Slash Your Restaurant Bill By Keeping An Eye Out For Upsells

If restaurant checks always seem to be a bit higher than you envision, it’s because the industry thrives on ways to trick you into giving up extra cash at every turn. Waiters can be upsell-happy con artists, and you are the mark.

Twenty Something Money outlines several ways in which it’s easy to let your frugality slip away when you’re sitting down for a meal.

Here are a few sneaky maneuvers to watch out for:

*The dessert tray – It’s far tougher to turn down the well-manicured physical approximation of a cheesecake than it is the verbal or written suggestion of one.

*Appetizers and post-dinner/dessert coffee – Waiters make it seem so natural to add pricey courses to meals you’d never even consider at home. Just as you don’t need to munch on spinach and artichoke dip at home before you microwave a burrito, you don’t need it when you’re out. And even if you really, really need some post-dinner coffee, why not wait until you get home to drink it?

*Credit card receipts – They’re often designed to make it way too easy to over-tip. It’s easy to be overcome by the power of suggestion and tip a few percentage points higher than you’d planned.

What trappings do you avoid to save money when eating out?

The Hidden Upselling in Restaurants [Twenty Something Money]


Edit Your Comment

  1. skepticalbunneh says:

    “Credit card receipts – They’re often designed to make it way too easy to over-tip.”

    Umm… how so?

    • Kibit says:

      I was thinking the same thing.

    • Cosmo_Kramer says:

      Read the linked article, it has nothing to do with credit card slips. Something got lost in… translation I guess.

      • Rebecca K-S says:

        Lost in Phil-ation?

      • skepticalbunneh says:

        Now that I’ve thought about it I think Phil was referring to the restaurants that have calculated tips printed on the receipt (15% is xyz, 20% is xyz…) Ahh the power of suggestion!

        • ronbo97 says:

          Except I’ve seen this where the minimum tip calculation printed on the receipt is 18%, then 20%, then 25%. Most folks will choose the middle number (20%) so they don’t appear cheap. Bingo ! You’ve been gamed.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      Glad you asked!! I was going to comment the following:

      While your receipt given prior to paying will always have a total breakdown of what you ate and the price, often times they will not bring that receipt back once you’ve given them your credit card.

      That means you have the total bill listed and a space for tip. But that total bill includes tax, which is not customary to tip on. So that 15% tip suddenly become 18%; that 20% tip suddenly become 23% instead.

      • skepticalbunneh says:

        Ahh, gotcha! Sneaky bastards!

      • Gramin says:

        Huh? I’ve never seen that happen, and I’m quite the foodie. Additionally, that total bill can’t include tax as part of the total. Restaurants are REQUIRED to list tax separately on all bills. They can’t try to hide that from you.

        • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

          Possibly in your state. I get my credit card receipt from them, with a customer and merchant copy, and that shows the total bill (including tax) and then a space to write in the tip. So there’s a clear suggestion to tip on the tax.

          • Gramin says:

            What state are you from?

            • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

              One of the other 49 ; – )

              I think you misunderstand, or I’m not speaking clearly.

              The receipt I’m referring to is your credit card receipt. So the end of the meal goes like this:

              1. Receive receipt for meal, with break down of items eaten and taxes
              2. Hand them your credit card. They pick it up and leave
              3. Return with your credit card and the receipt from the credit card purchase.

              The CC receipt is where you provide the gratuity. It also shows only the amount charged to your CC without a break down of taxes and the pre-tax amount. It’s also where you calculate your tip.

            • nbs2 says:

              I’m in MD, and I see the same thing as Loias. Most places bring three documents after running my CC – the itemized receipt, a merchant copy of the CC receipt, and a customer copy of the receipt. The first breaks out what was ordered and indicates the tax paid. The second and third list the total from the first and then have lines for tip and total. The difference between the latter two is sometimes the appearance of the signature line, sometimes just a label. But, I have never seen a CC receipt indicate the subtotal and tax breakdowns.

              Sometimes the itemized receipt comes back, sometimes it doesn’t.

      • danmac says:

        Hmmm…interesting…I’ve always tipped on the total after tax…I didn’t know that anyone believed that the convention was to tip on the pre-tax total.

        • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

          I tip on the service rendered. Taxes are not services provided by the waitstaff or owner. They don’t even get the money.

          That’s a personal choice I guess, but any tip you pay on the taxes is a bonus as it’s not related to your service.

          • Chmeeee says:

            On a $40 check with 6% tax and a 20% tip, you’re talking about a difference of $0.48. Not really worth worrying about. I generally calculate the tip on the post tax total and round down to the nearest dollar.

          • CarWontGo says:

            The difference between including tax in my tip calculation or excluding it is a whole lot bigger to the waiter or waitress than to me. If I got decent or better service, I tip on the entire check, including tax and drinks.

            For the same reason, I can’t bring myself to bargain over a couple of bucks at a flea market. The $2 means a lot more to the seller to me, and my ego is strong enough to not worry about who “wins” the transaction.

        • GameHen says:

          As a former server in a mainstream restaurant, I can tell you that we never expected to be tipped after tax. Always pre-tax.

          • Chaosium says:

            As a former server in a mainstream restaurant, I can tell you that we expected to be tipped after tax.

