It’s all good until the bill arrives

Listen: Until the bill arrives part 1
Listen: Until the bill arrives part 2

This iconic restaraunt/bar has been around for a century. It has somehow survived not only the Spanish Flu, and Prohibition, but now Covid 19. So, it was with some dismay that I read the negative online review posted, not on the most obvious gripe platform, but a different one.

That should have been my first clue that something was amiss. Review sites have at least a modicum of vetting, but some platforms are not review sites. Instead, they are places to post internecine neighborhood squabbles: kids driving too fast, dogs doing what dogs do (pun intended), and leaf blower tirades, so a restaurant review seemed a little out of the ordinary.

Typical of these types of rants, however, it included the old standbys, “I don’t normally complain but…” and “I didn’t want to say anything then, but…” The first of which almost never turns out to be true, and the second of which usually indicates there’s a reason why they didn’t say something then. And it’s not usually the one mentioned.

This person complained that their bar bill was $170 for drinks for two people. A total arrived at in under an hour. He knew this because he asked for the bar bill to be separated from the food bill (odd in and of itself). He felt these charges were unreasonable, the next day. Funny he didn’t question it then, even when he was holding the separated itemized copy of the bar bill in his hand.

It’s not uncommon in the restaurant/bar business for everything to be going great, until the bill arrives. Five minutes before, the group was chanting the bartenders name and toasting wildly. Funny how quickly “Champagne for the table!” or “Shots for everybody!” quickly becomes “Those shots were small” or “These prices seem high,” once the bill is presented.

 Hindsight is 20/20 they say, but sometimes it isn’t, especially when it wasn’t 20/20 at the time. There’s a great old bar saying that goes like this:

Customer: “I don’t remember having three Manhattan’s.

Bartender: “Nobody ever does.”

Usually, people who have overspent punish their server or bartender by undertipping. It happens all the time. But sometimes they go above and beyond and write a letter or post a savaging review. Funny that they didn’t want to “ruin” their experience at the time, yet that experience seemed especially ruinous in hindsight. Ruinous enough now to write an 800 word complaint about everything from the bar bill to the dessert. Yet, strangely, at the time, they didn’t say one word about it.

In this negative review, the manager is even mentioned by name, and the complainer reports that she was at their table long enough to tell them a story about her family. Most people have to ask for the manager, yet here the manager was standing right at their table, amidst a purported calamity, and yet, not one thing was mentioned at all. Odd.

Aside from the obvious mistakes: the types of food offered, the fact that restaurant has no drinks over $14, or that it’s most improbable (and nearly impossible) to have a four course meal, with three rounds of drinks and a visit by the manager in under an hour (someone would have to be at their table every 7.5 minutes at the very minimum), the main gist of their complaint seemed to be some late extra sauce, and the fact that they felt hurried. “We could have been given 10 extra minutes,” he wrote referencing the fact that they spent over $300. Never mind that during Covid there are time limits for dining, and that a $130 four course seafood dinner for two (minus the $170 bar bill) isn’t excessive, and I think we get closer to the truth of the matter.

Unfortunately, judging by the responses, people actually believed this guy. A common concept in law is “what would a reasonable person think?” It has all too often been used recently as a way to protect exaggerators, fabulists, and obvious liars. Reasonable people are in short supply these days. Non-reasonable people, however, are likely to believe anything they are told. And when what they are told is highly questionable and/or false, and materially hurts someone else, we all suffer as a society.

Leaving me with these thoughts:

-Don’t believe every complaint you read. Especially the ones that start with “I don’t normally complain, but…” 

-Online review sites are useful tools. However, some are just a way to sling mud at your neighbor.

-The only reason someone asks for something for free later, is because they weren’t going to get it for free then.

-“I’m telling all my friends never to come here,” is the weakest threat ever. Because if your friends are anything like you, they probably won’t be welcome.