to notice a $10 or 20 discrepancy and actually it's such an occasion to eat out, it doesn't occur to me. Guess if I did it a few times a week, I'd be looking harder.

        7 Replies
        1. re: coll

          It's interesting how much faith people have in electronic devices. We'll verify the total if the check is handwritten, but assume it must be correct if a cash register or computer was used. Of course, if the server keys in the wrong amount--unintentionally or deliberately--the machine-generated total will be wrong.

          I'll generally do a quick add before paying the bill. Besides having been overcharged, I've been undercharged at least once. (Yes, I did point that out to the server.) And on two occasions, I've been handed another table's check!

          1. re: cheesemaestro

            Usually at restaurants, they just key in the item and the dollar amount is automatic.

            1. re: coll

              Yes, but there is still human intervention. People have to push the keys, so it's possible they'll hit the wrong one and you'll be charged for something you didn't order, which could be more or less expensive than what you did order. That has happened to me, too.

              1. re: cheesemaestro

                But if they pushed the wrong key, then the kitchen would prepare the wrong dish based on the computer ticket. Then somewhere along the line someone would realize the mistake, either the waitress or the diner, before the final bill is presented.

                1. re: coll

                  Ah, I see. You're assuming that the server enters the order into the computer right away and the kitchen gets a computerized ticket. Many places do that now and for them, your objection is justified. However, there are still a few at which the servers inform the kitchen the old way and enter the order later into the system for payment.

                  I don't think that we can ever be 100% confident that a fully computerized approach to ordering and billing eliminates errors. There's always the chance that the price printed on the menu and the price in the computer will differ because of a programming error (until the error is caught and fixed) or that the temporary lower price for a daily special isn't reflected on the bill because somebody forgot to change it in the computer. Reviewing a check is quick and doesn't cost a penny, so, for me, it's a no-brainer, even if a computerized system is in place.

                  1. re: cheesemaestro

                    Oh I don't trust anyone completely, but I guess I'm in the "in the ballpark" group. I usually look it over more carefully the next day, but since I don't eat out too often anymore, I don't usually catch anything, the odds are in their favor. Unlike my local supermarkets, now there's another subject to be discussed. First stop is usually the courtesy desk to get some sort of refund.

          2. re: coll

            Funny, just this past week we had a group dinner (on the tab of a project we are all working on). Very nice restaurant, but "cash only" and the bill was going to be in the range of hundreds of Euro. My colleague paid the bill, got a handwritten receipt (with a "real one" promised by email the next day). We walked out of the restaurant and she was telling us that it was about $1000 Euro. We started adding it up, and it seemed wrong, even given how much wine we'd ordered (and drunk). Turns out it was $100 Euro too high. Of course it was immediately fixed :)

          3. You mean you can't add. I always double check a bill at a restaurant (especially handwritten) since people do make mistakes. I make sure that nothing is on my bill that I didn't order, and let my waitperson know if something isn't on the bill that should be. Yes, it's nice to hear that something has been "comped", but I would never presume (I would figure that it was accidentally left off the bill). BTW, I'm no math person, and I had no trouble figuring out that you were $1 overcharged.

            21 Replies
            1. re: ellenost


              It's not really about being able to do simple arithmetic; rather, it's a question of how closely one tends to scrutinize a bill after the meal.

              I think most people -- regardless of their math skills -- tend not to pay that much attention to the details of the bill and just tend to eyeball it to make sure it's in the right ballpark.

              For example, if I go out to lunch with a friend at, say, Denny's and I generally will have a ballpark idea of what the total will be based on prior experience and what we order that day. I would only get suspicious if the bill turned out to be off by some significant magnitude.

              1. re: ipsedixit

                that's what bothered jfood above. 2 grilled cheese, 2 sodas and a coffee for $31. seemed strange

                  1. re: monku

                    >10 years ago and the grilled cheeses were from the kid's menu.

                    today grilled cheese $5; soda $4; coffee $4.

                1. re: ipsedixit

                  Well then I guess next time should you return to this restaurant you'll look more closely at your bill. I guess it's me, but for $1, I wouldn't be too upset. For $10, I'd be upset.

                  1. re: ellenost

                    I always check my bills, ALL BILLS, because I've been taken advantage of on several occasions...

                    It may only be $1.00 too much on a bill but it's your dollar; if you don't mind handing out extra dollars, why not just open your window and toss it out?

                    1. re: Cherylptw

                      My attitude is, in 50,000 years when the burned out cinder remains of Planet Earth are hurtling through deep space, will it have made any difference if you tipped a few bucks more, paid a few bucks too much, or scammed the house out of that extra side order you received and it was not on the bill? It tend to think not.