        • reddbettie says:

          Also, when a server closes out at the end of the night their total sales for the night do not include taxes.

      • Cosmo_Kramer says:

        If you’re tipping 20%, the tax rate would have to be ~15% to turn that into a 23% tip. Tipping on the tax or not essentially becomes rounding error, because most people tip in dollar increments for small bills or $5+ dollar increments for bigger bills.

        Also, I’ve never had a waiter take my receipt away from me.

        • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

          To be fair, I’m leaving the receipt in the pouch the bring with the check. So they aren’t stealing it from me. Sometimes they don’t provide it when they return with the CC receipt.

          Buit either way, the line for tip is right next to the after-tax total and does not show the pre-tax amount (because it’s a receipt for your CC purchase, not the receipt of the meal).

      • ExtraCelestial says:

        Ooooo I never even thought about that!

      • BrooklynKnight says:

        That never works on me, I’m Jewish.

      • Kibit says:

        Interesting. I never thought of this.

      • parv says:

        I pay by credit card for (nearly) everything. Some restaurants around Hilo list tips based on the total including tax. If I don’t remember the pretax amount, I either ask for it to calculate the tip or guesstimate the pretax amount which may or may not be same as the bill without tax. It is much easier for me to give exact change via credit card than in cash.

        If a restaurant and/or server can’t be bothered to provide me with bill before tax, then I don’t particularly care if the tip would be lower than otherwise.

    • ExtraCelestial says:

      Maybe they’re referring to the restaurants that print what 18% and 20% (etc, etc) gratuity for the meal would be on the receipt? It happens pretty rarely and doesn’t cause me to overtip, but I can’t think of anything else

      • bluline says:

        Do they figure that percentage with the tax included or without the tax? I always tip based on the subtotal, not the after-tax total.

        • banndndc says:

          you’re sposed to do it on the pretax number but some (sketchy) places put it on post tax.

        • bwcbwc says:

          Actually, even places that don’t pre-calculate the tip can “encourage” you to use the after-tax price for tipping by the font face they use for the final total vs. the before-tax total. And just the blurb about “18% gratuity added for parties of 6 or more” (or whatever your local variant) encourages that percentage as a minimum.

    • BeastMasterJ says:

      Emotionally, it’s easier to part with a few extra dollars when writting down a total than it is to pull folding money from your purse/wallet.

      It sounds crazy, but Consumerist has done stories on this before, like how paying with a credit card means you’ll buy more than you intended to, as opposed to cash, when you’ll not buy more than you can buy with the $20 you have.

      • rambo76098 says:

        I disagree. Cash tippers usually leave bigger tips than CC users. At least in my experience of serving in the past, for about 6 years.

    • jacobs cows says:

      because the waiter sees his tip before you leave the table

    • djshinyo says:

      I think my girlfriend, a server, would also say “How so?” Tips come down to a couple basic things really. The restaurant you work in, and the person you are serving. Other things affect the outcome, sure, but those aren’t the main factors.

  2. Blueskylaw says:

    con artist  –noun Informal .
    1. a person adept at lying, cajolery, or glib self-serving talk.
    2. a person adept at swindling by means of confidence games; swindler.

    If you actually receive what you pay for, are you really a con-artist?

    • TasteyCat says:

      Nope. It’s easy to blame the waiters/restaurants, but they’re merely catering to people who can’t stop eating and eating and eating, even after they have had enough (so basically 80% of America). When I go out to eat, I say no to upsells like dessert and coffee, unless I planned to order them in the first place (and even then, if I’m full, I’m not going to buy some 1000 calorie dessert just because it looks tasty). I also drink water.

    • rambo76098 says:

      Most restaurants require servers to upsell in different categories, such as drinks, toppings, appetizers, deserts, etc. Some even have secret shoppers that come in and watch to see if you meet all the goals including time requirements.

  3. dolemite says:

    One of the things I see are things like “would you like onions and mushrooms on your steak?” or “would you like cheese and bacon on your fries?” They usually don’t mention that is $1.95 extra.

    • nybiker says:

      I certainly would not expect onions/mushrooms to cost extra for a steak dinner. Cheese & bacon on fries, I would expect it. Generally speaking though if offered an enhancement to a dish, I would ask what if anything it costs.

      One time I am willing to pay extra is when I order liver (yes, I am one of the few that loves chicken liver and beef liver). Usually the entree is listed is as beef liver with bacon OR onions. I ask for them both. If I am told it will cost $x extra, I generally tell them ok. (Of course, it depends on the value of x).

      I also like skirt steaks. They are described as being served “with onion rings.” At one place a few years ago, I noticed it read “with onion ring” – singular. I asked the waiter about it and he explained that some customers were expecting onion rings to come in the quantity as if you ordered a side dish of ’em. So they reprinted the menu to indicate one onion ring. I do not recall if the dish came with the customary 3 or 4 rings or if they actually put 1 ring on the plate as the garnish.

      • Jevia says:

        Several of the mid-scale chain restaurants do charge extra for “enhancements” to steaks, including things like onions or mushrooms. I’ve seen others as well. They are listed in the menu, though sometimes you have to hunt for them.

