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Servers (managers?) padding the bill

I freely admit that I rarely scrutinize the bill when I am dining out or even having a few drinks at the bar. I usually glance at the total and then hand over my card or cash.

My husband on the other hand goes over the bill in detail. Drive me crazy but you pick your battles, right?

We have been out to eat probably about 20-25 times since school started in early Sept. Usually they are pretty casual/local places before or after our sons hockey game but at least a handful of times were in "better", more upscale places-again all pretty local thought a few local chains (for Boston folks think Rustic Kitchen or Burtons).

Back in October my husband noticed that we were charged for two additional cocktails we didn't have. The server blamed the bar service for putting someones else bar bill on our dinner check. Sounded suspicious but he took it off and we went on our way. Before thanksgiving we found our bill charged us for a much higher priced steak entree than what we had ordered. The server (different place) said it was a computer error, was very nice about it and removed the higher charge. In both these cases I don't think I would have caught it as the dollar amounts were minor compared to the grand total.

So last night I was out with girlfriend to place we have been a few times before. We each had a cosmo ($12 ea) a glass of wine ($10/glass) we spit an appetizer ($12) and then split a (really great!) pizza ($15). When the bill came it was just under $100 so even I gave pause. When we asked our server she said that unless specified they use their top shelf vodka so the cosmos were $15 each not $12 as listed on the menu and there was a $15 splitting charge (not listed on the menu and we have been there before with no splitting charge). When we questioned the charges, she became very flustered, left and then came back with a manager who made a big deal about removing the charges, how he was making an exception "just this once", blah blah blah.

Granted these are just 3 meals across many but my husband swears that this is a regular occurrence. He said when they see parents with kids (who most likely will rush), people having a few drinks, big business lunches or basically any party that appears they wont be paying too much attention they server has an opportunity to take advantage and many of them will since they can easily place the blame elsewhere if caught.

I don't know, I guess I like to believe most people are honest and that on the rare times it happens it is just error. Am I being naive?

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  1. I agree with your ire about "upcharges" that are not stated on the menu. However, I don't get the steak thing. If the wrong order was placed in the computer, how did he get the right dish? A conspiracy between waiter and kitchen seems unlikely - he would have to enter the wrong item on purpose then go back to the kitchen and tell them which one to switch. Hard to imagine that is feasible in a busy kitchen. But maybe it is. Who knows?

    1 Reply
    1. re: Just Visiting

      It was the petite filet vs the full size so the sides were all the same. Maybe I actually got the bigger one but all I know is that I ate it all, yummy! I don't remember it being much large than expected either. The server was very nice, like I said and didn't question and said she remembered me ordering the petite.

    2. Both my husband and I have analytical minds and scrutinize bills. Always. Not just restaurants but those for clothing, groceries, everything. We have found many errors that were worth drawing attention to. I have been charged too much for grocery items many times. At some stores if they charge too much and you point it out you get that product free. That just happend to me recently again. This has happened to us in restaurants as well, mostly in foreign countries where they add service charges more than once on a bill.

      1. I scan the bill and have never noted an error on MY bill but I have gotten the wrong bill a time or two. Two times recently, one was for a large party and would have been noticed by anybody just for the (huge) dollar amount. Another one would have been in my favor.

        1. Errors and up charges are two very different things. In a restaurant, mistakes happen regularly and I've had it go the other way where I have to point out they didn't charge us for something. But upcharges, those are done on purpose and should be challenged unless in writing that is readable.

          1. It happens often enough that I always check the bill.
            At one of the "finer" restaurants on the North Fork someone elses "pre dinner" bar tab was added to our bill. This was one of many errors at this "classy" place and we barely got an apology so we don't go back.
            Overestimating the tax is another common error.
            Being charged for items that were ordered but the restaurant had "run out" of is another boo boo.
            I don't take out a calculator but do skim the check and add it in my head. Most errors are blatant.
            I've never had the feeling that the overcharging was intentional.