                      1. re: ospreycove

                        Can I borrow $100 from you until payday?

                        1. re: L2k

                          Was that $1.00?...................

                        2. re: ospreycove

                          Nice post ospreycove....and so true.

                          1. re: ospreycove

                            I agree with you, that in the grand scheme of things paying a few extra dollars here and there is no big deal, unless your trying to feed a family on a fixed income, or your unemployed, then it can really hurt over the long term.

                            1. re: chazfitzm1

                              I figure the few dollars is the price I pay not to worry. I notice big differences so it can't add up to that much anyway. My time is more valuable--how much time would it take for me to add up everything I spend and how much would I save in discrepancies? Too much time and too little in savings.

                              1. re: chowser

                                I keep a spread sheet of everything I spend, even a cup of coffee: I just keep all the receipts by the computer and enter them when I'm sitting there and have a minute. I do it so I DON'T worry about where my money is going, I know to the penny. And I'm the complete opposite of a control freak, I started doing this while DH was out of work, but I started liking knowing just how much I spend on different categories every month. It doesn't take much time at all.

                                1. re: chowser

                                  But it's not about the money, it's about the principle! Taking an extra buck from a customer just because you can is stealing! People should be called on that, even if you look like a petty jerk for doing so.

                                  1. re: Isolda

                                    But you have no proof it is not a mistake. To call someone a thief when they may have just screwed up is not worth a dollar to me.

                                    Yes, there are thieves in the world. From my grandmother's day there was the buther who put his finger on the scale when weighing meat.

                                    But if you live with the philosophy everyone is out to get you, it just makes your life miserable.

                                    1. re: rworange

                                      It's not about paranoia (at least not in my case!) Even if someone simply adds the bill up wrong, it's still a good idea not to assume anything. That's why you should point it out. If they're honest, they'll be more careful in the future and if they're not, they'll know that at least one of their customers is onto them. And really, if a restaurant is doing this routinely with the money, it does make one wonder what they're doing with the food. Subbing pork for veal?

                                      1. re: Isolda

                                        Ah, yes. One of my favorite subjects. The old pounded pork cutlets masquerading as Veal scallopine trick. It is much more widespread than one would think. I knew a young CIA graduate who was a line cook for a nice table cloth dinner house, with a good reputation,. In casual conversation he said his prep work includes "Turning pork into veal". Whwn I was in N.J. this was almost a given in the trade, the only veal you would see was for osso buco and veal chop, all the other "Veal Dishes" on the menus were "Magic Pork".
                                        This is similiar to the switch the fish scam that plagues the seafood restaurant business. Are you eating real American Red Snapper, or whitefish, pollack, or Tilapia????

                                        1. re: ospreycove

                                          or "grouper!"

                                          i remember the grouper scam!
                                          quite a while back in an old town alexandria, virginia, "new orleans style" restaurant ("two nineteen"), there was supposed to be a snapper gumbo, but the only protein was in *shreds* (like chicken) . the chef came out and *swore* that it was fish. <sigh> i have never returned.

                                          1. re: alkapal

                                            ALK.....Grouper is probably the most switched/scam fish on the market. Fresh U.S.Gulf Grouper can be as high as $20.00/lb retail; so there is an incentive for the not so upstanding restaurateur to make the switcheroo!!!

                                          2. re: ospreycove

                                            Back when top round was cheaper than pork, lots of delis used that too. Pizzerias usually go for the pork.

                                  2. re: chazfitzm1

                                    that's right -- the glory of compound interest (as sorry as that is these days!).

                        3. I have caught incorrect totals many times. I also find that price on the bill is higher than menu price, and the included coffee is listed on the bill as an a la carte addition.

                          I refuse to be taken advantage of by either sloppy, lazy, or dishonest restaurant help.

                          At times, I have asked the server to bring the menu back to the table and have had to show the price as listed and have the bill changed.

                          There is no excuse for jacking up the bill.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: bagelman01

                            I see the included-coffee-really-isnt thing all the time. So far it's always been in diners and that sort of place and really only about a buck fifty so i don't really care enough to bother pestering them (the once or twice I have I just get told, "sorry, we don't do that anymore", and I figure the "false advertising" argument really isn't worth it either).

                            1. re: jgg13

                              I understand, but last night it happened when the family ate out and the charge for 5 included coffees became $12.50 plus $1 tax plus would have been $2.50 tip.
                              I'm not paying $16 extra for what was supposed to be included.

                              1. re: bagelman01

                                I hear ya. Trust me, I think anyone should feel free to argue about any of this stuff, and believe me when I say that I do myself :) It's just that in this particular case, at least as it has happened to me specifically, it didn't cross my fuss threshold :)