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Shouldn't the server at a function tell you if the bar is no-host?

I guess the title pretty much says it all. Tonight I went to an educational lecture, hosted by a particular company. I had received an email inviting me to the"free" event. The invitation mentioned a "social hour" starting at six, followed by dinner and the lecture. I go to a few of these every year, and the standard protocol is to offer a choice of several wines (by the glass) or beer or soft drinks along with dinner. When I arrived at the restaurant (an upscale chain, but not one of the most expensive by any stretch of the imagination) our group was in a meeting room towards the back. There was no bar in the room, but several folks had a glass of wine or soda in their hands. A waitress quickly approached me and asked me if I would like a drink. I asked for a glass of red wine, and she said "is the pinot noir ok?" Sure, fine...back to catching up on the gossip with my colleagues. A few minutes later she returned with my wine; no mention was made of cost and I assumed that as is usual at these events the host was paying for the "social hour" as well as dinner.

After dinner (the standard "chicken or fish" choice of entrees) the waitress returned and left a bill at our table. For a minute I thought "oh, dear, does she not know this is a hosted event?" But then I noticed my colleague next to me had also received a bill. When I opened mine to look at it, I realized that it was for the earlier glass of wine. Not only that, but it was an EXPENSIVE glass of wine: $15 . Now, I've seen the wine list at this particular restaurant before, and that's definitely on the high end (if not the highest) of their wines by the glass.

Shouldn't the waitress have politely said something when I entered such as "there is no hosted bar this evening, but I would be happy to get you a drink if you wish"? Or at the very least could she have said "Our house wine is X, or if you prefer we have a nice pinot noir for $15" I might have settled for water if I thought I was paying for it (really didn't want to drink much, but decided since everyone else was I would have a glass). I certainly didn't want to spend 15 (plus tip) on a glass of wine.

Do you think its worth sending an email to the restaurant? It was a little, um, frugal of the host not to pay for the wine...but maybe its against company policy and times ARE rough around here. So shouldn't the restaurant let me know if that's the case?

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  1. a LOT of corporate events no longer include the cost of alcohol because of the spectre of liability. A lot of companies won't even reimburse alcohol on expense reports, even if it was a glass of wine with dinner.

    I would never make the assumption that alcohol was included.

    1. I respectfully disagree with the posters above. Whenever I've been at some sort of corporate event where the meal is free, it is very explicit if the social hour is not. "Cash bar" or the like is stated. It's not like the OP wandered out of the room to somewhere else to ask for a glass of wine. It was offered.

      On the other hand, if it happened to me, I'd be irritated, but I wouldn't cause a fuss about it. But I'd definately be annoyed. And I wouldn't particularly blame the server, more the host for not making it clear.

      10 Replies
      1. re: DGresh

        totally agree with you DG, it's entirely the host's fault for not making it clear either on the invitation or when greeting the OP at the door. The host should have also briefed the servers, in which case a drinks menu could have been provided.
        I also go to corporate events and it has always been clear whether it's just wine or beer, or open bar/cocktails can be requested, or no alcohol will be provided (only once has that happened and the rep told us all immediately). A good host briefs the servers.

        1. re: smartie

          all fault-aiming aside, if you go in with the idea that you'll be buying your own drinks, you'll never be disappointed or surprised.

          1. re: sunshine842

            so should one also go with the assumption that if passed appetizers are offered, that I'll get a bill for those too? It's part of this same 'social hour".

            1. re: DGresh

              No, if you don't order something you are not going to be charged for it.

              1. re: DGresh

                "so should one also go with the assumption that if passed appetizers are offered, that I'll get a bill for those too? It's part of this same 'social hour"."

                No, because food at a function like this is not the money maker; the liquor is. I always assume I am paying for liquor at such a function and if I am not sure, when the wait person comes up to me I say something like, "May I run a tab?" This is the cue for the wait person to let me know if I will or will not be paying for drinks. It's always worked for me?

                1. re: ttoommyy

                  I think that perhaps we attend different sorts of events then. I've *never* been to one of these where if I was expected to pay for *anything* it wasn't made explicit. Usually everything is free, or perhaps you get two "drink tickets" in your "welcome envelope".

                  1. re: DGresh

                    As someone who worked a TON of business functions in recent years, no one uses drink tickets anymore, and about 50% of said functions have a cash bar.

                    The host should have made it clear on the invite or the OP could've simply asked.

                    1. re: invinotheresverde

                      sorry, we run in different crowds. I still see them.

                  2. re: ttoommyy

                    ttoommy...I REALLY LIKE THAT IDEA.. of asking to run a tab... I am just starting to attend these events .. and its seems the events drinks are 20x more expensive than normal.. the original person probally had a server that only knew one kind of wine and went from there

              2. re: smartie

                I agree it's the host's "fault", at least partially. It's also partially OP's fault for making assumptions. No it's not the server's job to inform about the no host bar.