            1. I check pretty regularly and thoroughly and I don't see a lot of this. But I go to lower-end, casual places. If anything, I see small items left off the bill, whether by accident or comp.
              I would not return to the place with the vodka and splitting charge issues because I would be completely turned off. If I order an item and don't specify the upgrade, I'm ordering what's on the menu and should not have to clarify that. The splitting charge sounds high relative to the cost of the items, even if it had been listed on the menu or mentionned to you. Since it wasn't, I again have to call foul. That place would not get a second chance from me. They're either completely desperate for cash or they're doing it all the time with larger tables/bigger bills and made a serious misjudgement that you wouldn't notice the difference on such a small bill (5 items and 3 upgrades/extra charges???)

              1. I've seen $5 "extra plate" charges on a menu, but $15 sounds extremely high.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Kat

                  $15 to split a $12 app - they could have each gotten their own, only eaten half, and been charged less!

                2. Seems like you are talking about two completely seperate issues:

                  Your last example split plate charges/top shelve booze upgrade-
                  you should never be charged for something that isn't either on the menu of mentioned at the time of ordering. If they're going to chage split p[late fees that is entirely reasonable but if they don't make you aware of it you are completely correct to ask for it to be removed.

                  The upgrade to the price of the cosmo seems to be working in reverse to common practice as well. If the cosmo is listed on the drink menu as $12 that is what you should be given and charged for unless they ask you to specify a brand and you do. Many people don't necessarily realise that once you specify a call brand the price will go up.
                  Example: You order a gin and tonic listed at $5, the server asks if you would care for Damrak gin, you say yes. The $2 upcharge is added making your drink $7.

                  The others sound like common mistakes and errors that, so long as the staff fixes the issue politely and without fuss, you should just default to believing the errors to be honest.

                  that said, you should always check you bill as these mistakes are really very easy to make.

                  1. Put me down on the side of I check every bill and seldom notice a mis-charge. Every bill. Very seldom. For me wrong amounts happen regularly at groceries, hardly ever at restaurants.

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: FrankJBN

                      This is my experience, also. The cashiers at my neighborhood grocery store have been known to charge me twice for the same item. Unintentionally, I'm sure - they're just idiots. But on a recent trip to Whole Foods, my total seemed suspiciously high. It turned out that I was overcharged for everything sold by weight: my pound of coffee mysteriously became 2.5 lbs, etc. The weight increases were different for each item, so it's not that something was resting on the scale. The person who helped me correct the bill said that sometimes the scale just "goes off." I don't quite believe that, but I can't think of any other plausible explanation.

                      1. re: small h

                        Not necessarily idiots: they could be under pressure, or stressed out for some reason. I've been a cashier, and I'm sure I've made mistakes on occasion. That's why I always count my change.

                        1. re: tardigrade

                          I've also been a cashier, which is how I know the difference between making a mistake because you're rushing or distracted, and making a mistake because you're simply clueless and also don't give a damn. The cashiers at my local supermarket are the latter. You'll just have to trust me on this.

                          1. re: small h

                            But clueless means less likely to cheat you on purpose....that would take planning.

                        2. re: small h

                          I have experienced electronic scales going wacky. I only realized it when the the customer had jotted the wrong PLU # on a bulk item. Had to look up the correct # , void and then re-ring. The second time the scale gave a different weight...it happens.

                          1. re: meatn3

                            Good to know, as I will need an explanation for my holiday weight gain. Blame the scale!

                            1. re: small h

                              Absolutely! The only possible explanation for why my weight changes from morning to night...

                      2. I check my bill from the hotel, restaurant, grocery and I have found error in about 40-50% of the time...from a stats perspective, that is extremely high and being the conspiracy chick that I am, I gotta say that imho, the restaurant is scamming.

                        On the issue of the split charge of $15 and its not on the menu and your being charged..that would go so far up my ass..for one, its exorbitant and two, you can't just randomly charge a fee unless it is written somewhere in plain view and also would be helpful that the server mentions this to, so there is no surprise.
                        When you order a $12 Cosmo and the server takes it upon themselves to upsell you automatically to the top shelf brand, that is your decision, not theirs..so many scams going at this place, imo.

                        Don't you hate the manager that makes you feel your the Dbag..
                        Personally, I would get a hold of the owner and let he/she know the situation.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Beach Chick

                          Persnally when the manager is clearly in on it I assume the owner is too. The only reason to get in touch would be to let them know they're losing my business. But honestly, when a person or business is wandering that far into "grey areas" they are usually completely entitled and will rationalize their behaviour - it's a tough business, they'd go broke otherwise, the table didn't order adequately, women are bad tippers - etc.

