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how do you handle this??? [Moved from New Jersey]

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I took Mom and 10 (6 adults and 4 children under 10) other people to breakfast for Mother's Day. At the end of our meal I was presented a bill for $252.54 by the owner. Since the average breakfast was $8-10 I couldn't figure out why it was so high. The bill was a hand written piece of paper with the food ordered on it, but no itemization, just the total. She asked if i had a problem. I told her I thought it was a bit high.She first said that we had a lot of drinks (meaning coffees, milk and juic,e the amount for the drinks came to $27) then asked if I wanted a menu to go over the bill. I had to pay in cash as they don't accept any other type of payment. I asked for a receipt and was given a copy of the watresses order notes. Nothing with the prices or total. I fear that I made a mistake by taking that and leaving. (we had four young children in our party of 11, who wanted to go to the lake,
so I acquiesced)
I called the owner the next morning and told her that I went over the paper handed to me with her online menu and even with rounding all items up it came to $159.00 and that I was overcharged. She said she had a hard time believing that, but would call me at day's end. After no call I tried calling back three times and left messages and my number. I received a call from one of her employees at 9am this morning saying that she wasn't in and would call me back when she arrived. It is now 10pm and still no call. I left another message.
What would you do in my situation? I have no proof that I handed her that amount of money other than the guests that waited with me to get this resolved.
PS
I was embarrassed with this treatment and had to go to an ATM to get an additional $100.

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  1. Don't think there is anything you can do at this point. I wouldn't have paid before seeing an itemized check.

    1. I would of took the menu and made her go over & add up every single item you ordered and add it up in front of me....

      1. You could start by revealing the establishment and letting them rebut your account. The fact that it was cash only should have been your first clue. (Although there are some very reputable places that are cash only.)

        1 Reply
        1. re: cantkick

          Sorry, but as we explain in our Etiquette at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/3676..., in keeping with our consumer-to-consumer focus, we don't allow owners to respond in that manner. We also won't generally allow new posters to post specific restaurant names in a situation like this, because we're not the right place to for disgruntled customers to get revenge on a business.

          However, a general discussion on what to do when there's a dispute over a check or pricing is a topic of general interest and use, which is why we've moved this topic here to the Not About Food board. Please feel free to continue to discuss the issue but please avoid specific restaurant names.

        2. Take the business to Small Claims Court.....and bring your ATM receipt, waitress notes and a witness. It should be enough to make your story believable before the presiding judge.

          In the State of New Jersey, any business being sued in Small Claims Court must bring an attorney to represent them as dictated by stature. Use that simple fact to seek your refund. If the business does not see the benefit of resolving the matter with you, then it would probably cost them $1500-2000 to defend your claim......(three separate visits, two to see if you can resolve the issues between parties...if not, then the third visit is before a judge.)

          2 Replies
          1. re: fourunder

            4...
            are you sure that in NJ "ANY" business being sued must me represented by an attorney in small claims court?
            I know that in most states including those in which I am admitted to the Bar, it is Corporations that must be represented by an attorney in Small Claims Court. A sole proprietorship (as many small restaurants are) is not a separate legal entity than then owner and needs no attorney by law.

            1. re: bagelman01

              I've only sued one business in the past, about 10 years ago......a registered corporation, and they did not come to the court with an attorney. The owner and President represented the action.

              I currently have plans to sue 4 businesses in three different Counties. In contacting all three specific County Small Claims Division Clerks Offices.....all three provided the same information and said the Commercial Businesses had to bring an attorney to court. They mad no distinctions for exceptions to Sole Proprietorships. Should I file actual claims, I will ask specifically if that includes Sole Proprietorships as well and post the response and correct information.

          2. At this point there is probably very little you can do to recoup your loss, unless the owner has a change of heart.

            I know at least one person has recommended that you take your matter to small claims court. I'd really think twice about that. Yes, there is a small chance you might prove victorious or the owner might acquiesce and pay up rather than incur the cost of a lawyer, but since there is very little evidence supporting either position, and you'd need to drag a witness (or two) with you to support your claims; combined with the stress and time wasted; you really need to ask yourself if it's really worth it for the $93?

            I know it sucks, but try and look at it as a learning experience; and demand an itemized check before paying from now on. Remember, life itself is a series of learning lessons. It sounds like you handled yourself gracefully and with quite dignity. You may have lost $93, but you gained twice that in karma points.

            ...of course, if you see the owner on the street, you should run up and kick her in the shin. Karma only goes so far.

            6 Replies
            1. re: creamfinger

              I can tell you from personal experience, winning in small claims does not mean you get the money. There's just nothing compelling them to pay. It's not like if they don't pay, they're picked up and sent to jail. The judge bangs the gavel, bang, you win. Then you dont' get your money.

              There's nothing you can do at this point. I would probably encourage others not to patronize the place if I heard of someone who was thinking of going there.

