The whole mess is covered in the Newark Star-Ledger’s Bamboozled column, but it boils down to this: The couple say they regularly bring their own vegan pasta to restaurants for the kitchen to prepare. It’s not usually an issue, they claim, and they usually call ahead to make sure there won’t be a problem. They also say they usually get a discount from the menu price because they are providing their own pasta.
Then recently they went with friends to a local eatery, one where the couple says it had received the aforementioned discount on previous occasions, only to find out when the bill came out that they were being charged a higher price than what’s on the menu.
They had not called ahead this time, they explain to Bamboozled, because their previous visits had gone without incident.
After seeing the bill, they were eventually able to speak to the owner, who explained the higher price.
“She said, ‘You come here on a Saturday night and order a custom meal. I have to charge you extra,” the husband recounts. “I said, ‘But you’ve already set the precedent where you charged me a lot less than that on several occasions,’ and she said that was the old manager’s decision and this was the new price.”
This is where the night takes on a Rashomon aspect, with the couple claiming the owner said they needed to pay the entire bill or be arrested, while the owner says she attempted to reach a compromise but the couple was insisting on not paying any of the bill for all six diners, even though the disputed prices were only for two people.
In the end, the police were called and the whole bill was paid with their American Express card.
As you probably foresaw, the diners then attempted to dispute the charges with AmEx, but even that is a matter of some confusion.
The couple tell Bamboozled they only wanted to dispute the $12 difference on the two pasta dishes ($24 total) between what they had paid previously and what they were charged that night. The owner says AmEx told her the diners were disputing the entire $48 for the couple’s meal, which was confirmed by AmEx. The couple said this must be a mistake on the credit card company’s fault.
In the end, the owner decided to offer them a $12 discount on their entire meal, which is half of what the couple had intended on disputing.
“I see he’s reasonable and I don’t want a customer to be upset,” says the owner.
While the husband says the partial refund is “a great solution.”
In our opinion, both parties could have handled this situation a lot better. The customers could have asked if there would be any charge with the special order — regardless of how many times they had been there in the past — and the restaurant could have alerted the customer ahead of time that there would be an extra cost for cooking the vegan pasta. And there’s no reason the $12 compromise that was ultimately reached could not have been agreed to at the time of the initial dispute; now both the restaurant and the customer have been flung into the public spotlight, and neither comes out looking pristine.
One should never assume that past discounts or generosity will be granted in perpetuity. If you’re going to make special requests of a restaurant, it benefits everyone involved if you get a confirmation at the beginning of every visit that you will be paying a certain amount of money — whether it’s less, more, or equal to the menu price — so that there’s no squabbling when the bill comes… and so the police aren’t bothered with calls like this.