I had my 30th birthday in November 2000 and arranged to go out for a meal with friends and colleagues. We booked an Italian restaurant I had been to before and liked. There were 21 of us.
The starters were fine, the main courses were fine. Service was very slow, but we were a big party and we were in a function room downstairs from the main restaurant, and everyone was having a good time, so I didn’t worry too much about that. Some of us ordered desserts, which didn’t come, although the waiting staff were very quick to bring more wine. Thinking about it now, I’m pretty sure they were deliberately slow with the service to encourage us to order more wine.
Eventually it was time to get the bill. The total was just under £700, which for 2 courses for 21 people, a few deserts, and I have no idea how much wine, was an AWFUL lot of money in 2000. £500 would have been more like it. When I looked at the bill more closely, they had charged us for 25 starters and 43 main courses, even though there were only 21 of us. We pointed this out to the staff and they came back with a revised bill, with a lump sum knocked off the previous £700. We asked them to go away, find the order slip on which our original order was written, and work the bill out from there. They said they couldn’t do that as they didn’t have the order slip anymore.
Now, I have been a waitress in the past and I know fine well that once the order slip has been to the kitchen, it’s passed to the till to assist in cashing up at the end of the night. To suggest that they didn’t have it any more is just nonsense.
So, they wouldn’t give us a correct bill, and as people had already started to leave, we couldn’t work out properly what we owed. But we did know that 21 people hadn’t ordered 25 starters and 43 main courses. So we worked out what we thought a fair price would be (£525) and gave them that. They refused to accept it and threatened us with the police, so a colleague of mine gave them another £60 to shut them up. I didn’t know about that at the time or I wouldn’t have let him do it. I’d have told them to call the police and show them the bill for meals for double the number of people in the party.
I’ve told this story to several people, and been surprised by the number of people who’ve said to me, “Oh, you know, I was in there and they tried to charge us for bottles of wine we hadn’t had” or, “They tried to say we had dessert when we hadn’t.” I think it’s a regular scam they try – add a few bottles of wine to the bill for a big party and they won’t notice. They got greedy though – did they really think we wouldn’t notice a bill for meals for 43 people when there were only 21 of us?