Once, before the economy tanked, my husband and I were dining at the Outback Steakhouse when a waiter tripped, carrying a tray of salads. Thousand island dressing flew onto my coat, my shirt, and I think even a little in my hair. The poor man was so embarassed.
He sent the manager over, who gave us a free dessert and offered to pay for dry-cleaning. Now, the coat was old. It wasn’t a special occasion. (In Idaho, we like to joke that wearing clean jeans is dressing up.) And I’ve used a dry cleaning service maybe once in my whole life.
I said thank you, but no thank you. However, if I had been upset I certainly would have let him know right away. I would not have held my tongue, gone home, and then sent the restaurant a bill.
Does that happen? Perhaps. But what also happens is a scam.
Here’s how it works:
Since at least 1999, restaurants have reported receiving bills in the mail from supposed customers, claiming the waitstaff has spilled coffee or red wine on their clothing and demanding reimbursement for the dry cleaning. The amounts are small but the letters are suspicious.
One Manhattan restaurant owner was ready to pay, after seeing a photocopied receipt, until he spoke to his brother, also a restaurant owner. The two had received the exact same letter. Hmmm.
In Florida, a bar owner received an angry letter claiming that a waitress had bumped him and spilled juice on his silk shirt. Juice, however, isn’t on the bar’s menu, and the owner employs no waitresses—only bartenders who make fried bar food.
And in Maryland, a restaurant owner stopped his store manager from mailing a check after the staff said nobody could recall this particular customer. Nobody had passed out the eatery’s business card, which is a requirement for less-than-satisfactory service, either. The Restaurant Association of Maryland then faxed him, confirming the scam.
If someone in your restaurant receives one of these letters, remember to investigate before handing over the money. If none of the staff remembers the customer, chances are good that it is a scam.