July 27, 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 markoldman.com/videos/BYOT_truffle, 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: haggler@nytimes.com. Keep it brief and family-friendly, and go easy on the caps-lock key. Letters may be edited for clarity and length.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=07c295838c4d1500fca3aa7b13b43fbc

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