            2. You should send an email. The server should have gone with your simplest version: our house wine is eight dollars per glass or have a very nice pinot for $15.

              1. I think it's reasonable to send an email. The server handled that very poorly, IMO.

                If I were the host, I'd have been furious that they were taking drink "orders" that way....

                1. There are so many faux pas on the side of the host, the restaurant and the server and absolutely none on the part of the OP.

                  1 - host - if there is a cash bar it should be stated on the invite
                  2 - server - not telling the drink orderer that there is a charge
                  3 - host/restaurant - not having a small "menu" for the invitees to see that there will be a charge for alcohol and a list of the choices and charges
                  4 - restaurant - waiting until the end of the meal to bring the bill

                  What if you had left before or during the meal? This is the epitome of upsell / gotcha.

                  Be glad they did not charge you for the dinner and the lecture. :-))

                  22 Replies
                  1. re: jfood

                    You're kidding, right? A small menu? Bill being brought at any time other than the end?

                    The bill is brought at the end so one doesn't continually pay for multiple drinks throughout the evening. If I have four glasses of wine, it seems pretty illogical to interrupt the function and the guest to swipe my cc four separate times. It's akin to running a tab. The bill is always brought at the end. This is in no way an upsell.

                    Like I said above, about 50% of the business functions I worked were cash bar. In this subpar economy, free drinks are becoming less and less common. I agree the host should've communicated this, but guests shouldn't assume anything anymore. Decorum has gone out the window due to budget in many cases.

                    I do agree that it's always tacky when a waiter suggests the most expensive X on the menu.

                    1. re: invinotheresverde

                      To the questions in para 1

                      1 - Nope...absolutely serious.
                      2 - Absolutely. I totally and firmly believe that written menus with prices eliminate all of the issues that many people face with the gotcha. If the OP would have ordered the wine and the server would have presented a 4X6 card with the choices and prices, presto...no problem. Very simple
                      3 - If when the server presented the "surprise price" glass of wine by adding..."that will be $12" then presto, the gotcha is minimized to a maximum of one drink (see below for further explanation). Then the OP could have politely said, "no thank you, i did not know there was a charge" and ordered a coke. Again presto, problem solved.

                      So in this case the OP orders a drink, is not informed it is a cash bar and more than likely thinks it is free. If we continue with your "four glasses" situation then the gotcha continues throughout the night with another couple of glasses during dinner, and in each one of those cases the unknown bill (from the POV of the customer) increases. Then the end of the meal and THWAPP the bill arrives.

                      All of that could have been avoided at step one in the slippery slope.

                      1. re: jfood

                        I think you missed my point that this is the host's fault. I agree with that.

                        I've worked at 8 different, high end restaurants. All of them did large function business. None of them had a list for the thousands upon thousands of possible drinks/prices that exist.

                        Again, the paying per drink things is simply not how it works, IME. Maybe at a bowling alley or something, but not the nice places I've worked, nor at the functions I've attended.

                        1. re: invinotheresverde

                          Totally agree it was the host's fault, but the restaurant has some culpability as well.

                          My point is not to have the thousands of options placed on a 4X6 card. But as a memory jogger if you hand the customer the card with 5 or 6 choices of wines with the prices then poof the customer knows it is not a free bar. One needs to give credit to the customer for some level of smarts. Without the card there is no indication of the function is a cash bar, and that is where the restaurant and by extension the server did badly.

                          1. re: jfood

                            Hmm. I guess we simply fundamentallly disagree. I don't think the "guest" should ever assume things are free if it hasn't been mentioned by the host.

                            Also, a card with five or six wines listed is kind of pointless. If only wine is listed, should the guest assume all beer is then free as it's not on the list? Vodka? Tequila? Soda? That's why these losts don't exist, you non-drinker, you. ;)

                            1. re: invinotheresverde

                              "I don't think the "guest" should ever assume things are free if it hasn't been mentioned by the host."

                              So if I'm invited to a 50th birthday party hosted by the birthday girl's husband, and a waitress asks me if I'd like a glass of wine, I should expect to get a bill at the end?

                              1. re: DGresh

                                A biz function and a birthday party are totally different in my mind, although much of Chow disagrees with me. Just look at all the Birthday Etiquette threads. Lottttts of people pay for themselves, and a fraction of the birthday person, at parties (as tacky as I think that is).

                                1. re: invinotheresverde

                                  I do too drink, just a little less peppy and a lot less expensive. :-))

                                  But do you disagree that a sampling list would at least indicate that this was a non-free booze-bar? Jog the noodle between the ears to ask? That is my point.

