Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Restaurant Hidden Extras


oakapple
 Share

Recommended Posts

This week, a four-star review of Alain Ducasse in New York complained as follows:

If only the waiters didn't push extras without hinting what they cost - like the young woman who offers a pre-meal, $42 glass of champagne.

I've seen other examples in recent reviews. At another New York restaurant, Megu, servers routinely offer Edamame without mentioning that it'll set you back $25 — which is a lot more than you would normally expect to pay. One reviewer referred to that as "dirty pool."

When the server asks, "Would you like....," we don't always ask, "What'll that cost me?" We presume that anything being offered is in line with what such things usually cost — taking the overall price level of the restaurant into consideration. Even allowing that Alain Ducasse is New York's most expensive restaurant, it's not reasonable to foist a $42 glass of champagne upon the unwitting diner.

When do restaurants have a moral responsibility to disclose the price of hidden extras, or is it the diner's own fault for not asking? Does anyone have stories more egregious than these?

Edited by oakapple (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

In my opinion they have an ethical responsibility to disclose the price of such offered extras if the price is unreasonable relative to the typical menu item cost in that establishment. More to the point, it's just plain bad business to foist overpriced extras in any restaurant and expect people not to get a bit miffed. I'd guess the evarge diner at ADNY is fairly well heeled and $42 won't break the bank but even folks with money to throw around get justifiably irritated at being ripped off.

Not nearly as egregious but many, many higher end restaurants now routinely open an extra bottle of sparkling water when the first one is cloes to being empty, even if your glass is full and the meal is close to an end. they did it to us at Danube where San Pellegrino is $14 per bottle. I wanted to say something but my GF was paying the bill for my birthday dinner and she didn't want to rock the boat. At Tangerine in Philly, a few months later, they pulled the same stunt (where the water was being sold at bargain basement prices like $11 per bottle :wink: ) and we called them on it. We never ever asked for more water and had actually finished our dinner when they magically appeared with the extra bottle. We politely pointed out the fact that we never ordered it and they immediately removed it from the bill.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I was at a restaurant the other night and the server brought a full glass of perrier to a lady and a full bottle beside of it. I wondered if she was charged for one or two glasses.

I always ask how much something is going to cost before I accept something at a restaurant. I don't assume its going to be free, unless its set on my table with the words "compliments of the chef".

it just makes me want to sit down and eat a bag of sugar chased down by a bag of flour.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

When something is brought unrequested, it had better be free, because I am not going to pay for it, no matter what the circumstance.

If something is offered by the waiter/waitress and it is clearly printed on the menu how much this item costs, then I will pay whatever it ends up being on the bill, even if I was dumb enough not to see it.

If something offered is obviously not free, I will ask how much it is, and take it if it seems reasonable.

If something is offered that logically should be very cheap, or free, such as a condiment, I will not pay the charge if it is indeed not very cheap or free, or take it out of the tip, after all this amounts to poor serive on the part of the waiter/waitress by not informing the diner.

He don't mix meat and dairy,

He don't eat humble pie,

So sing a miserere

And hang the bastard high!

- Richard Wilbur and John LaTouche from Candide

Link to comment
Share on other sites

We seldom order anything without knowing the price. If the "Fish of the Day" sounds interesting, we inquire as to the price if the price has not already been mentioned. Here in the Atlanta area, most do not mention the price - and some servers actually excuse themselves to go and find out the price when we ask. How's that for being prepared?

When drink prices are not shown on the menu, I have learned that they are usually higher than in the restaurants which list the prices of tea, coffee, etc.

Edited by Milt (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have no idea why some restaurants seem determined to generate "badwill" instead of goodwill by padding the check with extras.

On the other hand there are some restaurants (rare) who provide extras at no charge. Late last fall I was visiting a friend in Arcadia and she took me to a restaurant (wish I could recall the name) which was quite full and we sat at the small counter that sort of mimics a 50s style soda fountain.

Our server asked if we wanted water and when we said yes she prepared two large glasses and drew the water from what looked like a beer tap. We asked about it and she said that they serve only Crystal Geyser and it is also piped into their ice machine. No extra charge.......

