What To Do When You Discover You've Been Overcharged At A Restaurant

James discovered that the waiter at a steakhouse he and his wife ate at padded his bill by 4 extra dollars, but also ran through the charge a second time with no tip at all. Now he’s wondering what to do next.

He writes:

So, on Monday my wife and I decided to go out to Longhorn Steakhouse to celebrate our 5 year wedding anniversary. Today I log into my bank account to make sure my paycheck went through when I see a charge at Longhorn Steakhouse for 47.13, which was higher than my bill was even after the tip I’d left. I did some quick math and determined that they over charged me by 4 dollars.

But it gets worse.

While steaming over that little pricing error I noticed two lines above that that I’m being charged 38.38, which as I’m staring at my receipt from the night is the actual charge minus the tip…

I was wondering what the protocol was for getting your money back out of a restaurant that appears to have double billed you… I’ve got the receipt, and placed it in my wallet for safe keeping, but I’m wondering what the easiest way to dispute the second charge is going to be, will they have records, or should I print out my bank statement and bring it with me?

Would I be out of line to request my tip be removed so the waiter does not get a tip? Afterall, the tips themselves are to show an appreciation of the value of their work, if the waiter billed me twice then he doesn’t deserve a tip as he’s forced me to enter their location and argue finances on my own time.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated…

Thanks.

We think the advice at punny.org is good, and it suggests three steps in this order:

1. Call your bank and initiate a reversal of the fraudulent charges.
2. Call the police and report the theft.
3. Call the restaurant (optional) and explain what happened. If the manager isn’t involved in it, he or she will likely be very interested to find out what your server did.

Punny.org also suggests working in a checksum when you tip, so that you’ll be able to quickly spot altered totals when reviewing your account later. The problem with that, of course, is it requires basic math while you’re figuring out your tip, and sometimes (too many drinks, dinnermates talking to you) that can be hard to pull off accurately. Thankfully technology can help—we found a link to at least one paid iPhone app that will do this for you, but better still (as in, free) is this web-based app called TippyTops that was made for the iPhone but should also work on other smartphones with a decent web browser.

One final note: it’s possible that the first tip-free charge is a hold placed on the card to pre-authorize it, and it hasn’t dropped off your statement yet. You should review that option with your bank when you call them. That doesn’t explain the doubled tip, however.



Update: James sent us the above email two days ago, and in the meantime he’d already called the restaurant (he thinks like many of our readers do, apparently, and gave them the benefit of the doubt). He also describes some of the waiter’s bad behavior, which we think justifies the lower tip.

Here’s his follow-up:

Just as a brief update to it, I called the restaurant, asked for a managed, complained about the charge and they began looking it up. apparently they had just recently upgraded their credit card transaction system. But more importantly the manager informed me that this particular employee had used my card on someone elses bill, realized what he’d done, reversed the charge, and then billed me properly.

The error here is that the employee did not inform me of his mistake, as such when I went to look at my bank statement a couple days later I noticed the two charges. The manager proceeded to explain to me that the charge should drop off his receipt within a day or so.

And indeed it did, the following morning it was gone.

The manager asked for my address so he could mail me something to make up for the error, having worked retail before I politely declined the offer as I knew it would’ve most likely been a gift card. I informed him that my intention was to highlight the poor service that the waiter gave us and that had he at the very least informed us of his error then I would’ve been less agitated.

I also took the time to explain to the manager that the waiter himself mostly chatted away with two other employees (women, one in a green shirt vs. the usual white, so I’m guessing a manager) and “shoulder checked” us to see if we needed anything, only asking when he was walking by to check on something or wait on someone else, then returning to the two employees to chat some more as they ate. I informed him that so long as the employee was “re-educated in the proper use of a credit card transaction device” that I would be satisfied, and he assured me that he would.

Total time: 20 minutes

Items required: Last night’s receipt (For receipt number), dollar value of both charges for look up ($38.38 and $47.13) and credit card used for the transaction.

Did not require even setting foot into the store. Also want to note that even if they’dve had to do a charge back, a trip to the store would not have been required.

Thanks for posting the story, enjoy the update.

“Fight Thieving Restaurant Servers With Checksum Tips” [Punny Money]
TippyTops Tip Calculator
(Photo: rick)