Server’s Scam

June 24, 2012

in Server Stories

My wife and I recently spent a day in San Francisco. When we stopped for lunch at Pier 39 we knew we’d pay for the touristy location, but were not prepared for the magnitude of what we ran into at an Italian restaurant on the water.

We were one of the first couples there for lunch and had a table with an excellent view. Unfortunately, that was the best part of the meal.

After our waiter took our order (calamari and ravioli, no drinks) he casually asked if we’d like garlic bread to start. His demeanor implied that this was free, and, of course, it wasn’t, adding 13% to the pre-tax cost of the lunch. In reading on-line comments later we found this is a common scam for the establishment. The bread itself was chewy and dry, and our entrees were nothing to write home about.

When he brought us our bill it had “Suggested Tip Calulations (sic)” of 15%, 18%, and 20% on it. I looked at it and saw that the percentages were based on an amount nearly $10 higher than our actual after tax bill, giving his tip a significant uplift had we blindly used the figures. I gave him 15% of the before tax total and tried to find a manager to ask about the discrepancy, but the waiter intercepted us and hustled us out of the dining area. His uncomfortable demeanor convinced us that the discrepancy was not an accident.

In hindsight I should have tipped him nothing, but live and learn. I’m still trying to get a response from the restaurant via e-mail and phone just for the satisfaction. When you are a tourist beware of those who treat you with this much contempt.

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Charles June 24, 2012 at 7:35 pm

Many posters on this site have said that all servers deserve a tip regardless of the quality of their service. I think that this server is more deserving of a jail sentence than a tip.

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candytripn May 8, 2013 at 12:51 am

He deserves jail because this person didn't bother asking for the prices?!? Are you insane!?! Oh, and as was pointed out; places with suggested tips are based on sales rang in (generally,) and don't always account for the difference between a void (not made) and a comp (made). The difference could have been something you had comped, or maybe even a mis-ring, that was comped instead of voided.

You should be in jail, but sadly, stupidity isn't a crime

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Jessie June 25, 2012 at 12:13 am

I wonder which restaurant this was? There can't be too many Italian restaurants on Pier 39.

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ilsa June 25, 2012 at 11:58 am

Tourist places should be avoided, not only because they are over priced, but also the food is almost always mediocre to bad. See, they know you are a one time visitor, so there is no incentive to do anything but take your money. You won't be back anyway.

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'ol N March 20, 2014 at 9:35 pm

Not necessarily, Ilsa!!!

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yudelnoodle June 28, 2012 at 4:06 pm

You should have asked if the bread was complimentary. A lot of places have servers offer an appetizer after a table has ordered their entrees. Also most of the time the tip calculations are done by the computer system and not the server, so i highly doubt he was trying to scam you. sorry you had a bad time but you kind of sound cheap and whiny.

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momo July 3, 2012 at 10:57 pm

Tip calculations are done by the computer, NOT the server. Trust me, he doesn't sit there for a few minutes figuring out the percentages for each table when he was food to run, drinks to serve, appetizers to run, salads to make, desserts to make, and then deal with other tables.

So take up your problem with the computer. Also, remember that the suggested tip is SUGGESTED. Geez.

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Freddy July 9, 2012 at 11:09 am

Sucky experience indeed. However, having worked in several restaurants where they insist on including the "tip suggestion," I concur that that's management's decision to include it on every check, not the server or bartender's decision. As a career service industry employee, I find the practice to be beyond tacky – repugnant actually. I hate it. I've voiced my opinion to management a myriad of times but the reality is, they're going to do it if they want to.

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Ralph July 14, 2012 at 2:38 pm

This upsell posing as an included item happened to my brother once. what his solution was to reduce the tip the amount of the upsell. the server offered salads, making it sound like they were included with the meal, so the 4 people got the salads.

so in effect, the server paid for the salads. I am a server for a long time and find this behavior unconcionable.

they get away with it in tourist places because they assume the people will not be coming back often (if ever) or the server is working only for a short period, "the busy season" and wants to maximize thier income, and it is done without the managements approval.

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jess August 7, 2012 at 9:07 pm

He asked if you would like to start with some garlic bread.. When he asks you if you would like to start off with some drinks do you assume that is complimentary as well?