This reminded me of Belisles, a restaurant that used to be near Disneyland (I mentioned it on the pie thread) and in the wide hall leading to the kitchen were racks of Sparkletts bottles (the big ones that go into dispensers). Because the water in Anaheim is less than optimal, they had decided to serve good water and damm the cost. You never had to ask for it and it always had a slice of lemon perched on the edge of the glass.

These places generate patron loyalty and lots and lots of goodwill.

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have no idea why some restaurants seem determined to generate "badwill" instead of goodwill by padding the check with extras.

It appears that they fail to see "the big picture" on this ... goodwill far exceeds the nickle-and-dime padding that so often occurs .. leaves a bad taste in the customers' mouths and dampens repeat business ... :sad:

Melissa Goodman aka "Gifted Gourmet"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

If I feel that I've been tricked it will be reflected in the amount of tip I leave. And I won't come back to such restaurant. Seems like a very bad business plan for a restaurant.

The difference between theory and practice is much smaller in theory than it is in practice.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Service charge. Alright, it's not hidden, just printed nice and small, but what is it supposed to represent? The quality of service offered at a restaurant is the choice of the owner. Better service = a better chance of attracting customers. Why is the provision of service translated into a direct charge for the diner? My preference would be for that 10 per cent to be added to all the dishes on the menu. Most restaurants here (Hong Kong) either keep the money instead of divvying it up among the staff, or plough it into training and uniforms, which is feudal.

I prefer the system they use in Japan and Korea, revolutionary in its way: no service charge, no tipping. You pay your bill, you get your change, and you are expected to take every cent of it away with you. The service is great, and the restaurant, not the diner, is presumed to take care of its own staff.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 months later...

I recall that on a trip to New Zealand, all the high-end restaurants charged for a roll, or a slice of bread. It was rather astonishing - there was no mention of such a thing, and the server would appear with a basket, inquiring if you would care for a roll or a slice of bread with dinner. In all three instances, we were doing 5 and 6 course meals, and were somewhat taken aback to discover that we had been charged about $3.00 for each roll or slice of bread. Actually, horrified is more like it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I recall that on a trip to New Zealand, all the high-end restaurants charged for a roll, or a slice of bread.  It was rather astonishing - there was no mention of such a thing, and the server would appear with a basket, inquiring if you would care for a roll or a slice of bread with dinner.  In all three instances, we were doing 5 and 6 course meals, and were somewhat taken aback to discover that we had been charged about $3.00 for each roll or slice of bread.  Actually, horrified is more like it.

I agree that it's very wrong to provide something automatically and then to charge for it later. But to someone from NZ or Aust, it is presumed that you will be charged for bread, it's usually a nice surprise when you haven't been. We have a small restaurant, and we provide bread and oil to our customers free of charge....but it costs us a lot because we buy it in, and we get the best artisinal bread in the city. I just hope that the customers appreciate it! :hmmm:

In the other thread that GG mentioned, there were several posters who noted that in Europe everyone drinks bottled water - someone said that you'd be considered "cheap" if you didn't get it. I'd be more inclined to say that they'd think that you were crazy. It's insanely cheap to buy bottled water there, most people drink it in their homes, and would never consider drinking tap water unless they were in a dire situation.

And to comment on the price of water in restaurants: it is infinitely frustrating to pay $8 here in a restaurant for $1.20 worth of water (that's a mark-up of 670%!!!!), but to read that in NY some places are charging $14!!!! It's enough to turn you off your food! :angry:

Forget the house, forget the children. I want custody of the red and access to the port once a month.

KEVIN CHILDS.

Doesn't play well with others.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

If I feel that I've been tricked it will be reflected in the amount of tip I leave.  And I won't come back to such restaurant.  Seems like a very bad business plan for a restaurant.

Not to start an argument, but I'd like to persuade you to instead speak to a manager and ask if the charge for whatever it is that you assumed would be free or very cheap could be removed from your bill.

This has been an issue on a few message boards I've visited, and many people have presented situations that fall into 2 categories: Those where the server is knowingly trying to pad a patron's bill in order to increase his or her tip and those where the server is merely doing his or her job correctly, but a perception of being shafted comes through on the guest's part.

