Undercharged on the Bill, What Do You Do?

The other day some friends and myself were at happy hour and we got the bill. We quickly determined that they missed about three beers on the tab. Myself and on eother friend were adamant that we tell the waitress, we drank the beers, we bought hte beers, we should pay for the beers… Two friends were like, “It’s their mistake. This is the bill they gave us, let’s pay it” and a third was (as usual) neutral. A DEADLOCK. Only the fine folks at SDMB can break the deadlock (more symbolically, since we paid the bill…the correct bill.)

I’ll usually point it out to the waitress or bartender and get the bill corrected. Shades of theft otherwise, in my mind.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

This is an ethical question, not a legal one. Of course you point out their error, just like you’d point out an error on the bill in their favor. Anything else is dishonest.

I would typically say something.
Unless it seemed that it was done with a nod and a wink, in which case I’d just tip as though I got charged for it.
However, if I was at say a snotty restaurant where they charge you for refills of your soda, and they took forever and forgot to bring you bread, and THEN they left three drinks off the bill, then I wouldn’t say anything at all. But I’d probably still tip better than usual in that case.
I guess it depends. In the situation you describe I would probably say something.

If you drank it, you pay for it. Anything else is theft.

I’m not above getting a discount I may not be entirely entitled to, but if they made an obvious mistake, tell them about it.

I would definitely point it out, but on a couple of occasions (once when I paid for everything I got, but was given too much change), the server/cashier has argued with me. I’ll usually try once again to convince them, but I’m not coming to blows with anyone who insists on giving me an extra five bucks!

When I was a waitress, I once accidentally switched the bills for two tables. The first table got the higher bill and had paid it and left by the time I realized my mistake. One of my fellow servers tried to convince me to give the same bill to the second table (who had not yet asked for the bill), so that I could pocket the extra dough. Instead, I told them it was their lucky day and gave them the lower bill.

(So for an example, Table A’s bill is $20, and Table B’s bill is $30; I accidentally give the $30 tab to Table A, they pay it, and are gone before I can say, “Oops!” So Table B gets to pay $20 for the $30 worth of food they ate.)

I made extra anyway, with the big fat tip I got from the people who’d gotten a discount on their lunch.

You’d tell them if they charged you for 3 drinks you didn’t drink, wouldn’t you?

Treat them as you’d want to be treated.

Yes, honest mistakes are made.

But as many a tavern/bar/club owner will tell you, “there’s always a prcentage of staff that are your ‘partners’”. Sometimes an underbilling, freebie or undeserved buy back - especially when accompanied by a wink, smile or nod - are an effective way to pad the tip cup.

As others have pointed out, ethically you have a responsibility to point out the error, but if it’s place you go to regularly, it’s possible the free drinks were on the house.

Yep. At my old hangout in Virginia Beach, I would routinely get my fifth or sixth beer free. Of course, this was back in my Navy days, so they were making a good deal of money from me.

Often, the comp came straight from the owner.

Depends on whether or not I was a regular. If I were, I’d most likely tell the waitress or bartender but probably wouldn’t mention it if I weren’t.

That very thing happened to us last night, but in an extreme way. It’s one of our favorite restaurants - we eat there every week. The check came,and the total was $36.90. I gave the server my credit card, and the charge slip came back to me in the amount of $3.69! Obviously, I pointed out the error. If I’d tried to sign that charge slip with a straight face, I’d never be able to eat there again!

Tell the serving person. Half the time they’ll just say “forget about it” and you get to go home with a free conscience.

If the setting were a restaurant, I could see correcting the bill. In a bar or tavern, however, my experience has been that comp drinks are relatively common. I would assume that server was just giving drinks “on the house”.

I would say something if it was a restaurant but not a bar. This happened to me lots of times when I was drinking. I always assumed that the drinks were gratis because I was such a good customer (read alcoholic). They almost surely were. The most extreme case was this June on my birthday. I was travelling by myself and went to a bar that night. I drank a lot and even had some food. I expected the bill to be $80+. When I got the bill, it was for $11! The food and one beer were all that I was charged for. There was no way the bartender didn’t know because there were only a handful of people in there. I gave her a huge tip ($40) and caught a cab home.

And there you have it. Why:

Assuming it was a short 4 to 5 hour binge, someone padded their hourly wage by an additional $8-10 / hour which could be more money than the proprietor netted over that period of time.

If it’s a small amount I usually just add the difference to the tip (Like charging for one drink too few). Anything else I point out the problem. If they say forget it, then I will add most of the difference to the tip. I hadn’t considered that waitstaff might have been making mistakes on purpose to defraud their employer and get more tip money.

Well, that does happen like my case probably was above but there is a legitimate business reason too.

When I first started as a bartender in a fancy hotel in New Orleans, my boss pulled me aside and said "If you want to give away free drinks to some people, that is fine, there is no way that we can lose money on alcohol’. When I got the hang of what he meant, I realized that giving away free drinks to regulars or big spenders develops a sense of loyalty and goodwill with them and the bar. For the same reason, we were told never to short pour drinks and to give them an extra long pour if they ask for it. That is very shortsighted and just pisses people off. I never had a customer not understand this and question the bill. It was just pretty much standard policy at all of the bars that I knew that expected repeat guests and didn’t cater strictly to tourists.

Heh, I’ve been on both sides of the equation - as the “off-chance” diner and as the regular.

On the “off chance” side, one time I was dining at an establishment I’ve never been to before (and I don’t think I’ve been back to, either). Our bill was noticeably wrong - she’d charged us just for the drinks (cokes), not for the sammiches. We pointed out the mistake and paid the corrected bill. Our server was very thankful; she said that most people wouldn’t have done that.

On the regular side, there’s a place we frequent quite often. Occasionally things have been left off the bill (like a dessert shared between two people), but it’s never been more than one or two items among several other drinks. Some times we point it out, some times we don’t. We’ve also been “overcharged” - once I had four glasses of wine, billed as four glasses, and I commented on it (as in, oops, didn’t know I drank a whole bottle!). Our bartender said, oops, usually I charge those four glasses as a bottle to save you some money, let me adjust. We said, nah, don’t worry about it. In this case, I figure it all comes out in the wash.

If you are being comped you know it and you know that they know it. If this is not the case then a mistake was made. Point out the error and pay up.