A night out with friends might include savory food, tasty cocktails and a table full of laughter, but getting charged for more than what you signed for can ruin any good memories.
I have had that experience.
I was with friends celebrating my roommate’s 23rd birthday at a restaurant in Austin, Texas. Our waitress told us that we could not get separate tickets. Everyone at the table had to do basic math to figure out how much we each owed, write it down on the ticket and then present our individual cards.
The waitress took the ticket, charged our cards, and we signed our receipts.
Because of the bad service, I didn’t tip. Imagine my surprise when I checked my account a few days later and saw that I had been charged $29 instead of $20 at the restaurant. I immediately called Chase’s fraud division.
I explained what happened and mentioned that I did not leave a tip. The Chase rep asked if I had saved my receipt. I didn’t. Chase removed the $29 charge and launched an investigation.
A month later, I received a message from Chase noting that their investigation found that I was wrongfully charged. The message also said that the $29 would not be added back to my statement and to call the number listed if I had any questions.
I was also told that if a similar tipping incident happened again, to call the restaurant first to see if I can get the issue resolved.
Most restaurant managers will work with customers to learn what went wrong. If restaurant managers are not being helpful, then call the card issuer’s fraud department. The charge usually will be suspended while an investigation is underway.
Here are a few things you can do to avoid having to file a charge dispute:
1. Make sure the math is correct.
Restaurant policies vary on how to close out checks when the subtotal and tip don’t add up to the total written on the receipt by the guest. If adding the tip given by guests to the subtotal of the check does not add up to the total as written, some restaurant managers tell servers to ignore the tip and go by what is on the total amount line. Others will tell servers to add the number on the tip line even if it’s more than the total amount.
To avoid letting the server make the judgment call, make sure the total amount is correct. Use your phone’s calculator to double-check that the subtotal and the tip total add up correctly.
2. Write on the tip line.
Servers mostly prefer cash tips, and cash tips are easier for customers because they don’t have to worry about doing the math. If you are leaving a cash tip, make sure to write “cash tip” on the tip line. If the service was awful and you are not leaving a tip, write “zero.”
Writing “cash tip” or “zero” makes it harder for a server, bartender or anyone else to mess around with the receipt. Just don’t forget to write in the total amount.
3. Keep your receipts.
Receipts are bothersome, but there’s a reason why customers get a copy. The restaurant copy gives managers a record of the transaction. The customer’s receipt lets you match the amount with what is on your card statement.
Whether it’s a print copy or a digital one, keep the receipt. When your card statement arrives, compare your receipts to what’s on your statement to make sure charges are accurate.
4. Ask about the gratuity policy.
Many restaurants have signs noting their gratuity policies. Because large tables require a lot of attention, an automatic gratuity protects servers from not receiving a tip. Usually, the gratuity is a fixed rate of the total bill, usually 15 to 20 percent.
Before ordering or reserving a table, ask if there is an automatic gratuity and how much it is. Then you will know how much to expect on the bill and won’t end up mistakenly paying the tip twice.
Since the tipping incident almost a year ago, I have returned to the restaurant. The only difference: Now I know what to do to ensure my charges are recorded as written, and I save my receipts.
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