  4. samonela says:

    “upsell-happy con artists” seems a bit strong…

    If they get a commission on things like dessert, it’s in their best interest to at least try and plug it…I can’t think of an instance where I was offered an “extra” and after I declined there was no further mention or pushing…

    It’s not like they are trying to get you to sign up for a Chili’s Credit card or something…

    • samonela says:

      Hmm confused myself there for a second…to clarify:

      “I can’t think of a single instance where, after I declined an upsell, I was hounded endlessly to reconsider my decision.

      • Buckus says:

        Until you buy a car. Then, they will practically hold you hostage until you buy the warranty or accessory package or whatnot.

  5. GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

    Weird, none of these things have ever happened to me at Wendy’s…

    • kiltman says:

      Would you like fries with that?

    • skepticalbunneh says:

      I would say Wendy’s is the WORST fast food place for this since they don’t build the price of the fry/drink size into the price of the overall meal. I think Jack in the Crack does this too.

      Now with having that said I’m craving a frosty.

    • TasteyCat says:

      Wendy’s always asks me if I would like to contribute $1 to the Dave Thomas Foundation.

  6. Cosmo_Kramer says:

    So to sum it up,
    1. The secret to spending less at restaurants is to order less food
    2. You completely mangled the part about credit cards from the original article. I was confused about how credit card slips are designed to get me to tip more until I read the article which didn’t mention credit card slips but rather a computer interface with a convenient 20% tip button.

  7. pop top says:

    Some people like having appetizers before their entire and a post-dinner coffee. If you can’t afford those things then you obviously shouldn’t be buying them. Nice article Phil!

    • pop top says:

      Argh. I meant “entrée”. That’s what I get for not proofreading.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      Exactly. For us, going out to eat is an occasion to try new foods, celebrate, or get out of the house for a night out, not an occasion for me to scrimp and worry about how much I’m spending. If we start worrying about that $7 appetizer, we might as well just make dinner at home.

      The writer sounds like the kind of guy who would offer to treat his friends to dinner, but would be uncomfortable paying for it. He might dissuade them from ordering food that he deemed excessive (i.e. anything but the acceptably-priced fettucine alfredo, no chicken – that’s $2 extra).

    • mandy_Reeves says:

      yeah! I go out to eat less and less these days…and when I do, I’ll be damned if I am going to trifle. Next time I am’s gonna be Benihana!!!! woo Sake!

    • Straspey says:

      “What trappings do you avoid to save money when eating out?”

      If I’m thinking about “saving money” then I’m having a slice of pizza and a diet coke.

      When I take my wife out to dinner, or go out with a small group of friends, I do it to enjoy their company and have a great meal – and will often impart that attitude to the waitstaff, who will often toss the upsell tactics when serving customers who understand what it means to “Dine Out”.

  8. skwigger says:

    Check out the price of soft drinks. I’ve cut back quite a bit lately, and save around $5 every time my girlfriend and I go out.

    • dolemite says:

      Yeah, they are getting ridiculous these days. If we eat out and a soda is $1.50, it’s a rarity. More than likely, each one is like $2.75.

      • pecan 3.14159265 says:

        Even then, I get one. We stopped keeping soda at home and don’t eat out very often. I think it’s just better to satiate that craving at $2.50 than to buy a liter for $1.50 and potentially reignite the habit of keeping soda at home.

        • nbs2 says:

          Also, depending on the location, it can be very worthwhile to order the beverage. Urban Burger/BBQ offer Old Dominion (on tap!) with self serve, and include refills. Black Hog BBQ sells Cheerwine (I don’t know what the refill status is there, but I will on Saturday!).

          Soda deals exist, you just have to find them.

        • nybiker says:

          Yeah, I like the bubbles. I don’t buy it at home these days (one of the various things that got eliminated when I lost my job). On the rare occasion I am eating out, I order seltzer with lemon/lime. No calories and I get my bubble fix.
          BTW, where are you buying a liter bottle for $1.50? The last time I checked my local Waldbaums here in NYC sells their America’s Choice 2-liter seltzer for $.99. Even the brand-name stuff goes for about $1.50 for a 2-liter size.

        • Hoot says:

          Completely agree with this and your above comment regarding treating yourself when you go out to dinner.

          Save up if you need to and go out to a nice place once every X amount of time when you won’t have to worry about every last dollar. Buy the things there that you do not get at home. Be that soda, a fancy steak, a pre-dinner calorie splurge, or what have you. I’d rather go out once every month or 6 months (depending on my income) and really feel like I treated myself then go out once every week or two and have to remind myself of what I SHOULDN’T be ordering.

      • Jevia says:

        A lot of places do offer “unlimited” soda, so you think that for 2.95 you’re getting a deal since you can drink more than one glass. But its usually a pretty large glass, so you rarely have it refilled and certainly no more than once.

    • Jfielder says:

      +1 Soda is expensive, and not to mention it’s loaded with calories you won’t miss if you skip it. I drink mostly water with lemon now, and have actually come to prefer it… I do feel like most wait staff look down on me when I order just a water. It’s kind of ridiculous…

      Reminds me of the time I was laughed at by a starbucks barista for ordering a black coffee and nothing else…

      • LadyTL says:

        Maybe for your taste buds. Everytime I cut soda out of my eating I miss it like crazy. Dr. Pepper rules!

