Restaurant scams we should all know about

Here's the low-down of a few schemes and scams restauranteurs have up their sleeves.

by: Cathy Marston | 27 May 2014
restaurant schemes

Somebody rang me up recently and booked his daughter onto one of my wine courses. He sent a booking form and said he’d EFT the payment – but when I looked in my account instead of R1,600, he’d apparently sent across R62,000!! He claimed his accountant had made a mistake and could we please refund him the balance?

Unfortunately for him, we’ve seen this sort of thing before. Restaurants come across this quite often – someone makes a large booking and pays a deposit but ‘accidentally’ transfers far too much money.

If you believe them and refund their cash – the original cheque which showed up in your account will then bounce and you’ll be left several thousand rand out of pocket. It’s called a ‘refund scam’ and has happened to several businesses about town.

Restaurants are particularly good places for these sorts of scam artists to operate, because you’re reliant on your customers’ good will, you don’t want to sound disbelieving and untrusting thus losing potential income.

However, it is fair to say that sometimes it’s the restaurant or their staff themselves that do the actual scamming. Here are a few common things you should look out for.

The Double Tip

This is a particular pet peeve of our restaurant ed, Cath Shone. A lot of restaurants add a service charge onto parties of 6 or 8 or more, but sneaky waiters or managers will sometimes ‘forget’ to highlight that charge, instead decorating their bills with huge ‘R’s, touting for an extra tip.

It often succeeds as well because big groups of people tend to be more interested in having a good time than checking the bills. Can cause a nasty hangover the following day!

The Happy Hour Price-hike

As we come into winter, a lot of restaurants are offering great specials and plenty of them are time-specific, aimed at getting customers through the doors early in hopes that they’ll stay a long time and spend lots of dosh.

Happy hour deals and prices can be great value, but you do need to keep an eye on what’s going on. Sometimes waiters charge you the full-price as opposed to the discounted rate and very often, they will disappear 15 minutes before the cut-off time of cheap deals, reappearing as if by magic 2 minutes after the prices have doubled and you are desperately thirsty.

Stay alert!


Everyone knows that waiters are there to upsell – it’s part of their job and I have no problem with that. But you should make sure they give you all the information before you decide to take the extra sauce or the salad for the table.

If you’re looking at the special meal deal and the waiter then launches into the delicious dish of the day – make sure its covered by the deal, or that you know the price if it isn’t. And keep an eye out for extras which ARE covered by the bill suddenly appearing as separate items.

Last weekend, I ordered a kiddies pizza for my son which came with 2 toppings for R45 but when the bill came, both those toppings were charged separately.


Ah me – I remember the good old days when you and your friends could run a tab all evening because you’d left the work credit card with the staff behind the bar!! Not any more – nowadays the advice is never, ever let your card out of your sight for a second.

Serious skimmers who know what they’re doing can copy your card in no time at all and the first you’ll know about it is when you suddenly find yourself paying for 16 iPhones and a stuffed alligator in Albuquerque.

The cheque’s in the post...

And finally, sometimes it’s not the staff, but the management who are on the take. A small wine producer and Facebook friend recently revealed that a restaurant in Durbanville had run up nearly R4,000 of debt and, despite reams of promises and definite commitments to pay, he is fairly sure that all will come to naught and he will be left without payment for wine which he cannot take back as the restaurant has already sold it.

Tough business for some in the restaurant world.  

Have you come across any dodgy dealings in a restaurant? Are there any other dubious practices you think people should be warned about? Tell us below!

Read more on: management  |  restaurants

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