Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas - Hidden Charges in Dining Out

In an earlier posting I talked about being charged $8.00 for my husband and myself to taste wine at Three Foxes Winery in Northern Fauquier County, VA.

We only wanted a drop of the wines so we could make our selections. We wound up buying 4 bottles for a total cost of about $95.00 - including the $8.00 tasting charge even though we drank less than 1/4 of a glass - each.

In the posting I lamented that the Virginia farm wine industry was actually becoming wine bars hidden behind farm tax laws and warned you to ask about tasting charges before you rack up a bill.

Today's posting is not about wine but rather coffee, added charges and tipping specifically at the Olive Garden in Manassas. Dining out used to be relaxing. Now it's as confusing as a sudko puzzel.

The Olive Garden - Manasses

Recently, on December 17 to be exact, my husband and I had a very nice lunch at a favorite restaurant of ours, The Olive Garden.

Lunch was delicious. We had a huge appetizer of crispy calamari, chicken fingers and toasted ravioli. For entrees, I had the Tour of Italy (a little bit of everything).

I asked to substitute something else for the Fettuccino Alfredo that was part of my entree. What I had in mind was broccoli or a vegetable but the waitress said I could substitute ravioli or spagetti & meat balls.

I selected the ravioli. The way she recited the substitutions, I thought those were my only choices. She never mentioned that it would be additional. I should have asked but her manner never suggested that it wasn't.

My husband had his favorite, spaghetti and meat balls. We skipped dessert although we were tempted.

Here's what the problems were:

1. My substitutuion cost $1.95 extra which was not a lot of money but had I known I had to pay extra, I would have ordered what I really wanted - a vegetable and not the ravioli.


2. A cup of coffee cost $2.15. That's way too much money for coffee that was mediocre at best and only passable as fresh.

They served me a cup and later on the waitress asked if I wanted it warmed up (I had drunk about 1/4 of it). "Sure," I said.

The waitress brought me a small thermal pot (which might have contained another cup or a little more) and left it on the table.

Then the bill came. Had I known that coffee was $2.15 a cup, I would have sent it back and asked them to make me a fresh pot or take it off the bill. I'm sure the menu said it was $2.15 but when a waitress asks if you want coffee, the usual response is either yes or no - not may I see the menu again to check on the price.

3. On our bill was a note that an optional 18% gratuity would be added for parties of 8 or more. That's a lot of money and I don't remember seeing that on the menu anywhere. We were only 2 people so it didn't apply to us but if you're a group, you won't know that until you get the check.

Here's the Point

So here's the point of today's posting. As you make merry this holiday season or in the new year, get a clear picture in advance of what people are charging you.

The rules of dining out (and drinking out) that we all understood are gone. It's every consumer for him or herself.

Spend what you want just don't let the food industry pick your pockets with hidden charges.

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Check back tomorrow as we count the days till Christmas with scrumptious recipes, festive holiday tips and gifts ideas from the kitchen.

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