    • TasteyCat says:

      I drink water. Not only do I save money, but there are already enough calories in the meal anyway.

    • jojobreckinridge says:

      We started ordering water, pretty much all the time, a while back. I’m not sure when the drink-flation occurred, but it seemed to coincide with when a lot of table-service restaurants stopped printing the drink prices on the menu ;)

      I stopped drinking soft drinks over 16 years ago, after developing quite a habit in college. It can be done, and while it’s not easy it’s a great way to trim your budget–especially if you eat out a lot. My husband and son don’t drink soda, either–hubby as a habit from being around me, and son can’t stand carbonation.

      While my son’s elementary school does not make soda available, whenever his class has a party the parents always provide cans of soda for the kids. This really chaps my ass, as it does my son’s, because they don’t offer any alternatives and I end up having to send along a bottle of water for him to drink.

  9. Larraque eats babies says:

    So in summation – to save money, don’t eat out.

    • wrjohnston91283 says:

      I’m so sick of these “100 ways to save $100” or “X tips to do Y” articles all over place. Since 2008, they’ve gotten more prevailent – much of them are reposts from Bankrate, or CNNMoney or something like that. There’s really only so many tips, and I can’t think of a single tip I’ve seen recently thats new to me. Most of them are common sense (such as avoiding apps or dessert to save money). The sad part is, I’m sure there is a sizable portion of the population who COULD use help from these articles, but doesn’t bother reading them.

      • Shadowfax says:

        Well the thing is all of these money saving ideas are going to be obvious. They all boil down to “If you don’t buy something, you don’t spend money on it.”


        So yes, I can save money by not having an appetizer when I go out to eat.

        I can save even more money by not going out to eat at all.

        And I can save the most money by stealing a cow and butchering it myself with a knife I fashioned by sharpening a piece of scrap metal on a slab of concrete.

        Point being, we’re talking about cost vs quality of life. If you can afford the appetizer and you want it, you don’t need to be thinking back to this article and feeling guilty that you’re not saving that six bucks for something more important.

        And if you can’t afford the appetizer, then you shouldn’t need an article to explain that to you.

  10. Ilovegnomes says:

    I ignore consumerist articles where servers complain that you didn’t order a bunch of expensive stuff so now they are mad because they want a bigger tip.

    If we want a date night on a budget, we’ll go to a restaurant after eating dinner at home (and after we know that the restaurant dinner rush is over) and just order dessert and coffee. It makes for a really affordable, fun date. Not to mention it is a great way to scope out a restaurant that you’ve never been to. You can see what other dishes people order and what looks good for next time (going for dinner).

    • pop top says:

      I feel like if someone wants a big tip then they should give you “big tip service”. I’m not going to buy a whole bunch of food just because you want me to, sorry. And I say this as a person who usually tips 20%.

    • Hoot says:

      Sounds like a great little date, especially for those that are not doing as well in this economy and can use a little splurge under $15 and some time with the hubby.

      Great tip.

    • rambo76098 says:

      A good server shouldn’t care about that, as long as you don’t hog the table for several hours. If you do that during a peak time, you should leave a little extra since you’re preventing the server from making tips.

  11. DarksSideMoon says:

    Con artists? Yeah, tell that to their boss who will FIRE them if they do not offer those things to you. If you don’t want it say no.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      Very true. But managers don’t realize they lose customers when their servers constantly upsell.

      • pecan 3.14159265 says:

        There’s upsell and there’s just making your suggestions or recommendations or just saying the specials. I’ve been to numerous restaurants where the wait staff doesn’t even say the specials. They ask ‘would you like to hear tonight’s specials’ and if you’re really not interested they don’t press you. I don’t really consider most of what waiters do is upsell. If they suggest it and it’s not on the menu, I either assume it’ll cost extra and then I ask how much it will be, or I say no if I’m not interested.

    • Michaela says:

      I agree. I found the article to be kinda rude. I have never worked in the restaurant business, but I remember a boyfriend of mine complaining about the stupid things he had to say to diners when he was a waiter. He had to pick out some favorites on the menu and talk about them, and then make his own “special” sauce (you had to mix some red paste with rice vinegar and honey mustard I think) that he would have to make in front of the customers.

      He hates restaurant work but kept the job for awhile. He always put on a good face for customers and never seemed to have any issues at the place. I guess the money was worth it to him.

    • anjinash says:

      I worked for a National Amusements theater for several years, and when I worked concession we were required to encourage customers to upgrade soda or popcorn sizes – at risk of losing our jobs if caught not doing so more than once.

      “Would you like a large for just a QUARTER more?”

      Ugh.. I hated doing this and managed to get away with avoiding it whenever no snitches were within earshot. As a customer, I make up my mind and I ask for it. As a server I considered it my job to accurately take a customers order. I got no tips or saw any increase of pay regardless of what they spent.. so to hell with it!

      Management is the real issue with up-sells and other sneaky tricks in the service industry. The poor waters and waitresses have miserable, low paying jobs and take an appalling amount of verbal abuse and humiliation on a day to day basis.

