December 4, 2021

The Haggler: Restaurant Bill Shock? Some Say ‘Au Contraire’

Sometimes these e-mails include gratuitous and unflattering references to the Haggler’s mother. But most are even-tempered and often, it must be said, make a legitimate point.

The last column inspired a flurry of such you-got-it-wrong letters. This week we look at a few of them, along with other novel reactions. The point is that much of what is amusing and interesting about this column is the aftermath, and that is otherwise invisible to readers.

So, a quick recap: a reader named Craig Tall wrote to complain that his waiter at Nello, a restaurant on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, had failed to mention the price of a lunch special, pasta with white truffles, one day in October. The dish cost $275, as he learned when the bill arrived. After complaining, Mr. Tall was given a 25 percent discount, and the restaurant’s owner, Nello Balan, later promised another 25 percent off after the Haggler called for comment.

To David M. Jacobi of Bainbridge Island, Wash., all of this sounded pretty outrageous.

“White truffles presently sell for about $250 an ounce,” Mr. Jacobi wrote. “If you want to take the ferry, you’d best be prepared to pay for your ticket — or at least have the good sense to ask what it costs to cross the pond before you board the boat. Furthermore, every city has a Nello or two, and you go there only if you have money to burn or you are in the mood to abuse an expense account. It is not about the food and it certainly is not about ‘value for money.’ ”

Tom Murray of Brattleboro, Vt., offered this: “Anyone who agrees to purchase anything without knowing the price has no right to complain, whatever the price. That’s like voting for someone you know nothing about, then complaining ‘I had no idea he would do that.’ And you mention that the customer’s bill was reduced after he complained, by 25 percent. On a bill of $400, that is a big cut — maybe the profit on those truffles. Please tell your diner to get real. Can he really complain while buying a dinner what would feed a family for a month?”

Mr. Tall had sympathizers, too. One of them, Franklin Synder, a law professor in Fort Worth, offered a bit of legal advice for anyone in a similar predicament:

“You might be interested in letting your readers know that a restaurant meal is a ‘sale of goods’ under Article 2 of the Uniform Commercial Code,” he wrote. “The code provides that where the buyer and seller have agreed to a contract but have not agreed on the price, the price is not what the seller subsequently demands. It’s a reasonable price for the goods at issue. Thus a customer has no obligation to pay for anything more than the reasonable price of a pasta meal at a trendy restaurant.”

He continued: “In this circumstance, a customer should make a reasonable offer for the value of the meal, then walk out and wait to be sued for breach of contract. Be sure to leave the restaurant full contact information so they can’t claim that you’re trying to steal something.”

TOO confrontational? Maybe you would prefer the cheeky approach recommended by Mark Oldman, who writes about wine at a site called Drink Bravely.

“It’s called B.Y.O.T., a k a, bring your own truffle,” he says. “Every autumn I head to a market and purchase one knobby tartufo bianco, usually with my stash of loose change that has accumulated over the year. I then take the truffle, a bottle of Barolo and a group of friends to a humble, welcoming restaurant that serves truffle-friendly food such as simple pasta or thin-crust pizza. Having one full truffle ensures that there’s more than enough of this funky fungus to ‘make it snow’ for everyone at the table.  A portion even goes to the waiter, thereby assuring the ritual stays cost-effective for years to come.”

The Haggler can imagine that this solution might avoid one restaurant problem — bill shock — and run head long into another: physical ejection. But Mr. Oldman has a video describing this ritual in detail, viewable at, and he appears to have all of his teeth and much of his dignity.

Finally, it’s a new year here at Haggler Central, and time for a fresh solicitation for Haggler-worthy letters. First, what not to send. Enough with the air-travel-nightmare yarns, people. For the time being, that topic has been covered. Ditto cellphone and cable bill disputes. Done and done-r.

But there are entire industries that never seem to yield letters, even though people seem to complain about them all the time. Like H.M.O.’s, online prescription services and moving companies. Not to mention retailers, banks and educational institutions. 

All truffle trauma? At this point, you’ll have to keep that to yourself.

E-mail: Keep it brief and family-friendly, and go easy on the caps-lock key. Letters may be edited for clarity and length.

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Strauss-Kahn Is Released from Jail

The department said he had been released to the custody of a private security company that is to guard him while his sexual assault case is pending and he is under home confinement. “Mr. Strauss-Kahn is no longer on Rikers Island,” which houses the city jail complex, the department said in a statement.

It did not say where Mr. Strauss-Kahn had been taken. An official at State Supreme Court in Manhattan said he would be staying in corporate housing used by the security company, Stroz Friedberg. He had been expected to stay in an Upper East Side building where his wife had rented two apartments, but the building would not accept him, a court official said on Friday. Mr. Strauss-Kahn had held since he was arrested last Saturday on sexual assault charges.

In the meantime, officials with the city’s Department of Correction were working to come up with a plan to take Mr. Strauss-Kahn off of Rikers Island to his ultimate destination and avoid the phalanx of media waiting outside in a caravan of vehicles.

The judge set bail at $1 million on Thursday, saying that Mr. Strauss-Kahn could leave Rikers if he stayed under 24-hour home confinement in the apartment with an armed guard posted outside — presumably to see that he stayed inside. The judge, Michael J. Obus, also ordered that Mr. Strauss-Kahn would have to wear a monitoring ankle bracelet.

Some residents of the building said they were unhappy at the prospect of having Mr. Strauss-Kahn as a neighbor.

“I think it’s an inconvenience for all of us,” said one resident, Michele Smith, who spoke outside the Bristol. “I don’t want that kind of publicity in my building.”

Another resident, Barry Schwartz, echoed the idea that the residents did not want the publicity Mr. Strauss-Kahn would bring. “He’s very high profile,” Mr. Schwartz said, “and it’s upsetting to tenants to have all of that.” He gestured in the direction of the throng of reporters waiting outside the building.

“They just don’t want all that,” he said of his neighbors. “They just don’t want 40,000 reporters. It could be for a movie star for all they know.”

Judge Obus had said on Thursday that if there was the “slightest problem with your compliance,” he could change the conditions of the bail or even withdraw it. It was not immediately clear what the problem with the apartment would mean for the deal he had approved.

Before the judge gave his decision, prosecutors announced that a grand jury had indicted Mr. Strauss-Kahn, who has been in protective custody on Rikers Island since Monday, on charges that he sexually assaulted a hotel housekeeper at the Sofitel New York.

The charges included several first-degree felony counts, including committing a criminal sex act, attempted rape and sexual abuse; the most serious charges carry 25-year prison terms.

Mr. Strauss-Kahn is due back in court on June 6.

The courtroom fell silent on Thursday as Mr. Strauss-Kahn was brought in at about 2:30 p.m., looking far better than he had in his previous court appearance. He wore a gray suit with a baby blue shirt and was clean-shaven. He gave a tight-lipped grin and nod to his wife and daughter, Camille Strauss-Kahn, who were sitting in the front row.

Ms. Sinclair walked into the courtroom clutching her daughter’s hand. She wore a gray dress with a dark blazer.

In a sign, perhaps, of the seriousness with which prosecutors are treating the case, Artie McConnell, the assistant district attorney assigned to it, was accompanied by Daniel R. Alonso, the chief assistant district attorney, and Lisa Friel, the chief of the office’s sex crimes unit.

Mr. McConnell affirmed the prosecution’s objection to bail being set. As he had argued during the Criminal Court arraignment on Monday, he said that the evidence against Mr. Strauss-Kahn was compelling and that he had the means to flee.

James Barron, Charles V. Bagli, Colin Moynihan, Ashley Parker and William K. Rashbaum contributed reporting.

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