There is a simple concept in economics. It’s called the law of demand. The law of demand says that as price decreases, consumers will buy more of a good or service. Translated, the cheaper things are, the more we buy. It’s called a law for a reason. This law is on display everywhere in American society. How do you think Wal-Mart made 11 billion dollars (profit) in 2006? People LOVE cheap stuff.
This law holds true in restaurants as well. People want more food then they can eat for as little cost as possible. A certain percentage of restaurant customers will always take issue with the cost of their meal because, for whatever reason, it does not align with their expectations. About once a week I would bring a bill to a table only to be called back a few moments later to hear a complaint about the cost. Sometimes the complaints would be valid; most times they would be completely unfounded. Complaints at check time typically fell into a few different categories.
1) The most common complaint came from people who had been burned by less than honest servers in the past. There are jerks in this world and some of them do work in restaurants. I know that some servers intentionally try to overcharge customers because they have dreamed up a way to increase their tip. Most of the time this takes the form of adding items to a guest’s check that was never actually ordered only to remove this item from the bill after the guest has paid. The difference between the falsified bill and the actual cost of the meal is added to the servers tip. The dishonest servers of the world are counting on the customer paying the bill without looking at the actual amount. Most people do not itemize their bill when it comes to the table. They already have an idea of how much it should be and if it’s close, they pay it and leave. This crime, because that’s exactly what it is, works best when the customer pays in cash. This eliminates a paper trail that a credit card would provide. Servers who intentionally cheat their customers make waiting tables a lot harder for the rest of us honest servers. Customers, who have been burned by this bill inflation, are more likely to itemize their bill at the table and, sometimes, falsely accuse innocent servers of overcharging them. I have never intentionally overcharged a guest in my life, but I have been accused of it dozens of times over my seven years in the Steak House. You can’t blame people for being suspicious, but it doesn’t make it any less of a pain in the ass.
2) The second type of complaint comes from people who didn’t actually read the price on the menu or, for whatever reason, thought their meal cost less than it actually did. These complaints usually go one of two ways: the bill arrives and the customer asks to see a menu. At this point the customer realizes he/she is wrong and either: a) owns up to the mistake and pays the bills or b) refuses to believe they made a mistake and throws a fit. This latter situation is never pleasant and usually ends with a manager visit to the table. Sometimes the manager will remove items from the menu to reduce the cost. This is clearly the path of least resistance for the manager because there was nothing wrong with the meal, service, or food and by all rights the customer should have paid the full amount. In these situations, the manager is worried about a customer call to corporate. Sometimes, if the customer is abrasive enough, the manger will politely explain that, if the meal was satisfactory, the bill needs to be paid. Sometimes it’s not so polite. Personally I think this is just about the most obnoxious thing a customer can do. The customer ordered, ate, and enjoyed a meal. Pay the bill and stop complaining.
3) The third complaint isn’t really a complaint and, to me, is more sad than anything else. We are all driven by the American dream. Everyone wants a nice house, car, and the occasional night out at an expensive restaurant. Of course, those expectations are all relative. For many people, the Steak House was an “expensive restaurant”. Sometimes people, who probably should not be spending their money on disposable activities, would order more food than they could pay for. When this occurred it would be reflected in an extremely poor tip or a declined credit card. Either way, it was uncomfortable for all parties. The customer would, more than likely, leave a good tip if they could afford it. On the other hand, I can assure you that servers don’t like telling customers their credit card company won’t let them spend any more money and getting screwed on a tip isn’t fun either. All in all, I wish these people would just stay home and spend their money on their kids or something to improve their financial situation (like paying down their credit cards).
No matter the form the complaint takes, the most obvious representative of the restaurant is the server and as a result, we tend to feel the brunt of these complaints. I say unfortunately, because servers have absolutely nothing to do with the cost of the meal. None whatsoever. We did not set the menu prices and we certainly don’t have the power to change them. You, as a customer, enter into an unspoken agreement when you enter a restaurant. You, the customer, agree to pay the prices the menu asks and we, the servers, agree to provide the best experience we can provide. Please keep this in mind the next time you don’t like the price of your meal and take it out on your server.