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Check the Check, Please

Nancy Trejos

One night last week, three friends and I were walking around Dupont Circle searching for a reasonably priced restaurant for dinner. After all, we were four journalists on tight budgets. So we settled on Beacon Bar & Grill.

My friends Daphne and Zach opted for the chicken and penne pasta entrée which was priced at $16 on the menu. (I had the chicken salad. Our fourth dining companion had macaroni and cheese).

When the check arrived, Daphne took charge of calculating what everyone owed. “Wasn’t the pasta $16?” she asked Zach.

“Yes,” Zach responded.

“They charged us $18 each,” she said. “I know it’s only $2. It’s not a lot. I hate to make a fuss, but we shouldn’t have to pay more than what they advertised it as.”

Plus, she calculated, on a $16 entree, the $2 amounts to 12.5 percent of the price. When you add 25 percent or more for tax and tip, those couple of dollars actually end up costing you even more.

Zach called the waiter over and asked him to double-check the price.

“We are in a recession," I said. "Every dollar counts.”

The waiter returned and apologized. The price of the dish had increased, he said, but the menu had not reflected that yet. He brought us a new check with the $16 charge for the chicken and penne.

As we all threw down our credit cards and cash, we wondered how many people had ordered that dish thinking it would cost them $16, only to be charged an extra $2? How many people had even caught that mistake? I have to admit, in pre-recessionary times, I had not thought as much about money as I do now. Often, I would pay my restaurant bill without even looking at it. I think many people out there take for granted that the waiter will charge them correctly. But you shouldn’t, especially now, because it’s one of the easiest ways to lose money.

I returned to the Beacon yesterday to speak to a manager. Kamran Vakili, the food and beverage director, was happy to explain what happened. The waiter had not given us the correct explanation, he said. It turns out that the restaurant changed its menu last week, but not all the prices were programmed correctly into their computers. Two new dishes, including the chicken and penne pasta, were listed in the computers with incorrect prices for just one day, he said. “Nobody caught the error,” he said, until my friends and I showed up.

Vakili apologized and said the menu and the computers were now in synch.

The moral of the story is: Never assume you will be charged for what you’ve ordered at a restaurant. Waiters are human and make mistakes Always look at your check before you pay it.

A couple of dollars might not seem like much, but if you lose a couple of dollars every week, think of how much money you’d lose by the end of the year. That could pay for many more lunches and dinners.

By Nancy Trejos  |  April 14, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Nancy Trejos  
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Next: The Taxman Cometh -- Today!


Thanks for posting this - just the fact that you mentioned it gives the rest of us permission to double check...not assume, and dare to ask questions about the bill. It's okay, and it's our responsibility.

Posted by: rjrjj | April 14, 2009 8:49 AM | Report abuse

Every penny counts! Plus- tax and tip would have been calculated based on that $2 increase for the pasta dish...

Posted by: elham17 | April 14, 2009 9:37 AM | Report abuse

This goes for any time you spend money. I was once told by a sales associate that I was eligible for a FREE extended warrantee on a printer. It did not ring up as free, and the cashier tried to convince me that it was right. It wasn't and I feel bad that I made the 3-4 people in line behind me wait, but if you tell me it is free, it should be free.

Also, I recently purchased a bunch of clothes at a consignment shop. I had added the prices in my head as I selected them, and knew the price should be about $60. The clerk rang the purchases up at $90. I asked her to check--it took 3 times before I was sure we got it added correctly. A few days later, I was in the store again and bought only two items. The same clerk charged the wrong price again ($6 for a purchase that should have been $4, but still). That time I began to wonder if it was really a mistake. I shop a lot at consignment shops, and I don't think I have ever gotten the wrong price before, so it just seemed odd.

Once at a school book fair I made the mistake of talking with the person tallying my purchases, and she rang a book up twice. Again, because I added the total in my head ahead of time, I knew that it wasn't right.

Once my credit card bill had two charges from my haircut place on two successive days--clearly that wasn't true, and it was easy to straighten out.

Many grocery stores have a policy that if you are charged the wrong price for an item, you get one of that item free. That happened to me once also.

As you can see, I am a long time cheapskate!

Posted by: janedoe5 | April 14, 2009 11:19 AM | Report abuse

A few years ago the waiter at a Chinese restaurant in Maryland that I like charged me about 20 percent more for a dish than the price on the menu. The check was in Chinese, which I don't read, but I can read numbers. I showed him the mistake and he effusively apologized and brought me a corrected check. I don't know if the error was intentional or not but it pays, literally, to check everything.

A story in the NY Times 2-3 years ago described how waiters in restaurants in certain tourist areas of Italy will mark the bills the cook gets to indicate that the recipient is a tourist; the cook then uses cheaper ingredients and often the price for the meal is increased.

My worst experience in a restaurant was in Rome; the waiter was awful and so when my friends and I left we left no tip. As we headed for the door he went ballistic and and screamed while waving his arms until we were out the door.

Posted by: beoods | April 15, 2009 9:16 AM | Report abuse

Also on restaurant menus, beer prices are usually not listed. We not only have to ask the waiter how much beer is but we have to specify how much is a draught, a bottle, an import, a domestic... and rarely does the waiter know. They have to "go check." I hate this practice. I feel like such a cheapskate and a pain asking how much beer costs. Not posting prices encourages patrons to buy beer blindly and not until they get the check do they know they spent $5 a beer!

Posted by: denisegates | April 16, 2009 8:00 AM | Report abuse

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