                                  BTW - I cannot remember the last event that had a cash bar. Not that us booze-notters would take specific notice, just a different POV.

                                  2BTW - A "guest" should ALWAYS assume things are free, customers should not. Probably just that semantics thing. :-))

                                  1. re: jfood

                                    one of the reasons I dislike the term guests for hotel customers! (or spas). You're a customer not a guest.

                                    1. re: smartie

                                      recently i have felt like a guinea pig striving to be a customer.

                                      why do front desk clerks think they can treat guests / customers like mushrooms.

                                    2. re: jfood

                                      That's why I put guest in quotes.

                                      I'd wager I've worked a lot, lot more of these functions than you've attended. As tacky as it is, cash bar is becoming more de rigeur.

                                      Like I said, knowing that cash bars are becoming more common, I opt to ask. That way there's never any confusion. I think the lists would be kind of tacky and not particularly practical. Is there one list that all the guests share? One per every two/five/ten people? Are they placed on the tables like ugly table tents or do the guests pass them around?

                                      1. re: invinotheresverde

                                        I would wager huuugely that you have been at 10X as many as me, i hate 'em.

                                        Cash bars and tacky are a complete overlap...totally agree.

                                        I would suggest one per server on that little round tray they carry. Always astounds me they can balance them so well.

                                        And believe it or not..I am off to one of those functions in 5 minutes to raise money for the local teen center. And I will definitely ask if my soda water and lime has a charge. And they have a buffet so I will not eat anything (from another thread) but will shake lots of hands. then me, mrs j off to a lite quiet bite at a real restaurant, right after the purel. :-))


                                    3. re: invinotheresverde

                                      From the original post: "I had received an email inviting me to the"free" event. The invitation mentioned a "social hour" starting at six, followed by dinner and the lecture."

                                      I understand you work in this arena but I'm at a loss as to how you'd conclude that the guest "assumed" things were free. It appears as if she was TOLD the event was free. IMHO this one is totally the fault of the host company for being misleading.

                                      1. re: Midlife

                                        She mentioned "free" in quotes. I doubt the invite actually said, "Hey, come to our free event".

                                        1. re: invinotheresverde

                                          janetofreno............. can you help here?

                                          1. re: Midlife

                                            Yes, the quotes were just that, a quote of the exact word used in the email. "Come to a free event" or something like that.

                                            Next time I'll ask, but I still think the server could somehow let folks know the bar is nohost....

                                            1. re: janetofreno

                                              If it literally said free, that makes the hosts even douchier.

                              2. re: invinotheresverde

                                A small printed menu serves two functions: first, it lets the customer know it is a no-host event, (just in case the host didn't bother to tell them, as in this situation), but it also lets the customer know that some of the wines (or whatever) offered are much more expensive than others, if that is the case. I definitely think that if a printed menu is not offered that the server should state the cost of the wine, particularly if they are going to try and engage in upsell, and particularly in a situation where it may not be completely clear that the drinks aren't hosted.

                                1. re: susancinsf

                                  Solid point, this event was a no host.
                                  The organizer failed and everything went south after that.

                              3. Good thing you had cash on you!
                                The host was at fault and as a result everything after that went south.
                                How did the other people at this event react to the same dilemma.
                                Bill at the end of the evening was wonky too. Most people leave functions early.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: HillJ

                                  Lol to the comment on cash...I didn't have any! They had to settle for a credit card :-)
                                  And as for the comments about expecting alcohol: looking back at it I don't think ANY of the drinks were comped, alcoholic or not. Two reasons for this: 1) my colleague that I mentioned earlier (who also received a bill) appeared to be drinking a soda, and I don't think there was alcohol mixed with it (Those of his religion normally don't drink alcohol), and 2) no coffee was offered after dinner. So maybe the host said "water only"? As for how others reacted, the bills came while the lecturer was still speaking, so there wasn't much opportunity to talk among ourselves. The lady next to me did appear a little surprised, and leaned over and whispered "Are you paying for dinner?" (I whispered back, "no, it was for the wine..." and she kind of gave me a "really?" look). I also thought the bill at the end was wonky too....It was almost as if the host (who was in the back of the room) got the bill and said "No, I'm not paying for drinks." Obviously a communication breakdown.

                                  1. re: janetofreno

                                    Amazing. I wonder how the host would have dealt with getting handed the bill for guests who didn't/couldn't cover a drink.

                                2. hmmmm... Yes. That would have ticked me off a bit too. I would expect the invitation/announcement to explain that the dinner is free but there will be a no-host bar if you'd like a drink. I wouldn't bother telling the restaurant. I think it's reasonable for everyone who works there to assume the invitations had covered it. I'd let the host know they need to include more information!

