How Restaurants Violate Us On A Daily Basis

Restaurants in Lebanon are guilty of many misdemeanors, and it’s time someone spoke up. These faux pas have tainted my dining experience on some level, and hard as I try to avoid them, I see them unfolding before me time and time again. How many of the below offenses have you been subject to?
1.       Uncorking a bottle of water at your table and charging you for it without your approval. I’d say fair and square 90% of eateries in Lebanon commit this act on a regular basis. I don’t mind the water if I’m not ordering a soft drink, juice, or other beverage, but dear waiter, just as your title dictates, WAIT for my cue! Often those restaurants excitedly popping off the tops of water bottles charge you exorbitantly for them. In Lebanese mezze venues, water bottles are typically already on the table and hence engraved on the tab even before you saunter in.

2.       Quite possibly more heinous than charging you for an unwelcome bottle of water is charging you for what you assumed were complimentary amuse-bouches. That small tray of pickles and olives generally considered to be on the house? Well, it might make it to the bill, even if the waiter greeted you with it almost as soon as you sat down. One famous arguileh joint in Antelias now charges you for carrots, pumpkin seeds and peanuts unless you order a foamy or bubbly pick-me-up to go with it. A cafe with branches in Hamra and Gemmayze slaps a fee on any bread served with your meal. Don’t even get me started on a Sodeco hotspot that's got a price tag for everything on its menu, including the odd deck of cards.

3.       Have you ever known nachos without their sour cream or guacamole amigos? Nobody wants naked nachos stingily drizzled with grated cheddar and some salsa. At one famous Lebanese diner, when you order a platter of nachos and the waiter prompts you whether you’d like them with their natural accompaniments, beware: he’s going to charge you for each creamy little dip. And it’s not as if the nachos aren’t already overpriced.

4.       Trying to customize your dish to your palate? Save that for Burger King, who are rare practitioners of the “have it your way” philosophy. Adding fresh mushrooms or tomatoes to your bare burger might incur additional charges, and I’ve seen this done repeatedly at many chain restaurants.

5.       Are there still restaurants that exclude TVA from the prices on the menu and then insert it slyly when you ask for the tab? You bet there are. Several restaurants post the 10% TVA onto the receipt rather than incorporating it in the scope of their menu--oftentimes unwritten. Which brings me to my next point.

6.       No printed menus for reference? And an illegible, hand-scrawled receipt to boot? What is this, the Stone Age? Are restaurants so miserly that they scrap stationery all together? Or do they prefer to adjust prices whenever and however they so choose? Yup, there are several places subscribing to these sneaky methods, and they tend to be Lebanese mezze restaurants located in the mountains and suburbs outside of Beirut.

7.       Returning incorrect change. Most restaurants claim they don’t carry coins and thus will round up to the nearest 1,000LL when calculating your bill. For example, if you pay 40,000LL for a 33,500LL tab, expect to get back 6,000LL. The 500LL will get skimmed. It may only be $0.33, but it’s extremely annoying to be shortchanged (Habib Battah blogged about this sensitive topic a couple of years ago). If restaurants refuse to stock up on coins, then why don’t they amend menu prices to avoid coin usage? And if they think it’s perfectly okay to withhold our change, let’s turn the tables: would they accept 33,000LL for a 33,500LL-bill? I highly doubt it.

Which of the above traps have you fallen into? Worse still, how many combinations of these have you experienced during one dining experience? Chime in—I’d love to know!


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