While I am a server, and I do not engage in the first behavior, I am aware that it does happen. It's actually extremely common in high end fine dining establishments, the example of a new bottle of water being opened at meal's end being very typical. If this happened to me, I would simply state to the server that I didn't ask for another bottle of water and I will not pay for one. If there was a problem with that, I'd speak to a manager.

But then, there are situations where a patron visits a fine dining restaurant, not realizing that it's the standard not to offer free refills on coke at certain types of places. Fine dining servers are used to patrons generally being aware that refills aren't free, and it's considered rude and disruptive to the sequence of service to interrupt a fine dining patron who asks for another coke to blurt out, "Y'all know those ain't free, don'cha?" or something similar. While I don't drink coke at white tablecloth restaurants, if I did find myself confronted with charges for refills that I didn't expect, or any other unusual charge, I'd explain to a manager that I was unhappy about that charge. In my experience, managers are pretty good at removing these charges from the bill, so there's really no need to take it out on the server unless you feel certain that the server had been trying to trick you.

I am having some difficulty lately with people not understanding that we don't give free refills on our freshly-squeezed lemonade. It's very expensive for us to make and labor intensive, and it makes perfect sense to me that we charge by the glass for it, but some people don't seem to get it. I've been trying to handle this situation by, on removing the empty glass, asking, "Would you like to *order* another lemonade, or can I bring you some water instead?" I make sure that I state the word *order* very, very clearly while making eye contact, and so I didn't think it would be also necessary to add, on receiving an affirmative response, that there will be a subsequent charge for another lemonade.

I have several horrible stories related to this unfortunate situation. I'm thinking of printing up business cards that read, "There are no free refills on lemonade!" so that I can hand them to guests, just to make absolutely sure that they understand.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

When I hear a lot of people complaining about the same thing in a restaurant, I think of it as an opportunity.

To use an example from another area of human endeavor, look at movie theaters. Movie theaters don't even break even from ticket sales. They make a profit because of a combination of concession sales and ticket sales. The concessions are outrageously overpriced at most every movie theater -- a movie theater is just about the only place in the world where a soda costs more than it would from a fancy hotel's room service menu. Now, you can yell and scream about how overpriced the concessions are. Or you can see an opportunity: the high price of concessions keeps the price of tickets down, therefore by purchasing a ticket and not purchasing concessions you allow other people to subsidize your movie experience. Same thing at a baseball game: the tickets are cheap because everybody else is spending $5 on a hot dog. So if you buy tickets but eat your own food before and after the game, you allow the other 50,000 fans to subsidize your day at the stadium.

Restaurants are the same way: to simplify, assume they have to make a certain amount of money. If so, they're either going to make it by charging $X for food, or they're going to build a check average of that same $X through a combination of basic menu price, beverage price, and nickel-and-dime extras. So let's say that amount is $100 per person. The restaurant could just charge $100 per person and include everything, like bottled water and basic wine pairings, in that price. Or it could charge $50 per person and build an average of $50 per person in extra charges. Me, I'd rather do without the extras and take the opportunity to eat the meal for $50 with tap water, without coffee, etc.

Now, to get back to the point about concealment and bad restaurant conduct, there is no doubt that there is some predatory conduct in the restaurant industry. Some of it is waitstaff driven, because we have this hopelessly flawed system whereby tips are predictably related to only one variable: the total check. (Tips are not predictably related to quality of service provided.) And some of it is restaurant driven, because the restaurant designs award and incentive programs -- either express or implied -- to encourage aggressive, over-the-line upselling.

