3 Easy Ways to Avoid Restaurant Scams

When Dining, Pay for the Food and Drink - Not the Service

Young woman looking at menu at restaurant
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No matter where we wander, everyone needs to eat sometimes. However, ordering food – and more importantly, paying for it – can be a challenge. Considering the language barriers, currency conversion, and different norms for payment, international travelers may run into the occasional waiter who would be more than happy to serve more than food with a smile.

How can travelers make sure they pay for just their meal, without getting skimmed on the side? There are many ways travelers can avoid unscrupulous restaurant scams as they travel around the world. Here are three easy things to look for when avoiding restaurant scams.

Ordering Without a Menu

Every restaurant owner is always happy to see guests arrive. Once situated, those same restaurant owners may be even more pleased to recommend the house special before a guest has the opportunity to open the menu. What may be omitted is the final cost of that same special.

Before accepting the hospitality of the restaurant server or owner, make sure to request the full menu. In many countries, restaurants are required to post their full service outside of their restaurant, including the prices, for public inspection.

Although travelers may feel pressured to order the house special, this may be just one of many restaurant scams a guest may face. If the server or owner won’t show you the menu or doesn’t want to wait for your order, then simply walk away: having a good meal shouldn't come at the cost of a restaurant scam.

Paying Without a Bill

Once satiated with both food and drink, the time comes to pay for the meal. Every culture has different ways of requesting the tab, but the result is always the same: a server brings an itemized bill to your table. So what happens if a server does not bring your tab over, and instead orally recites the amount due? This may be another tell-tale sign of a restaurant scam.

Travelers who feel their bill is high or unreasonable for the meal ordered reserve the right to inspect a written copy of their bill. In some parts of the world, travelers are responsible for retaining their dining receipt. As a result, those who request their written tab can avoid a restaurant scam entirely.

How can travelers make sure they don't fall for this? Depending on the destination, a traveler's means of recourse may change. In many cases, having a discussion with the manager may resolve the situation. In other locations, special duty officers are usually available to resolve disputes.

Paying Extra for Service

In North America, it is common to not include a service charge in the price of a meal. Such is why gratuities are a common and accepted practice. However, this long-standing tradition does not always translate abroad or offers an ample opportunity for a crafty server to get extra money through a common restaurant scam. 

In many parts of the world, a gratuity is acceptable and appreciated. At special events, like festivals, tipping for service is a reward for expedient service. However, in many other situations around the world, tipping is not an acceptable practice because service is in the price of the food.

So how can you tell if you need to be tipping or not? Before you arrive at your destination, do your due research on the local customs for tipping. A quick search of the internet can reveal whether or not tipping is required. Another quick way is to pick up the menu and read the information within. If your menu says “service is not included,” or “service is extra,” then expect to add a gratuity at the end of your meal.

What happens if the server demands a tip for their service? Then it may be a common restaurant scam targeting western travelers. A simple conversation with the management may be able to clarify any questions a traveler has, and keep them from parting with their money.

When a traveler understands the customs and norms when eating abroad, they can make sure to stay aware and vigilant of whatever scam may come. Research and preparation ahead of a trip are the best ways travelers can avoid restaurant scams around the world.