      Try to keep this in mind next time you’re eating out, and if your waiter/waitress does the best they can do with the circumstances they are working under (like very busy nights, short staffed, having to deal with disruptive customers, etc..) then please try to tip well – it’s the only light at the end of the tunnel for many of them, who are often trying to pay their way through school so they can eventually move on from such misery.

  12. There's room to move as a fry cook says:

    McDonalds: With cheese?

  13. samonela says:

    Not to drive the topic over to tipping, but it really is a pet peeve of mine when I go somewhere that doesn’t seem like a “tipping” type of place, pay with a card and there is a spot on the receipt to include a tip…

    Examples of inappropriate places include:

    – A serve yourself frozen yogurt place where you get your own cup, your own yogurt, and your own toppings. Is the employee really expecting a tip for checking me out (I’m sure a kiosk could do the same no problem).

    – Picking up any food for carryout. Had I paid with cash, there would be no expectation or asking for gratuity.

    – (I know I’ll get flack for this one at least) Starbucks or Coffee Bean. They are doing their job that they were hired to do in the first place. And you are essentially asking me to tip at the point of purchase…BEFORE I have received any service or product.

    • WhoLikesPie? says:

      A lot of these places have a standard template for their receipts. for instance, the top would have some information about them, the middle would contain what was charged and the bottom would have tip, total, and signature. I don’t know if some of these places have the option to turn off the tip line. Also, I’m speaking from minor experience so don’t hold me to it.

    • Brunette Bookworm says:

      I would argue on the carryout one. If it’s a restaurant where MOST of business is sit-down, a small tip for packaging up your order, etc. is nice. I think it’s generally around 10%. For instance, I tip at Applebee’s car-side service, especially if it’s raining, since they bring the food to me. At other places, especially if they don’t have a specific carry-out pick-up area, if I order large amounts of food for carry-out I tip and they usually end up helping me out to the car. I also know that certain restaurants, a person who generally gets tips is putting together my order and it takes time away from their other duties.

      I DON’T tip on carry-out at carry-out only places though. My decision on to tip or not on carry-out depends on the restaurant itself.

      • hoi-polloi says:

        This. It’s not uncommon for my wife and me to order takeout from some of our favorite restaurants. With a four-year-old at home, that’s sometimes the easier option. While it’s not the same level of service you’re getting for a meal at the restaurant, it still requires someone to take the order, get everything together, and ring you up. A 10% tip has always seemed about right to me.

      • samonela says:

        I can agree with that when its a sit down restaurant.

        However I think I should have been a bit more specific on my point as I actually had Dominos specifically in mind when I was typing. I have a very generous coupon code that I have been using for work and other meetings for a few months now (we order from them fairly often since we work with teens a lot). I learned that it is well worth the 5 minute drive to do carryout rather than the $2.50 delivery charge plus the cost of tipping the driver (saving my job money pretty much). If I pay with my credit card online or pay with cash on the spot, they give me my pizzas and I am on my way. If I pay with a CC, I am presented with the “tip line” when its time to sign.

        As was mentioned, maybe it is a standard CC processing system, I just think that it’s a bit inappropriate for some places or some situations to have the tip line.

    • DEVO says:

      YES! The frozen yogurt thing. What the hell. Theres a place near me just like that and it is so ridiculous it really borders on offensive. I do everything including all the way to putting it on the scale. All they do is tell me the total and they have the NERVE to ask for a tip. I respect, worked, and survived on tips for many years but if you want tips you need to get a traditional tip job. Taxi, bell boy, waiter, bartender, valet, whatever else. I’m waiting to see a tip jar at the mechanic or doctors office any time now.

    • Jasen says:

      I never tip at coffee places either. I feel like it would be like tipping at Taco Bell.

    • jeffjohnvol says:

      I only tip people who get the server wage (2.01/hr still?). At Christmas I tip some service people, but I won’t tip anyone in a union or who gets a pension (USPS). I figure they have the system by the balls so why contribute more. Unless they do something really special.

      I have a timeshare that there’s a local guy that hauls our garbage out. He always checks on my place and never complains if I’m late on payment. He gets a good tip from me.

  14. Rachacha says:

    Having worked in a restaurant, the dessert tray trick works well if it is prepared/dressed up correctly. When we asked the customer if they wanted desert, most said “no”, however when we came out with a tray with the products on them and described the dessert, about 30% of the customers would order dessert (and coffee or another drink).

  15. You Can Call Me Al(isa) says:

    I finally realized that they do this at Olive Garden. You order your dish, then they ask “would you like soup or salad?” I always assumed it was part of the dish, and they way they put it on your bill it looks like it’s included. However, the price listed in the menu is cheaper than the price listed on the receipt.
    They don’t mention that your dish will cost $2 more if you add soup or salad.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      At my Olive Garden (and every one I’ve been to) soup or salad comes with nearly every entree.

      • Rebecca K-S says:


      • You Can Call Me Al(isa) says:

        Hmm… well, if that’s the case, they need to update their menus to reflect their prices. The last time I ate there, I noticed the receipt price was higher than the menu price listed.

    • tidomonkey says:

      Yes, at Olive Garden some entrees come with soup and salad and some don’t. It says which ones come with it. Lots of restaurants do the same. If you order a larger entree such as a steak it often comes with sides and a salad. However, sandwiches usually do not.