At the same time, at least half the time when I hear such a complaint I suspect there has simply been a communication problem. There is the matter of regional variation, for example. It is totally normal to charge for bread in New Zealand, and it is totally abnormal to charge for bread in New York. With regional variations, I believe it is mostly the customer's responsibility to learn the standards of the regions to which he travels. That seems pretty obvious to me, that it's not the region's responsibility to explain the way things have always been done there. As well as regional variations, there are variations at different levels of dining: the generally expected process at a middle market chain restaurant is not the same as at a top haute-cuisine place. Then there is the matter of the "regular and customary" price range of a product in a similar restaurant. Here I think it's important to be careful to evaluate a number of factors before concluding that the customer has been hoodwinked. For example, what is actually being charged for? Some restaurants are now charging $10+ for bottled water but only making that charge once. In other words, it is a water charge for however many bottles you drink, rather than a per bottle charge. This is actually preferable, although in the end I have little sympathy for anybody who gets burned on bottled water -- in fact I think people should be charged a penalty of a thousand dollars for ordering bottled water in any region where the tap water is just as good, like New York City. In addition, what really is the standard at a given restaurant? Let me assure you all that, for example, at ADNY there are a lot more customers who would be annoyed at being interrupted to be told that the Champagne costs $42 than there are customers who will be annoyed by paying $42. With most such decisions about what to communicate and what not to communicate, some percentage of customers fall into a communication gap. This happens even in the most non-predatory environments -- it's just life. That being said, I do agree that ADNY's Champagne charges (and wine prices in general) are too high, and on Wednesday night I confronted both the chef and the sommelier about it, telling them they should take the slight loss of revenue in order to build some good will. They certainly listened and considered, but I have a feeling they may be limited by their balance sheet and their target audience.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

We offer a complimentary refill on iced tea and lemonade, which we mention to patron when they order same.  They never seem to expect it, and are rather chuffed when they receive it.  A pleasant state of affairs.

What's more pleasant is that you live in a country outside the United States, where free refills are not the norm. We offer endless free refills on iced tea and fountain sodas, and when I say "endless," I mean an additional 800-1,000 calories worth of sodas added to the average persons meal. Seriously, my shoe leather would erode a lot less quickly if buying a coke meant simply getting one coke. It's the difference in policy between fountain drinks and freshly-squeezed lemonade where I run into a problem. I think I'm just going to start telling people we're out of lemonade so that I don't sell any more of it.

Fat Guy, that was an absolutely brilliant post. It was a joy to read.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Some other things I think about when I see scenarios like this:

What can we as consumers do to help fix the problem? Most restaurateurs, save for the really idiosyncratic stubborn ones, will adapt to consumer behavior. If consumers behave negligently, it's not entirely pragmatic to expect a business not to take advantage of that. I can't tell you how many servers have told me, in response to one question or another about why an item is priced a certain way, "People just don't seem to care -- we keep raising the price and they just don't care." In that situation, of course they're going to keep trying to figure out ways to separate consumers from their money. So as consumers we can do our part by asking a lot of questions about what things cost and then saying we think those charges are ridiculous. If a lot of people do it, I can assure you it will come up at the 4:45pm staff meeting.

Most restaurants, like most businesses, are short-sighted. It's very difficult to incorporate long-term thinking into the decision matrix of a business that is always worried about paying the next month's bills. (Not to mention, most service staff don't view what they do as a career.) But there are ways to carve out long-term relationships even under the umbrellas of businesses that are largely short-term in their approaches. The best example is repeat business. You can protect yourself from predators by being a desirable customer: if you come often, and you represent profit to the restaurant, and you tip well, yet you draw firm boundaries with respect to what you will and won't accept in terms of upselling, you will be the king of the castle.

The restaurant experience is somewhat at odds with itself from the standpoint of finances. On the one hand, you have to pay for your meal at the end of the meal. On the other hand, you want to live out the meal as a fantasy removed from everyday concerns of cost. Well, that's a recipe for disaster, because if you live the fantasy you'll pay dearly for it afterwards. So I think what the consumer needs to do is just learn to accept that there will be a certain amount of economic intrusion into the fantasy. We're talking about how restaurants are short-sighted; well, consumers can be short-sighted too. They don't want to be bothered with asking what things cost, yet they care a lot about what things cost -- that's the very definition of short-sighted; it's almost Promethean.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

What's more pleasant is that you live in a country outside the United States, where free refills are not the norm. We offer endless free refills on iced tea and fountain sodas, and when I say "endless," I mean an additional 800-1,000 calories worth of sodas added to the average persons meal.

