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August 22, 2009

The unprinted cocktail price



I got the following e-mail from Janine this morning, written last night after a frustrating evening out.

I'm not going to name the restaurant because I haven't heard management's side, and that's not really the point. I can see how ordering a drink "in a tall glass" could be misconstrued -- or taken advantage of.

The point is that there is ample room for either error or for making a little extra on the liquor bill when cocktail prices aren't printed.

Not only that, these days restaurants may be more concerned about the bottom line than customer retention when you try to straighten the problem out.

More than ever it's a good idea to ask if you don't know what your drink is going to cost, but you care when you get the check.

Here's Janine's e-mail: ...

Two friends and I headed to [Chez Restaurant] tonight for what we hoped would be a new favorite spot. The food was good, although a bit pricey. We got the chicken gyro, southwest cobb, and muffaletta panini. All three were good enough that we decided we'd be back. Then we got the bill.

Never in my life have I wished that I was a food critic more than tonight!  Our check was $125 - before tip! We had ordered Bacardi and Diet Cokes to drink. Our other friend had 3 Stella's. The Bacardi and Diet's ended up being $12 each. Between the two of us, we had 7. That's $84 in drinks between 2 people! Absurd! I was shocked.

I asked to speak to the owner and she said that she spoke to her server who said we ordered doubles. well, seems to me there was a misunderstanding - we ordered them in a tall glass. . . so a tall glass is now a double . . . at $12 a piece? Am I in New York? The owner said all she could do was give us 10% off - so, we'd get a gift card for $12.50. A gift card?  It was a  complete insult. As pissed as I was over this "misunderstanding" and considering we paid for at least her purchase of four 1.75 liters of Bacardi , why couldn't she simply apologize for the "misunderstanding" and taken off the "doubles"? I would have been happy to pay for 7 Bacardi and Diet's - not 14 - I would not be walking out of her bar if I alone consumed 7 drinks in the two hours we were there - and certainly not capable of writing 30 minutes later! 

The saddest part is, I would have gone back. But, not now. Be careful if you go - order beer - stay away from all mixed cocktails unless you're looking to break the bank. It's a shame. Since we go out at least twice a week, we were really looking for a new place to go - and excited to have thought we found one.  Where is customer service these days?  It's lost in greed. Why don't people realize that a happy customer is worth more than a Bacardi & Diet ?
I hope you can help me in some way in venting my frustration.  This isn't the first restaurant that has taken advantage of the unprinted cocktail price.

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 8:44 AM | | Comments (46)
Categories: Wine and Spirits


I say go hard! This is subterfuge and scammy.

The simple courtesy of informing the customer of costs will allow them to filter those choices for themselves without having to bother the staff.

Like the tip thread from last week... no notice of cost to the customer = free! (just like the water and bread that aren't priced and they too often groan over)

an unfortunate situation, and probably some blame on all sides here.

i know the price of a car before i buy
i get an estimate from the repair men before they start
i don't order specials until i find out the price

in the end it is my money so i want to know what i am spending. and in the biz, a tall glass is a double, unless you specify a single drink in a tall glass, or extra diet or something.

and a $12.50 gift card was not a good resolution either. the discount should have been in between that and the cost of 7 drinks.

Gotta agree with still serving, I always ask how much something is going to be before I order it.

Still, $12 a piece for Baccardi's (which is not a even a premium rum) and diet coke? That's totally overpriced and ridiculous.

I don't think that the owners showed very good customer service with their solution either.

I'm interested in hearing what management's side to this is, Elizabeth. Please keep us updated.

It seems to me that the first problem lies with the server and/or the bartender. One or both of them doesn't understand what a "tall" drink is verses a "double." Scratch that. The problem begins with the management for not ensuring that the staff knows the difference.

And, no, Still Serving, a tall drink is not a double. A double is a double and a tall drink is always a normal serving of alcohol in a larger glass with extra mixer. Any beginning bartending guide will clear this up for you. Check out the Mr. Boston's guide.

The second problem is the owner's handling of the situation. In the interest of returning custom a good manager would have knocked well more that 10% off the bill or at least provided a gift card for a full dinner for the customer.

And in case anyone thinks otherwise...the server should not have been penalized for a lack of education that the management has a responsibility to provide.

These high priced drinks make me nostalgic for my younger days when I would pregrame out in the parking lot before I went into the bar. Once there I would nurse one or two drinks for the rest of the evening.

Ah glory days...they'll pass you by.

Thanks for the clarity, kimmer. That's what I always thought a tall drink was.

This is a case to rival the $15 sparkling water.

Ordinarily, I would sympathize with Janine. However, she managed to post the same complaint last night on the websites for City Paper, Metromix, and Urbanspoon. In each of those posts, she exclaimed, "Then I wouldn't be writing this information all over every possible blog out there!" That sentence magically disappeared from her e-mail to EL. (She also apparently posted the same stuff on Chowhound, which has already removed her post.)

