Thursday, June 30, 2011

A stack of scams

The other night I took a couple of kids to dinner at a prominent U.S. restaurant chain. The food was oversalted and overcarbed, but predictably tasty and fun. The waitress even agreed to give my son a side order that wasn't officially available for that particular entrée.

Then the trouble began. The waitress asked my daughter if she wanted bacon or ham with her order. With the confident tone she used (slightly stressing the word “ham” rather than “like”), it sure sounded like one of those sides was included in her order. We were very surprised to see an extra charge of $2.99 for the bacon on our final bill.

If IHOP is training its people to sell extra sides in a casual, inviting way that even hints that these are included in the entrée price, shame on them. If the waitress came up with this scam herself, she surely deserves to be promoted to management. At any rate, it was a teachable moment for my kids. Always ask, “Is that included in the price?” Or they’ll see you coming a mile away.

But that wasn't the worst problem. When the bill came, I noticed that she had overcharged us for each entrée. The rates were 50 cents higher for two of them, and $1 higher for one. I asked to look at a menu again just to make sure it wasn't my faulty memory.

When I politely asked the waitress how she came up with those prices, she said the “system” calculated the prices when she inputted the orders. She hadn't even noticed the amounts – and seemed as surprised as we were to compare the prices on the bill to the lower rates printed on the menu.

The waitress cheerfully adjusted the prices and wrote a note to the manager about the glitch. I’m sure there’s a reason for the discrepancy (perhaps there’s a new menu with higher prices coming out to coincide with the end of the month). But who knows how many people had been victimized by this problem, intentional or not?

For the introduction of automated systems that force customers to scrutinize every line on every bill to make sure they're not being scammed, we say of IHOP: New Management Welcome.