Where are you located? Somewhere in the U.S.? Note that free refills on anything except hot water for tea are pretty damn unusual in New York City.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I always ask how much something is going to cost before I accept something at a restaurant. I don't assume its going to be free, unless its set on my table with the words "compliments of the chef".

this reminded me of a recent lunch at Sardi's, that old theater district hangout in NYC known for show-biz caricatures on the walls (an antidote to sameness of decor and omnipresent tuna tartar/sashimi or new-ish restaurants. nothing like a dose of nostalgia and union servers to restore balance.) A server with a tray of bread appreared, offering a selection of breads "compliments of the chef"...

this made me smile--we tend to take bread for granted in restaurants here, even a selection of four--but "compliments of the chef"? unless the chef baked them, it's really compliments of the house. made me wonder why a time-warp place like Sardi's feels a pressure to offer something "compliments of the chef" (and makes it easy on themselves) or just wants to bring attention to the unexpectedly wide assortment of breads.

does anyone know when free offering of bread became a wide practice?

Alcohol is a misunderstood vitamin.

P.G. Wodehouse

Link to comment
Share on other sites

In Mexico City the VIPS chain (looks like a Denneys) charges for the bread basket that is immediately placed on the table at breakfast before you order. You have to say no thanks or not touch it to avoid the charge.

What disease did cured ham actually have?

Megan sandwich: White bread, Miracle Whip and Italian submarine dressing. {Megan is 4 y.o.}

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Where are you located? Somewhere in the U.S.? Note that free refills on anything except hot water for tea are pretty damn unusual in New York City.

I live in Atlanta, and I work at a restaurant that gives away quite a lot of stuff for free, aside from refills on sodas, actually. I kind of wish that we charged for extra sides of salad dressing and a few other things that routinely get wasted by customers who ask for them and then don't touch them.

I am aware that New York City doesn't give free refills on anything, and that restaurants are generally a lot more expensive there than practically anywhere else in the country. Personally, since I've worked at Emeril's restaurant here in Atlanta, and I've seen glasses of champagne and various wines that were priced at $25, so I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to find out that a glass of champagne at the most expensive restauirant in New York would be $42.

The $25 edamame would be a shocker, though. $25 for beans?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

In Mexico City the VIPS chain (looks like a Denneys) charges for the bread basket that is  immediately placed on the table at breakfast before you order.  You have to say no thanks or not touch it to avoid the charge.

Elfin, this is frequently done in the US - especially for breakfast - where a pot of coffee is brought to the table. Most of us want coffee with our breakfast. Most of us are expecting to pay for our coffee for breakfast. But not all!

As I read these comments, I think about my own dining experiences. Where I feel the restaurant is likely to be trying to slip a high price by me is when the drinks on the menu don't show a price - but everything else, appetizers, entrees, desserts, etc. do show prices. That generally means that soft drinks, iced tea and coffee are approaching $2. The same is true when the server announces the daily specials. This usually does not include price information. We don't usually order the daily special until we have inquired about the price. It is amazing how many times a server needs to excuse him/her self to go find out. As has been said - ultimately the responsibility to ask questions rests squarely on my shoulders - or I need to be willing to pay whatever is asked.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Where are you located? Somewhere in the U.S.? Note that free refills on anything except hot water for tea are pretty damn unusual in New York City.

I live in Atlanta, and I work at a restaurant that gives away quite a lot of stuff for free, aside from refills on sodas, actually. I kind of wish that we charged for extra sides of salad dressing and a few other things that routinely get wasted by customers who ask for them and then don't touch them.

The American South is known for free refills on Iced Tea. Its a unique part of Southern culture and totally expected. Its not a given that in NY you will get free refills on anything.

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The American South is known for free refills on Iced Tea. Its a unique part of Southern culture and totally expected.  Its not a given that in NY you will get free refills on anything.

I'm originally from Ohio, and I've travelled around the country a good bit, and I think of free refills on sodas and iced tea as a generally American casual restaurant phenomenon, rather than a uniquely Southern thing. All of the casual restaurant companies for which I've worked provided bottomless glasses of sodas in their locations throughout the states, presumably excluding those in New York City.

What I do think of as uniquely Southern, as far as restaurant beverage service, is the option of having your iced tea sweetened or unsweet. Thankfully, the restaurant in which I work does not provide this option.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

FG, I certainly don't begrudge a restaurant making even an obscene profit on certain items, but I certainly object to having them try to slip them into my meal without being open about the cost.

I've had this happen twice, both at high-end restaurants. One involved the tap vs. still water scenario, another involved food. Now I'm pretty open about asking for prices unless I'm very sure it's complimentary.

Edited by Hest88 (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...