      • You Can Call Me Al(isa) says:

        Well, I don’t recall what the menu says specifically… but if some of the menu items don’t include soup or salad and the waiter deliberately phrases it like it does… that’s something that consumers should watch out for. I will definitely look closer the next time I go to Olive Garden.

  16. TheGreySpectre says:

    I go to restaurants when I want an experience different then what I can get from home or when I am traveling. Restaurants are an all or nothing thing for me, either I go to a very nice restaraunt and order everything I want to order, have multiple coarses and expect it to be delicious or I don’t go. Now obviously this doesn’t work for everyone or places like applebee’s would go out of buisness but it works for me.

  17. zombie70433 says:

    I used to work in a restaurant corporate office, and saw a rather nasty credit card scam a waitress was pulling.

    She’d stick a 1 in front of the tip, giving her $10 more than intended. She’d then overwrite the total, or fill it in if the customer didn’t do it.

    So a good rule of thumb is to only pay in cash.Or if you pay with a credit card, write out the total like you do on a check. Also, put a line in front of the tip and total, so nobody can alter it after you leave.

    The waitress was doing this for a while, and only got caught because a customer paid close attention to their statement.

    • dolemite says:

      I try and pay the bill with credit card but leave a cash tip if I have to. Then I write “cash” in the tip section.

    • colorisnteverything says:

      Or you can just go through our transactions either at your card website or via something like Quicken like I do.

      I would check to see that I was charged appropriately. Period. You never know what can happen.

    • jeffjohnvol says:

      If I pay with credit card and have enough cash with me, I will tip in cash, and then write “CASH” on the tip line and fill in the original amount. It protects me from that situation, and is less income the server has to report (if they choose to fib about it).

    • webweazel says:

      If we pay the tip with cash, we just put a large X across the tip amount area and calculate the total again at the bottom. If we do put the tip on the credit bill, we calculate the total again at the bottom. Either way, we add a dollar sign ($) as close as possible to the total so nobody can write anything in front of the total or tip amount, like this girl was doing.

  18. Bonnie says:

    Honestly, the quickest way to trim your restaurant budget is to stop ordering soda or other beverages. Seems quibbling, maybe, but if I go out to eat every week and I *don’t* order a drink, I probably save at least $150 a year. (Which means ten more $15 meals that I can afford that year!)

  19. Quake 'n' Shake says:

    BYOC: Bring your own croutons

  20. paul says:

    I fell for the upsell at Arby’s. I ordered the #1 combo and they asked “Medium or Large?”, with the intonation being that of “These are your two choices: pick one”, not “Would you like to upgrade to a medium or large for XX extra?”. I said Medium, and was pissed to see an extra charge for the upgrade… Grr.

  21. somedaysomehow says:

    Did Phil even read the article he linked? It’s not credit card RECEIPTS they’re talking about, it’s the terminals they bring you to enter your PIN on. I read that part three times and I don’t understand how he thought they were talking about a receipt…

  22. Slatts says:

    I worked for Olive Garden, and can confirm that they (and all of the other Darden restaurants, inducing Red Lobster, etc.) actually require their servers to up-sell, and even track the amount of up-selling each server does. When I worked there, we were required to sell an average of $3 of extras per entree sold (extras include drinks, appetizers, desserts, almost anything but an entree; this was in the 90’s, it must be more than $3 now). At the end of the evening, when cashing out, each server would receive a printout from the computer with that average in large, boldface print, which the shift manager was required to initial (and woe be unto the server who fell short).

    For example, if a couple is dining, each orders an entree and one orders a $2 coke and the other a $4 beer, your average is $3/entree for the table and you’re OK. If, in addition, they order a $4 dessert to split, now you’re up to a $5 average for that table and looking good. Ever wonder why you get such a baleful look when you order a water as your only beverage in an Olive Garden? It’s not just mere snobbery or anti-cheapskate-ism. It’s because that sever now has a big, fat zero added in to his other sales, and that drags his average way, way down. Wanna make a OG server very, very happy? Ask if you can buy the fancy parmigiana cheese grinder — he’ll tell you, “Yes! We do sell them, I can add it right on to your bill!” and the $30 grinder bumps his average way up.

    Corporate would often raise sales goals or hold competitions among restaurants to see who could sell the most extra stuff, and during these times, only the pushiest of the staff would be scheduled to work on prime Fri/Sat dinner hours. It was during one of these promotions that I finally decided I’d had enough and decided to quit. The general manager was determined that he was going to win this competition at all costs, and decided to take things to a new level — he decreed that servers would now be referred to as “sales staff” (outside of guests earshot, of course) and threatened that any server who missed her quota would be demoted to a non-sales position, such as hostess.

    Forget that. I went and found another way to make some money during college. It seems that, everywhere you go, someone is trying to sell you something. So, you go out for a nice dinner to try to get a respite from the world and let someone else to the cooking, and — WTF?! — now you’re confronted with a commissioned salesman right there in your face while you dine. I didn’t want any part of it. To this day, I can’t dine in an OG because a) I don’t want the up-sell, and b) I don’t want to hurt the poor slob, who’s just trying to do his job, by refusing the up-sell.