I'm also concerned about Janine's claim that she goes out at least twice a week, and that "[t]his isn't the first restaurant that has taken advantage of the unprinted cocktail price." Somebody who goes out that often, and who claims to have had price issues in the past, ought to know to ask about the price up front.

Well, this person certainly lived up to their chowhound threat of "going on every blog out there and telling people how she got screwed" -- they took down that post -- so why doesnt she come on here and name the restaurant?

For years I've encountered this 'double vs tall' problem. Could someone explain how this came about? I've recently found myself ordering a 'double short' just to avoid confusion. I guess it is double the alcohol either way you look at it, but there's obviously a difference.

If I'm in a party of three and we have 10 [tall] drinks plus dinner at a pricey restaurant, I wouldn't be all that surprised at a $125 bill.

Bacardi & DIET Coke? That's just criminal.

Ah, hmpstd, now this is what we pay you for.

Point to Laura Lee.

So $84 for the 7 mixed drinks and I'm guessing somewhere around $15 for the 3 Stellas. That puts the alcohol bill at $99 and Janine and friends only managed to spend $26 on food for 3 people? That's quite good actually. Where is this place? I want to go if 3 people can eat good food for $26.

Can we please notify the sandbox about the nights and places Janine and friends are going out? I want to be sure I stay the heck off the road. Doubles or not, 3.5 drinks for a woman (unless she looks like Man Mountain Dean) in two hours equals smashed.

Contrast this with our experience last night at Woodberry Kitchen. We had a perfectly respectable bottle of wine for $35. We also asked for a carafe of Baltimore's finest tap water. As our server was pouring our water he mentioned that they make their own carbonated water (more environmentally correct than buying all those bottles). When we expressed interest he brought us a carafe of that as well. No charge for any of the water, and we left happy and well hydrated.

Pigtown, I totally agree with your comment.

Bacardi & DIET Coke? That's just criminal.

Not much more criminal than Bacardi and regular Coke, if you ask me. :-)

Bacardi and Diet Coke...Yuck!

Apparently word has not gotten out that I declared the Dark n' Stormy as the official summer drink of 2009. I really need to get a better PR person.

rum and Colt 45 Malt Liquor = Cuba Libro (actually pretty tasty!)((I wouldn't drink 7 of 'em, tho.))

RoCK... I must disagree. I declared this the Summer of the Southside.

There's no world in which Bacardi & Diet Coke or even regular Coke would ever ever ever be the drink o' the summer. GAACK!

I agree with 20something. Something doesn't add up. If the bill came to $125, subtract the 84 bucks for 7(!) rum and cokes, and subtract say 15 bucks for the 3 imported beers. That leaves the cost of three entrees, described in the email as "pricy," at $8.60 each on average.

Can that be right?

No mention of whether the "tall" glass was twice as large as a "regular" glass and if it still tasted as strong as the "regular" or "single" drink. If the purpose of ordering a tall glass is to get more mixer but it still tastes as strong as the single, it must have more alcohol int it - ergo a double. Of course after a few of them in any size, one's taste buds would be severely challenged.

@Cowboy Jake. And I wonder how level-headed that after dinner conversation with the owner was?

That picture of that martini is drink porn.

20something, the bill supposedly came to $125 "before tip", but Janine didn't claim that the total was "before tax and time", so I'm guessing that it did include the 6% sales tax, which would have amounted to about $7. The restaurant in question does, as you guessed, charge $15 for 3 bottles of Stella (or $5 each). It also charges $10.99 for a chicken gyro, $9.99 for a southwest cobb, and $10.99 for a muffaletta panini, or about $32 for the three food items.

I don't think $12 for a REGULAR Bicardi and coke is alot. Maybe I just drink out alot at expensive places.....

And the argument that you could have paid for 4 bottles of Bicardi, doesn't hold. ANYWHERE you drink, you are paying 2-5 times what you would if you had bought it in a liquor store.

$99 + $32 = $131

I guess she just rounded down. If $11 for an entree is considered pricey then why are they out drinking 10 drinks between the 3 of them?