              1. re: rockandroller1

                I can tell you from personal experience, winning in small claims does not mean you get the money. There's just nothing compelling them to pay. It's not like if they don't pay, they're picked up and sent to jail. The judge bangs the gavel, bang, you win. Then you dont' get your money.
                ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

                1. It's a strategy or tactic...the owner can refund the difference or spend thousands to defend

                2. It's also about a Dun and Bradstreet rating. If you win a judgement, it goes against their credit rating and ability to borrow. Is that worth a hundred dollars?

                3. In my county of Bergen, if you do not pay, the Sheriff can enter your business or take your personal effects off your person to collect and settle and satisfy the debt., i.e., watch, jewelry and cash.

                1. re: fourunder

                  Two little words...
                  Judge
                  Judy
                  LOL

                2. re: rockandroller1

                  In Canada if they don't pay you can definitely have the court gain access to their bank account and get you the money, or they can enter the business and take equipment worth the amount they owe and you get that, plus the longer they don't pay the more the interest increases

                  1. re: rockandroller1

                    Get a judgment in small claims, get a sherriff, constable or marshal (depending on your juristdiction to go into the restaurant and that official can seize the amount of the judgment and collection fee directly from the cash register.

                  2. re: creamfinger

                    At this point....I'm pretty sure it's not just about the money.

                  3. i was burned once by a place...this was a few years ago...but they did a similar thing they charged for every drink...and it didnt say free refills or otherwise on the menu..and i didnt ask...so yea when the bill cam and it was more than 30$ for sodas...i was pissed..but i paid...and i have never ever gone back there again...and anybody that asked i mentioned it...(nowadays i would Yelp or internet review the hell out of them)

                    but it did teach me to ask about everything...so yea its annoying as hell....but there isnt much you can do besides as others have mentioned by try and take them to court...

                    but i would also post your experience online in as many formats as you can...that way somebody else wont get burned either...

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: srsone

                      So how were your burned if "it didnt say free refills or otherwise on the menu..and i didnt ask?"

                      You ordered sodas, drank them. You pay.

                      I actually cant name a single place here in NYC that offers free refills, so it's extra hard for me to understand the 'scam'.

                      1. re: thegforceny

                        According to his/her profile, srsone lives in Naples, FL, not NYC. I can't think of a single restaurant where I live that charges for soft drink refills. If a restaurant blatantly goes against the local norms, they should let customers know that up front.

                        1. re: carolinadawg

                          That makes sense. Got it!

                        2. re: thegforceny

                          i was "burned" because yes almost every place around here does do free refills..and i wasnt expecting it..and like i mentioned..didnt look or ask...now i do.. i always ask now

                      2. First, I am sorry you were at the receiving end of this slick handed, shafting by the owner. It was clearly a scam she ran. Very few restaurants nowadays, do not have itemized billing. I suspect they did, but the owner saw a quick way to scam you. Between the number of people, the fete day, as well as some excited children, she knew you were ripe for the picking. And she went for it.

                        Normally, I would challenge the issue, even legally in small claims court, but in this case I believe you will lose or find it is not worth your time. Auto tabulated gratuity was probably tacked on, and at the 18 or whatever similar rate that only leaves you with some $40-$50 difference. Sure, since the bill was not itemized, you can't see what the gratuity was that was added in and it might not have been noted on the online menu. But I will bet you that she can "prove" it was posted somewhere and maybe having been applied at "special" holiday rate.

                        It is a shame when business take to scamming customers on family holidays like this. And I am sorry this over shadowed what I hope was a great family day spent together.

                        Emotional resources: Karma, that always works. Word of mouth, that also works, letter to the editor. and here is the link to the complaint form of NJ Dept of consumer affairs :
                        http://www.nj.gov/oag/ca/complaint/oc...

                        Additionally you might want to consider reporting the business to the Sales Tax division. Since she did not itemize the bill, she has no proof that sales tax was applied, recorded or collected. If her entire business is run with these non-itemized hand written notes, she will have extreme difficultly to prove to The NJ dept of sales taxation that she has done this correctly, if at all during her ownership.
                        You might enjoy this article about a similar case.
                        http://www.nj.com/hunterdon-county-de...

                        You might also start a NJ State query about payroll taxes as result of the sales tax complaint. Once they find one taxable point is an issue, they tend to look at others.

                        Give it two weeks, if it still is a sore spot for you, give it up to the state via the consumer affairs complaint and the Sales Tax department.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Quine

                          LOL Quine, looks like we were thinking alike at the same moment!

                          1. re: AllieM

                            We were! And I do think it is the best approach. Nothing brings down the big hammer like the state thinking you are not recording and paying taxes.

                            1. re: Quine

                              I totally agree with you! The states don't like cash businesses, especially ones with complaints lodged against them!

                        2. Phone calls don't do anything. I would go back to the establishment with notes and paper and try to have a civil conversation with the owner. The big question I have is, how are they handling their accounting system if they aren't showing taxable and non-taxable items and how much they collected from you in taxes? I don't know if it is in all states, but I do know that when reporting sales tax, etc., you have to itemize how much food and how many beverages you have sold.

                          I also agree with srsone, Yelp them!!