    • Outrun1986 says:

      I try to avoid chain restaurants in general due to this, they have “policies” and I have seen enough “policies” when I am shopping in retail stores to make my head spin. When I go out and eat I want a good experience from a local place, and I don’t want to deal with some chain’s “policies”. I go out to eat to get away from these policies that plague the chain restaurant industry. There are enough places to eat here where the competition is very stiff and people here are poor so they don’t go out to eat much. If you go to a non chain place they are much more receptive and will fix any problem you have on the spot so they can keep you as a customer.

    • Brookles says:

      >To this day, I can’t dine in an OG because a) I don’t want the up-sell, and b) I don’t want to hurt the poor slob, who’s just trying to do his job, by refusing the up-sell.

      I’m glad someone else feels this way. I haven’t reached the point of outright avoiding restaurants and stores that do that, but when I go to a store who forces the employees to push upsells or pre-orders and I know that the employees get punished for not making those upsells (Gamestop, I’m talking to you), I leave feeling a little bad about the idea of the poor salesperson getting reamed out or hours cut because I don’t need that pre-order and vaguely resentful at the store for putting me in that position.

  23. JMH says:

    I fail to see how any of those things are even “upsells”, let alone “hidden”. What’s “hidden” about “here’s some delicious desserts you might like”?

  24. Outrun1986 says:

    The upsell I don’t like is when they ask you things like if you want whipped cream or nuts on your sundae but they don’t mention that its an extra charge, that is really sleazy because they are phrasing it like its an option that is your choice but is already included in the price of them item and is not an extra charge. I know of restaurants here where you are charged for the lemon they put in the water even if you order a soda to go with the water, needless to say I avoid those places.

    My mom went to an Italian restaurant here that did not offer bread, I mean how cheap can you get, this is an Italian place, its basically sacriligious to not offer bread with the drinks or salad. A loaf of Italian bread costs $2 or $1.50 here and you wouldn’t even have to use the whole loaf for each table since you get a lot for that price, plus restaurants probably get huge discounts from the local bakeries for buying a ton of bread at once so the price comes down for bread. I can’t imagine this place is going to be in business for very much longer and we won’t be going there again anytime soon.

    When a restaurant is cheap or is skimping the customers definitely notice, and then they do not return. When I am going out to eat I expect the experience to be reasonable, which means not being upsold extras in the way that I describe above and I don’t expect to be charged individually for the lemon in my soda, the butter to put on my bread or anything else that is expected.

    I don’t consider being told about the specials or being offered an additional item of food like an appetizer or a dessert an upsell because when I am going out again I am not going to cheap out so if I want something I am going to get it. If I don’t want it I won’t get it. Being asked if I want dessert isn’t really an upsell since every place does it. I haven’t seen a fake dessert tray used since I was a kid which is many many years ago.

  25. ArgusRun says:

    Okay. Your anti-business rhetoric is getting a little silly. None of those things you listed are scams. They are not promising you one thing and delivering something else. They are strategies. Call them that.

    The more informed you are about them the less they work. But there is nothing immoral about it.

    But no….. you had to go for the inflammatory rhetoric to drive page views.

    This just in folks!!!! Websites get ad revenue when you click on their pages and will use dramatic rhetoric or even blatant falsehoods to get you to read their stories and waste your time while making them money! Those scam-artists at Consumerist write articles that are in no way helpful, relevant, fact-checked or accurate just so they can make money.

    • danmac says:

      FYI, the Consumerist doesn’t have ad revenue, as there are no ads (aside from the one from Consumer Reports at the top, but they own the Consumerist, so it’s kind of their right).

  26. Truthie says:

    Seems pretty crappy to mention tipping in a post about restaurant upsells and ways for people to lower their restaurant bills. Yes, watch the dessert tray and coffee but please give your server an appropriately generous tip.

  27. outlulz says:

    Turning down desserts, appetizers, etc to save money…well couldn’t you save more money by not going out to eat at all?

  28. Destra says:

    And always tip before tax!

  29. Intheknow says:

    We have a nearby chain restaurant that serves its baked potatoes absolutely plain – You have to pay almost twice as much for butter, sour cream, bacon, cheese, chives, or whatever you want on it. Seems very cheap and I resent it enough not to go there. Also, I’ve learned to drink water when out to dinner. I think the price of a soft drink or tea is outrageous in most places – not to mention alcohol!

  30. ShariC says:

    The problem with this type of advice is that it takes a micro approach to something which really requires a macro approach. People need to not try to skip dessert, appetizers or coffee when they go out to dinner, but rather to conceptualize eating out as a special event that occurs infrequently. When one eats out, it can be a fully inhabited experience with multiple courses that are prepared by someone else and taste unique rather than simply a routine thing that you do to avoid cooking and cleaning up for yourself. Making dining out an event rather than nickle and diming down the overall bill would almost certainly save more money than skipping appetizers or dessert.

  31. hot kachina says:

    I can’t believe the linked article didn’t include one of the biggies – top shelf alcohol upsells. Memorizing dozens of drink recipes was part of the training for waitstaff where I worked, because it was too easy to charge a couple of extra dollars per drink. Some brands of liquor cost over $5 to substitute into a drink in place of the well variety! If someone ordered a Cape Cod, I’d ask “Absolut or Stoli?” or some other combination of top shelf vodkas, and without even thinking they’d choose one. Only the very saavyiest of patrons would say “well [alcohol] is fine.” A Long Island Iced Tea order brought stars to our eyes – 4 different liquors..potentially a 400% increase in the price of a drink if upsold!