@Cowboy Jake, I agree. I hope none of them got behind a wheel after their meal.

as a bartender of over 20 years, never has a drink in a "tall glass" mean it is a double. when a customer asks for a tall glass, they are asking for a weaker drink, from a standard 10 oz glass to a 14 or 16 oz glass which is 4 - 6 oz more of mixer, juice or soda. there is no upcharge for this and any place that would upcharge is diong so wrongly. with that said I do have customers who believe a "tall glass" means double shot, which it does not, but I accomodate them. Having been a bartender in the days when I could have a lit cigarette in 3 different ashtrays on the bar so I could pick one up depending where I was, I have noticed a trend that I do not like. I always tended bar with the idiology that you can either educate or tolorate, and I always educated. if you didn't know how to order, tip, or just plain go out to eat, I would tell you. nowadays you cant do that anymore. if you think that is a good thing remember this, a maitai is NOT a red drink, it is yellow, rum, amaretto, triple sec, sour mix and pineapple juice. but now, 75% of mine get sent back because it is not red! grenadine is not a maitai ingredient but we now have to tolorate guests who are clearly wrong, (on many things not just maitai's) so I wonder, did you order "tall" drinks wanting doubles or weaker drinks??? (either way $12 is rediculous, thats 83% of the cost of the bottle)

Drink of the summer is a John Daly. Lemonade & Sweet Tea Flavored Vodka. (an alcoholic arnold palmer). dan

@Anon 9:33! YUM. Have you tried the Arnold Palmers at Big Bad Wolf BBQ? They make a version with mint tea and lemonade! Excellent!

@ baltimoron, tall drinks are twice as dilute as their regular sized options? I always thought a tall drink just meant a bigger drink, like instead of having to go up to the bar twice I go Sam's Club style.

After being educated, I am confused as to why my venti isn't just a grande plus water.

Im sure you thought your "venti" comment was a good zinger, but think of it more like shots of espresso.. you can have a shot, or you can have a "tall" espresso with milk and foam (aka a cappucino).

Clearly the coffee thing has nothing to do with what's being discussed here, but it should be addressed anyway.

lab rat: ...
You see numerous professionals here defining what a "tall" drink vs. a "double" is and yet you insist on beating it into the ground.
When you get a flat tire, do you stand there and yell at it: "Are you really flat!?"

PIgtown, every summer is the summer of Southside.

Arnold Palmer + 2 shots bourbon = Leland Palmer

The baltimoron is on target. And when did we lose our ability to name drinks, by the way? Today, the definition of "martini" has exapanded to include almost every concocted abomination know to man or woman. I'm going to say this and duck: a martini is gin and dry vermouth in 7:1 proportion, chilled and served neat. No fruit, vegetables, colorings, other flavorings, anything. If you put anything else in your martini, it's something else. Indulge your imagination and name it, but don't call it "a martini."

Southwestern Cobb — Chopped romaine lettuce, avocado, black beans, cucumber, grape tomatoes, roasted corn, radishes & crispy tortilla strips. Tossed in habanero emulsion. $9.99

Chicken & Chorizo Gyro — With grilled chicken breast, Chorizo sausage, shredded Romaine lettuce, diced Roma tomatoes, red onion, feta cheese & tzatziki sauce stuffed in a pita. $10.99

Muffuletta Panini — With mortadella, capicola ham, genoa salami, tapenade, provolone cheese, mixed sweet peppers, & sun dried tomato aïoli pressed between
rosemary faccocia. $10.99

Sam... you need to call Mr. Lee to get some mix, before it's too late... and please don't let Patchen add amaretto.

@dead horse, I was tickled pink, indeed.

@Frodo, I refuse to believe its flat!

What is the proper way to order a 'large' drink, as in big glass same ratio of alcohol:mixer?

lab rat, if you buy a venti, it's one price, if you get the bigger size that gets an double shot of espresso it's more, if you get a rum and coke at regular size, it's one price, if you get a double, it's more.
a "tall" is not a double, it's a tall, hence the name. the two names are as different as "neat" and "up". anyone who orders doubles knows they do not come in bigger glasses, and "tall" they want the "drink" (no double in that phrase anywhere), in a tall glass. and it is the same price as a regular drink, a double, would cost more, just like your starbucks reference.


Amaretto--gack! is right. Especially if it's served by that sleezoid in the commercial.

No charge for any of the water, and we left happy and well hydrated.

This is a case to rival the $15 sparkling water.

A lesson that Woodberry could certainly teach Meli. /beating of my dead horse.

Yes! The John Daly is absolutely the drink of the summer! Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka + Lemonade + Fresh Mint = A Pitcherful in my fridge all summer long.

She's dead, wrapped in plastic.

"... a martini is gin and dry vermouth in 7:1 proportion, chilled and served [straight up]. No fruit, vegetables, colorings, other flavorings, anything..."
I emend my definition above.
Thank you: the baltimoron.

As a friend of a guy who drinks PLENTY Jim Beam and cokes when we go out to any bar or restaurant, I can tell you that I have heard many many servers clarify, "a tall glass or a double...?" He is a big guy so they always assume he will be crushing a normal glass within seconds so they offer the tall or double often times before he even mentions it.

Frankly I drink pints of coldies so not much room for error.

Arnold Palmer + 2 shots bourbon = Leland Palmer

Chw, how could I have missed this from another Twin Peaks fan?

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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