Recently, I've noticed restaurants are more often using underhanded tricks to rip off their patrons by inflating their bills. Here I go through some common ones in London.
Cover charge or table fee
You come in to the restaurant, get shown to your table, sit down and... you've already spent money? What you didn't see on the menu posted outside is that each diner will receive an obligatory breadstick (or something) which costs £1.50.
This happened to us last weekend, and I'm told it's getting more common. So, for us 7 at the table, the restaurant made £10.50 even before we ordered our food.
"Share a pot of mint tea - Just £2.25 for four people". Sounds great, let's order one!
Except, in the small print the price is actually £2.25 per person and the venue has just taken you for £6.75 extra. If this had been a shop, it'd be called fraud. You'll never come back. But the restaurant doesn't care, there's another tourist coming right along.
Credit card surcharges
At the end of your meal, out comes the bill and your credit card. And this is when the waiter casually mentions the 5% credit card fee the restaurant charges...
Of course, this is mentioned in the menu. Probably on page two. At the bottom. With some other boring text around it. And in 6 point size type.
Sneaky, greedy, and thankfully not too common.
The tip is already included
The mother lode for a rip-off restaurant is to add an 'optional' tip to your bill without your say-so. A 12.5% or 15% line item will be added, stating that an optional gratuity has been added to your bill "for your convenience." This is called 'double tipping'.
The intent behind this is two-fold: First to ensure that you pay the tip they think their service is worth. Secondly, to catch unaware patrons out so that they'll add another tip to the bill! Maybe you thought the right tip was 10% for the service you received?
On your £100 bill, there's already 15% added, taking it to £115. Now when you blissfully calculate another 10% tip, you're adding another £11.50, taking the total to £126.50. So, that's £26.50 or 26.5% on top of your meal cost.
Yep, you've been taken.
A further problem is that any tip included on the bill is likely not ending up with the serving and kitchen staff, but goes to line the restaurant owners pockets. In other words, their desired prices are 15% higher. Since the restaurant's food isn't worth that price, they try to trick you to pay more instead.
Even worse, very often the restaurant owner will insist on you paying the gratuity. So, despite it being 'optional', you're hounded for it.
Pleasant? No. A rip-off? Yes.
What to do if you are ripped off
At first, you should complain quietly to your server. If you're lucky, he'll be embarrassed enough to take the offending items off your bill.
If that doesn't work, speak to the floor or restaurant manager. Demand the items to be taken off and while you're at it demand to be compansated for the entire meal. Why? Because no self-respecting restaurant would behave this way.
Still not successful?
Cause a scene. Very loudly accuse the manager of ripping you off, threatening you about what will happen if you don't pay, etc. Say that you'll call the police to help you sort this out. Your goal here is to make enough of a stir that you scare off other potential guests. If the manager counters by threatening you with a bouncer or the police, make sure to place that call first. Keep going until you get results. If you're talking to a wall, do call the cops on them.
Whatever you do, don't pay the full amount. Yes, it's embarrassing to complain or cause a scene. But, once that credit card slip is signed, you've agreed to their pricing and you will have to pay.
That, and you've just made sure the next patron is exposed to these restaurant rip-off tricks.
Write about your experiences online
Share your experience on travel forums and rating sites. 15 minutes of effort will help soil the restaurants reputation and hit them where it counts, in the bottom line.
Follow-up to this article
This article stirred up some controversy, and I decided to add a follow-up to address some of the arguments put forward: Ripped off and pissed off by restaurants.
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