                          1. re: Beach Chick

                            I'd have to take some exception to this statement: "you can't just randomly charge a fee unless it is written somewhere in plain view"

                            It is completely acceptable for a restaurant to let a guest know verbally of fees that are not in writing. In today's culture you couldn't make a menu that addresses all the common special requests without turning it into a book. But it must be mentioned, you can't just charge.

                          2. I'm bad, i figure people are basically honest. I also always thought that the server was also responsible to check the tab before it gets to me, but this shouldn't relieve me of checking too. I guess i'm going to have to be more careful from now on. so sad.

                            1. I am an extremely honest person (give money back if too much change, point out if something is not on my bill etc). I also make mistakes once in awhile. When I went to work in a retail store that was often very busy, I made all sorts of mistakes--overcharging (hit a key too hard and $10 becomes $100), undercharging (same idea), leaving an item out of the bag (which was then held with all the info we had hoping the buyer would return)--but none of them were intentional and were solved if possible. I also dealt with customers who got something for free because I believed them when they said the item wasn't in their bag, took back items that turned out to be used but customer said they weren't, was screamed at by people who wanted to return things we didn't sell and was accused of trying to steal a guy's money when he got confused about his change. So, stuff happens on both sides. Some are honest mistakes, some are inexperience, some are incompetence and then there are those that are true dishonesty. Sorting it out can be difficult.

                              1. I've never been in a bar where they automatically give you "top shelf" unless you ask for cheaper. It's always the other way around. I'd be really suspicious of that explanation. And 15 dollars for splitting an appetizer ( isn't that expected with those?) and pizza of all things? Are they kidding? I can see it if it's an entree and especially if they bring you a second plate with sides. Appetizers and pizza NO. I probably wouldn't go back there. I think they are really trying to rip off people that don't pay attention.

                                Oh and if top shelf is their default, then the menu should have reflected the 15 dollar price not 12.

                                1. re last night:
                                  As others have pointed out, you were not only overcharged but gouged ($15 split on pizza app), and then belittled ("i'll remove it just this once (you cheap whiner)" ... i assume part of "making a big deal of it" was it wasnt super-discreet). So why exactly arent you naming the place?

                                  BTW, $12 seems high for a drink as simple as a cosmo (and I live in a place with high cost of living).

                                  1. Ever since I have been paying the bill for meals out, and that has been more than 40 years, I have estimated in my head as we go along the total of the bill....drinks, apps, entree, sides, dessert, coffee, sales tax, etc. I am usually with a couple of dollars. Taught my son to do the same thing when he started to date.i

                                    1. I suggest deducting the extra charges from the tip. Let the server work it out with management.

                                      1. I always check, and ask if I don't understand something. Most of the time, mistakes are just that: the wrong bill delivered to the table, charged for a full serving when a half one was ordered, etc. However, some of the things you mention sound like downright fraud: posting one price and charging another is illegal in some places, as is adding charges willy-nilly. I'd complain, not just to the manager but to the local business or licensing bureaus.

                                        I once complained about an incorrect bill that was lower than it should have been ("Miss, are you sure this is right?") only to have the server come back with an even lower total. At that point I gave up.

                                        1. A few of many reasons why it's always a good idea to look at the itemized tab. I'd say we find errors on 1 out of 10 of of our tabs. Which is to say it happens all the time, by mistake or not. Occasionally errors are in favor of the establishment, which, unless the service is inexcusably terrible, one of us points out all the same.
                                          It's the same with hotel bills. I can't tell you how many times I've had mini bar or movie charges added by "mistake".

                                          1. You are not crazy or imagining things. We are seniors, well dressed (designer bag, jewelry, etc.) and pick up the check for our friends with an 'anything you want' type attitude on special occasions. This past Christmas eve the bill was intentionally 'padded' with $250 of white wine (by the glass as not to stick out on the bill). This was a well known Italian bistro in Land 'O Lakes Florida. It took us six weeks of emails, calls and haggling with a rude and defensive owner/chef to get our refund. Turns out that thieves don't like being caught red handed.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: hungryinhudson

                                              Holy crap, that's worth a call to the police/DA!