                                  1. An "educational lecture" sponsored by a business, and inducing your participation with a free meal, smacks of a pitch to sell financial services. And you admit you attend a few each year, maybe for the freebies? They are only going to put a little cheese in the trap, enough to get you in the door. The business and the restaurant both want your money, where is the surprise here? Ask questions, read the fine print, and don't expect too many free lunches.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: Veggo

                                      This was not a pitch to sell financial services. It was actually a meeting of a professional association, and the sponsoring host company was a company that might sell products to some of the members (although there was absolutely NO pitch that evening; the lecture had nothing to do with the company's business). The host company had just volunteered to host a quarterly meeting of the organization as a way of showing its support.

                                      1. re: janetofreno

                                        I go to professional association events on a fairly regular basis. Occasionally, the bar is vauge, but that's the exception not the rule. It's usually very clear if it's a cash bar. I've been to some events where you still get tickets for drinks, I figure this is to limit the number of drinks handed out during social hour. If there is a meal, either as part of registration, or included as part of the conference/presentation, I typically assume it only includes water, tea, coffie, maybe a soft drink. In this case, you have an invitation to a free event with a dinner, but my experience says free dinner is not free drinks. However, I disagree with many posters, I do believe the server has some responsibility to let you know drinks are not part of the event. I would however agree, that you have some responsibility to ask if you are unsure and not particularly willing to pay for your drink. When I'm at such an event, it's at no personal cost to me either way, if it's not paid for by the hosting company, it goes on my travel expenses.

                                    2. I've never been to a non-social function with a cash bar, and that includes parties at academic conferences, with the sole exception of my office Christmas party, because I work for the federal government and your tax dollars are not supposed to buy my alcohol. In that case, the servers don't take drink orders at all - people excuse themselves to get drinks from the bar and pay cash right then and there, hence "cash bar."

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Raids

                                        I've been to a number of similar, government sponsored functions, and if it is a dinner, what the restaurant or hotel often does is set up a small bar in the corner of the room where you can go and order a beer or glass of wine if you wish (and then take it back to your table)...and pay right there when you order. No muss, no fuss, it is clear, AND it helps prevent upselling: because if I walk up to a bar, ask for the Pinot, and the bartender says "That will be $15" I can say, "Oh, no thanks, I will have a beer instead". (or at least am only socked for $15 one time).

                                        This also allows the small printed menu that was mentioned earlier, without a lot of hassle.

                                        However, the restaurant might be less willing to set up this way for a smaller group.

                                      2. Having read all the responses I feel compelled to add my take on this. Yes, the host should have found a tactful way to state the no-host bar. "The Society is pleased to welcome you to our event..A three course dinner soft drinks and coffee will be provided."
                                        I am a server and have been in the restaurant business for 25 years so I believe the server had a responsibility to say something along the lines of "Would you prefer to start a tab or pay as you go?" when taking the order. This gives the guest/customer a chance to ask for a drinks menu or decide not to order.

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: kimmer1850

                                          I like that wording. Because clearly "starting a tab" was exactly what was happening, whether the OP knew it or not!

                                          1. re: kimmer1850

                                            That IS phrased nicely, I've just never been to or worked at a place with a pay-as-you-go system.

                                            1. re: kimmer1850

                                              I think this was poorly hosted for a number of reasons.
                                              1) the invite said free, it should have said something like includes a soft drink, alcohol not gratis
                                              2) and the host should have greeted attendees at the door and made mention that alcohol was not included
                                              3) the host should have also told the servers to bring round the drinks/cocktail list
                                              4) having told the servers the servers should have asked each attendee if they would like to start a tab

                                            2. I think they shouldn't have had anyone serving drinks at the event, that would have made it clear - you go to the drink, you're presented with a menu and costs like you would be any other time, you could have seen the prices and picked the drink yourself. Maybe the bartender says something like "it's happy hour right now and wines are half price" or something that makes it clear. If I were at the bar with a menu I'd assume I'm paying, or I'd be prompted to ask - are there specific drinks for the blah blah party and bartender would say no, it's cash bar.

                                              I never expect free anything anymore, it's just easier that way.

                                              1. Considering the hosting company called it a "free" event with a "social hour" before dinner and lecture, I can certainly understand your confusion. The host should have put "(*excluding alcoholic beverages)" on the invitation. It is possible that the restaurant assumed the host had done that, which is why the server did not inform you. This is 90% host's fault. I do reserve 10% of the blame for the restaurant, though. They should have been billing each time they brought a drink during the social hour, for several reasons. 1. it would have reinforced the idea that this was a cash bar, 2. I'm surprised they were able to keep what everyone ordered during the social hour straight, if it's like most social hours where people mill around and mingle with several groups before sitting down, and 3. Sometimes people might make an appearance at the social hour for networking, but not be able to stay for the dinner. How would they bill those people?