Green chile stew Frontier Restaurant New Mexico
Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

Are Restaurants Saving Money by Withholding Items From Your Order — and Other Potentially Shady Business Practices?

No one disputes that the businesses of restaurants and other dining establishments suffered substantially as a result of the current 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic — to the point where they temporarily closed and had to rely on creative options to keep the trickle of money coming in; and some had permanently closed altogether — but are some of those creative options designed to deceive and cheat you out of your money?

Are Restaurants Saving Money by Withholding Items From Your Order — and Other Potentially Shady Business Practices?

Photograph ©2020 by Brian Cohen.

An increasing number of restaurants across the United States have started to engage in adding a mandatory surcharge to the bills of dining patrons — with a markup by as much as 26 percent — in an attempt to recoup their financial losses due to the current 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic. Rather than raise menu prices, these establishments keep their menu prices artificially low to remain competitive and fool customers into thinking that their total bill will be a lower cost — until the surcharge is added; and unexpectedly in some cases.

The practice of adding a surcharge of an arbitrary amount to the final bill may be perceived and considered as a deceptive business practice — but are restaurants purposely engaging in another type of fraudulent activity by purposely leaving an item or two out of the orders of their customers?

I can only go by my experiences, as I have been patronizing restaurants during the current 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic and giving service people more in terms of gratuities than usual in order to show my support…

…but in every single experience when I picked up food to take it out from different restaurants, a part of my order was missing — and each example listed below was from a different dining establishment:

  • The beans were left out of my side dish of rice and beans which accompanied three fish tacos
  • A beverage was missing from the order
  • No one put the salad that was supposed to come with my meal in the bag
  • Bacon was never included on my hamburger
  • A side order of broccoli was nowhere to be found

Food Substituted With That of Lower Quality?

Columbia Restaurant
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Another possible bait-and-switch tactic with which restaurants could be engaging is substituting food which is normally served as per the menu with food of a lower quality.

I ordered a steak from a restaurant in which the steaks have generally been very good — lean, flavorful, and satisfying…

…but during the current 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic, the quality of the beef used for the steaks was stringy, fatty, and gristly — so much so that I had to return to the restaurant to have it replaced, as it was not inexpensive.

The replacement steak was significantly better to the point of being acceptable — but it was still not as good as the steaks I usually have been served over the years at this particular restaurant.

The practice of offering food of lower quality — or substituting what is advertised on the menu with something different — is unfortunately a practice in which some restaurants have engaged to improve their profits at the behest of customers long before the current 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic, according to this detailed article which was written on Wednesday, August 10, 2016 and posted here at The Gate.


Hanna Orthodox Glatt Kosher restaurant Budapest
Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

A side of beans may not amount to a hill of beans; and the people who fulfilled the order may have vegged out on not including the broccoli — so they all may have all have been mere accidents of coincidence or mistakes which were not purposely committed…

…but what if the items were not included in each order intentionally — even if the customer had paid for it — and what if this practice was multiplied by the number of dining patrons in a day? A dollar here, two dollars there, 50 cents — it all adds up to potential savings for the restaurant.

Admittedly, I am simply imparting my personal experiences — this article is not based on any scientific data or statistics — and want to know if you have experienced an increase of questionable activities from the restaurants and dining establishments which you patronize.

If you plan on picking up your order at a restaurant and taking it out, ensure that you scrutinize the contents inside of the bag which is handed to you by the employee of the restaurant so that you may inform him or her of the discrepancy — if one exists…

…and this is a practice which should become a habit to you anyway — 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic or not.

All photographs ©2014, ©2015, ©2017, and ©2020 by Brian Cohen.

  1. Oh, goodness, yes. I have dined via takeout extensively during the pandemic and found this to be the case… I had attributed it to the restaurants being understaffed and overwhelmed with this altered method of business – but I suppose it could have been intentional in some cases?

    It was not uncommon during this time to have the veg portion of my sandwiches and/or requested condiments missing. And soups, salads, and sides were occasionally missing or incorrect as well.

    Likewise, to be fair, I had some dishes that were substantially better than I expected given my experiences pre-pandemic. I regularly order a particular salmon entree from a local restaurant and have found it to be fresh and generously portioned each time. I have had several additional seafood meals during this ordeal that were divine. And I tried sushi for the first time – big fan now! A perk for the pandemic. It will be interesting to see what businesses survive this economic crisis.

  2. Wow, everybody is definitely out to get you! As a GM of a large restaurant we have definitely lost revenue the last few months. Things still aren’t close to being what they were but this article was laughable.
    Clearly you have never worked in a restaurant. Serving tables is not an easy job but if you make a mistake or forget something the guest is right there and you can fix it easily.
    Carry out unfortunately is often less experienced staff since the guests don’t leave as much in tips. It isn’t a desired shift. We require them to go over the order with the guest before the guest leaves, sometimes they forget or the guest even yells at them not to do that. Mistakes can still happen when you go over an order. Most of the time when we mess up an order it is when the wife calls in the order and the husband picks it up. If you send a spouse make sure they know what was ordered!
    When there is a lot of volume and most restaurants saw an increase of over 100% in carry out. One of issues is the guests don’t come in the order that it was placed. Sometimes it is even an hour after they placed it and they said they would be 15 minutes. The restaurants are trying to figure out a system that works. It isn’t easy keeping food fresh when you have it in boxes waiting for them to pick it up. Several times we had over 40 orders waiting to be picked up. Once again if this was normal table service, we know where it goes and we take it out as soon as it comes up.
    Lastly, it is more expensive for us to mess up an order than it is to make it correctly. If we mess up a guests order once they are likely to assume it was a mistake and not worry about it. If they call we are going to refund them the cost of the item or give them something else in addition to return and pick it up. Even if we refund the item they were shorted we are losing money. Food cost runs 25-35%. The other 70% is what we just lost by not filling the order. If I give them a pie for driving an hour round trip to pick up what we messed up on then I am out the food and labor cost on that pie, roughly 65%. If the guest didn’t say anything the first time and we screw up again we now have a chance of losing that guests business and that cost us more than a pie. As well as them writing a negative blog post or review online. The fact that we would chance ruining our reputation over gaining 1.00 the cost of a side dish is laughable.
    I could keep going, but I have spent enough time on this. Double check your order at the restaurant with the staff or in the car by yourself. Understand the increase in carry out is stressful for all and we can’t fix mistakes once you leave. Our guests were truly awesome that came in while our dining room was closed, I wrote them a thank you letter. They were understanding and worried about supporting us. Please don’t think the worst of everybody, think about the staff that was working making less than the employees that were at home laid off. They were working extremely hard wearing masks in a high heat, high stress environment.

    1. First of all, I have indeed worked at a restaurant, Joel.

      Secondly, if I thought the worst of restaurant workers, I would not patronize them in the first place.

      Finally, note that I did not outright accuse workers at restaurants of the practices which are described in the article. I simply asked questions to promote a discussion.

      Other than that, thank you for giving some interesting information and useful advice.

  3. The information in the article seemed more like a complaint. Why was this published into an article instead of speaking with the restaurant about the mistakes? Every food establishments makes mistakes. This was a terrible article.

  4. I’m very reasonable if they tell me,.. doesn’t matter what the reason is… Out of stock or whatever but if they lie and try to tell me….than that’s also the last time they see me there. I won’t ever come back. There are many other restaurants to try…

  5. @Joel – instead of blaming the patrons for your take out screw ups maybe just get the order right in the first place.

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