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: AllieM

                            I too would go back and see what can be done. But I am confused about the fact that you were in a hurry so didn't go over the bill, yet you had time to go to an ATM to get more money to pay the bill. This may be a case of live and learn.

                            1. re: escondido123

                              A lot of cash businesses have a ATM right in their establishment, owned by a third party. The owner of the location gets paid by the ATM company for each transaction that is made. I see it a lot in gas stations where they don't allow you to get cash back from a debit purchase, but point you to the machine.

                              I can understand it in a gas station as they don't keep much cash in the register for fear of being robbed, but maybe this restaurant had one also.

                              1. re: AllieM

                                She said she "had to go to an ATM" which makes me think it wasn't in the restaurant.

                                1. re: escondido123

                                  Either way, I would definitely find time to argue the bill rather than withdraw more cash. I can definitely understand the pressure of a big party and all those kids, and I would probably have a meltdown, but I would have that meltdown in the restaurant before I would hand over $100 I didn't think I owed. $20 or so I might let go but not more.

                          2. Very sorry to hear about this.

                            I'm just perplexed, if not outright shocked, that a restaurant can ring up a bill for nearly 250+ and not have the capability to accept credit cards.

                            13 Replies
                            1. re: ipsedixit

                              There are restaurants that choose to deal in cash only. Don't know why but they do exist.

                              1. re: escondido123

                                Yes, I'm aware of many, but few have average per person check in the $25 range.

                                1. re: carolinadawg

                                  Yes, that was my point.

                                  1. re: ipsedixit

                                    And I was agreeing with you, and buttressing your point. :-)

                                  2. re: carolinadawg

                                    $25 isn't that much nowadays..the OP was talking about 11 people so even with $20 per person that could bring the tab up to what was charged.

                                    1. re: escondido123

                                      Most of the cash only places I'm aware of probably have an average check size under $10. They tend to be old line hot dog or bbq joints or small, inexpensive diners.

                                      1. re: escondido123

                                        That's true, however the average breakfast at this palce was under $8. To bring you all up to date, after numerous unresponive subsequent calls to the owner and her promise after the the first call to go over the bill with me and include the prices.............She had one of her employees tell me that an error was found and if I called again, I was to leave my address. I asked if I could speak to her and was told she was not available, but I would receive 'something' in the mail within a week.

                                        1. re: Darbie2

                                          Why wait? Why not go there in person?

                                          1. re: Darbie2

                                            Sounds like the owner is embarrassed! But like wyogal said, why couldn't you just stop in and pick up the envelope?

                                            1. re: Darbie2

                                              How about calling back and telling them you're going to be in their area and would like to pick up your check because you're going out of town and need to tie up business matters before you leave.
                                              You would also like an itemization of food costs and, because you'd been speaking to your accountant about this bizarre experience, you'd also like the taxation explanation included for your accountant.

                                              1. re: latindancer

                                                Why make up something? Just call and say "I'll be in at x time to pick up the money. Thank you."

                                              2. re: Darbie2

                                                Um.... they're cash only right? You too can be "cash only". Go to the restaurant and politely stand your ground until you get your cash.

                                                1. re: Darbie2

                                                  Waiting anxiously for an update after a week.

                                                  I'd hope the owner is trying to avoid a personal confrontation over this, but will take care of it. What she doesn't seem to understand is that speaking to or meeting with you personally is the best way for her to make amends and preserve any kind of positive relationship with you as a customer. In these times of Yelp, etc. people in any business should learn to get out in front of mistakes as soon and as positively as they can.

                                        2. On a second note, my daughter learned the hard way recently at a restaurant where she used her visa/debit card to pay for the meal and did not cross out or put a $0.00 in the tip line. She left a cash tip. When the visa/debit transaction came through it was double the amount. $20.57 instead of $10.57. Contacting the establishment, it appears that someone (waitress) put in $10.00 on the tip line before the final processing went through the banks.

                                          She did get the money back, but I understand that the new scam in the restaurant industry is waiters/waitresses filling in the tip money box for you if you don't cross it out. People are just too much in a hurry today to keep their receipts and balance their accounts!

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: AllieM

                                            Adding in a tip after the customer has signed is a crime. I'd fire any server who did that.

                                          2. "It's in the mail."' The owner can delay things for several weeks with this approach.

                                            If you don't get anything in the mail, I would tell her that you are going to report her to the Department of Consumer Affairs, but that you won't do so if you are reimbursed. That may well cause her to decide to give you some money back.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: BrightRedMud

                                              I did some work for a doctor, who then didn't pay the bill. I went down to his office and waited. When someone said "gee you've been here a long time" I replied "he owes me money." The check was handed to me five minutes later.

                                              1. re: escondido123

                                                Works like a charm in my experience too. Walking into a private, small restaurant with customers around and saying in full voice, I rec'd a call about my reimbursement after being overcharged would typically be received with a quick ring of the register.

                                                In person to deal with disputes is faster, easier and quicker! And for all you wind up going through even after you are reimbursed, reporting your experience is still an option.

                                            2. Well, the restaurant owner must not expect any repeat business.