    Read the menu, folks – your nachos and 9 layer dip don’t come with beef or chicken, but if you order it they’re going to ask you which one you want. Your chocolate cake dessert doesn’t come a la mode, and your salad isn’t automatically topped with cheese and bacon. Hell, even your baked potato doesn’t necessarily come with all the toppings – unless the menu specifies it!

    As a former waitress/bartender, I can tell you it’s very hard to feel guilty about any of this.

  32. Razor512 says:

    I use the most effective way, I don’t go to restaurants. For the price of one restaurant meal for one person, I can generally buy a weeks worth of food. No point in spending like $30 on a single meal just to be hungry like 2-3 hours later.

    • PercyChuggs Was Found At JFK Airport says:

      What kind of restaurant are you going to where one persons meal costs $30?

  33. echovictorecho says:

    Bar waitress weighing in. Yes, we are upsell-happy con artists on our good nights. We want your money. We’re not schlepping food and booze around in demeaning outfits for a base of $3 an hour because we enjoy it so god-blessed much.

    Upsells are big; seconds are bigger. Beware the cute waitress who tries to sweet-talk you into “just one more beer.” Or the glass/pitcher soda trap (at my place you’d get unlimited free refills on one glass, but ordering a pitcher is eight bucks and you get one free refill before I charge you for a whole new one.)

    Waitstaff are often better than classically trained salespeople at presumptive selling. Think “what’s for dessert, folks? My favorite is” whatever, rather than “Would you like dessert?” As mentioned this is basic psychology: it’s normal to order dessert (or seconds or whatever), and you’ll feel weird and like a bit of a jerk if you don’t. We’re trained to think of money and spending as crass, so especially if we’re in a situation with social pressure, like a date or a night out with coworkers, we’ll generally cave and spend more.

    NB: customers I’ve served who simply said “no thank you!” are politely left alone on the subject.

  34. ChilisServer says:

    Servers do not “upsell” anything on the credit card slips. We have no control over how those print out, and if it’s confusing ASK FOR AN EXPLANATION.

    We can be fired for not upselling, so I must ask you is you want dessert or extra guacamole, but I will not be offended if you say “no” as long as you are polite about declining.

  35. james says:

    The big one here in NYC is “Sparkling water or still?”.
    Note that both come in bottles, and are expensive.
    Note that one has not been offered an obvious alternative.

    One has to quickly and firmly insist “Tap water, please”.
    Or, “Eau du Bloomberg” if you are in a place where the waiters pretend to speak only French.

    It wasn’t so long ago that the idea of people paying money for bottled water seemed comical.

  36. Tiandli says:

    If they offer without mentioning price, it should be free.

  37. jeffjohnvol says:

    Some places charge $2.50 for a soft drink. Jeez. I could buy 4 liters in the store with that. I realize they need a markup, but dayummm. What really cheesed me off at one place is that they didn’t list the soda prices anywhere on their menu. Water please.

  38. laughingweek says:

    Uh, none of these are “sneaky”. They’re WILLFUL orders that the guest makes. There’s no hidden costs when THEY order a coffee or an appetizer! Those cost money and always have.

    I’ve been a server for 8 years. We’re encouraged constantly to upsell indeed. There are plenty of underhanded things a server could (and I do NOT do) to be “sneaky”, such as when a guest orders a vodka tonic, and the server rings in a grey goose and tonic in lieu of the house vodka, etc.

    However, it’s not underhanded or con-oriented in any way when the guest explicitly wants and orders something.

  39. HogwartsProfessor says:

    If money is really tight, eating out is usually the first thing to go. When I do, I save money by doing these things.

    –If I’m asked if I’d like to hear the specials, I say yes because I might want one of them.

    –Water? Tap.

    –Dessert? Maybe. If I’m full, no.

    –After dinner coffee? No, I don’t drink coffee at night.

    –Tip? Part of the cost of eating out, if I’m going to someplace where it’s customary to tip. If the service sucks ass, I won’t. I also won’t be back.

    –I’m not above using a coupon. I figure they want me to come eat there or they wouldn’t offer it, and if I can save a few bucks, I just might.

  40. lihtox says:

    I think it goes too far to call the three examples here “cons”. They are “marketing”, where the restaurant tries to encourage you to buy things they have to sell. But they’re not deceitful and not even terribly subtle.
    And as for the first example, a dessert tray could actually save people money by letting them see the exact portion size before ordering it. I’ve occasionally ordered dessert because I wanted a little something extra, only to have the waiter bring out enough ice cream and cake (or whatever) to make an entire second meal. If I could’ve seen it upfront, I would’ve skipped it altogether, or gone with something smaller.

  41. uniden says:

    Here is a trick that I learned a long time ago.

    Takeout – no fuss and no getting ripped off on the double tip scam.

  42. AwesomeJerkface says:

    How is a dessert tray a “hidden” upsell? It’s not like say when you get fish and chips and you’re charged $3 more for halibut over cod without being asked.

    See dessert.
    Buy dessert.