It's all very nice for you to tip on your bill before the tax, unfortunately most servers tip out to the back of house at the end of the night, and they don't get to do that before the tax.

If your bill has a suggestion tip option, don't blame your server. He did not design it.

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Jack August 10, 2012 at 5:25 pm

It sounds like you were on a tight budget, and you are not use to eating out.. Stop feeling put upon, chalk it up to experience.

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Cat M September 18, 2012 at 10:01 pm

I don't understand why the writer would think the garlic bread was free. When I am asked whether I want to start out with something I would never think it was free. Plus, maybe the bread would not have beeen dry and chewy if they had drinks. Who gets food and doesn't even order a water?

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candytripn May 8, 2013 at 12:46 am

I've been in the serving game for years now, and I'm only reading one thing from this article; "I don't go out often, and it was too expensive, it must be the servers fault."

The server sounded like he was doing his job, "up selling." Every restaurant I've worked at has servers upsell. If you get a drink and they offer top shelf.. do you think that's free? How about dessert? Free to because he offered it? He hurried you out of there before you started complaining to get something else for free.

Something you should know.. there's only a few states where servers get a real pay check , California being one, everywhere else.. (chicago for me) we make about $4.45 an hour.. We also pay tip outs based on sales.. so when some idiot comes in and doesn't agree with being charged for bread, or a salad, and takes it out on the server by not tipping, there server is now paying out of pocket to tip out based on what you ordered so blindly, and without asking a price.

Unless a server goes out of his way to spite you, mock you, curse at you or what not, you still need to drop a @#$%ing %15 tip. It's not like we can go to your job and b*tch that our Burger King fries were old and have them take away your paycheck.

Today, our POS crashed… (it was a slow day too, so only one party table) The lady paying wanted to use a credit card. and began complaining that she had to use one of the old school imprint machines. "I ain't leaving my number here for you to steal" was about the gist of it. I offer the ATM up front. She took offense that I would even suggest her being charged $2 at the ATM, then again from her bank, so she wants something free. So of course, mgmt, being what they are offer her free dessert (which gets rung in, adding to my tipshare), she takes that, then complains about the gratuity, which after several more mgmt visits is also removed. Her bill was over $200 after the comped dessert (still paying tipshare on) and walks out with no tip. I'm now charged the 5% tipshare on her 200, and am paying out of pocket.. day's slow, so I get cut. Add in bus and rail, and it cost me $20 to go to work that day.. Imagine you paying out of pocket to go to work because someone was pissed off… Welcome to a servers life.. Now own up.. if you can't afford to tip, go to Burger King you cheapskate <//endofrant>

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craig November 21, 2013 at 6:15 am

im am server in south africa.its even worse here.tip is not compulsory and no wage.u cn imagine.im wondering if i could try in the states or Dubai

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Amber May 10, 2016 at 2:48 pm

Tips aren't compulsory in the US either, they are expected but not mandatory unless it's a large group and the restaurant adds an 18% gratuity to the large group's bill.

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Shaye December 2, 2013 at 7:15 am

I remember working at a restaurant many years ago (it is now closed down) where some of the servers would go on a Sunday and grab all the coupons out of the newspapers and cut the restaurants coupons out of the savings section. They would have a pocketful of coupons so that when a table paid with cash they could add the coupon and get an extra $5.00 out of the diners who were none the wiser. I don't really know the in's and out's of how they did it because I was part of the group that didn't do that but I know that if they had 10 single-check tables that paid in cash they could make an extra 50.00 plus the tip the diner left. If the table had multiple checks the servers would make more. Some servers would make a killing on a five hour shift but I couldn't do it so I usually made squat.

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Amber May 10, 2016 at 2:51 pm

Your story doesn't relay to me that assuming the bread was complimentary would even maek sense. I'm sorry but asking "would you like to start off with ____" never implies a complimentary item. When bread or rolls are free, they simply say "I'll be right back with your bread/rolls". Sounds like this error was fully on you. How does demeanor imply something is free? Asking if you would like bread/salad/drinks/appetizers is upselling.

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