« What's the best trivia night in Baltimore? | Main | Come to the free Mammojam show tomorrow »

January 23, 2009

Sneakily double charged?

Midnight Sun reader Rob sent me this email today. I wanted to share it with you, and get your opinions on his predicament. Here's Rob's email:

So I was out at the downtown wharf rat last night with my girlfriend and her roommate for drinks and food. We all live downtown (well I’m on the fringe, but I’m within a 15 min walk from wharf rat) so we go there quite a bit. Not on a first name basis with the bartenders but I’m in there once a week or so and tip well, so the occasional drink will be missing from the tab.

Here’s what’s odd about last night: The check cam and looked a bit light. Not the type of light where you know there was some sort of mistake that you should say something about, just a drink or two light. I tipped the guy (cash) 30% on a $65 bill and we left.

So here’s what I notice this morning – they charged my card (checking my bank account online) an additional $12.08, I’m guessing for the missing drinks. I figure one of the bartenders opened a second tab for us and we didn’t know it,  The money isn’t a big deal, but it strikes me as a grimy way to go about doing that ...

I certainly didn’t approve that charge, I only signed off on the initial check. If the bartender had to account for the outstanding tab and he knew it was mine, he could have taken the $13 out of the cash tip I left. Personally, I think it would be smarter to keep a return customer happy, but if they felt like it was necessary for me to pay for the other tab they could have used that cash that was left.
I’m a recently retired part-time bartender so I understand that it would have blown for the guy to lose most of his tip, and he might not have had a choice about running my card a second time because of a manager or something. But I can say that I would have never had done that when I was bartending.

I can say that why I won’t stop going to the wharf rat because of this, it will certainly make me think before I stop in for a couple beers on the way home next time.

I should add – We were sitting at a table in the bar area being waited on. We were not milling around and ordering. It shouldn’t have been that hard to keep or tab straight.

(AP photo)

Follow Midnight Sun on Facebook and Twitter @midnightsunblog
Posted by Sam Sessa at 1:30 PM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Bars & Clubs


Contact your bank right away. Tell them you didn't sign for this charge. You are not doing this bartender any favor by letting him think he can run an extra charge. His boss should also know this is going on. There are ways for an employee to put the extra money into his/her own account. I deal with credit card fraud all day, everyday.

I used to field this question all of the time from customers that would call my restaurant the next day (not mine, but where I worked). Most likely, the credit processing company that the restaurant uses tacked a 20% 'preauth' on your bill. This should go away within 24 hours. The reason? When the server closed out your card the credit processor added 20% for a tip to make sure you had it available. The official close out (called a batch) doesn't usually happen until 4 or 5 in the morning when ALL of the credit card transactions are sent to different companies. What you are catching is that overlap. That $12 should actually not be taken out of your account, but should be in preauthorization. Call the bar and make sure this is the issue before you call your credit card issuer.

Now, if this isn't the case you should file an official complaint because that's just shady.

I should add -- because I'm the e-mailer -- that I don't feel entitled to any free drinks. It's just that it seemed like a poor way to handle what seems to have been a mistake, not intentionally comped drinks.

That's why I won't disbute the charge, since I did after all buy the drinks. I just don't like charging my card without my knowledge and without letting me know. Maybe someone will say something to me next time I go in, but I doubt it.

Take it easy. If this was a check card, it takes a few days to finalize due to tips. On a $100 bill the card might be originally charged $125 since the tip won't be charged until the end of the night.

No, I understand the tip authorization process and how batches work.

If you do the math on the $12.08 charge, it doesn't work out to any round % like 18 or 20. So it's most likely not that. Plus it is a seperate charge that actually occured today (or most likely last night at closing) leading me to believe it was an open tab issue. And wharf rat has never done the pre-tip authorization thing in the 50 other times I've used a card there. They could have changed processing companies, but not likely.

Whatever, no big deal...

are you sure your charge isn't still just pending - i have seen bars overcharge to compensate for gratuity to make sure the card covers that additional amount - after a couple days the charge will be reduced to the correct amount - you may be jumping the gun here

I get phone calls every Monday about this same thing, unfortunately the bank adds a little bit more money to cover the "tip". I usually tell people to call me on Thursday and if it hasn't dropped by then, I will take care of it immediately. It has been the bank every time except 2 instances where the customer paid in cash and the bartender thought that they left without paying for it and closed it out on the credit card.

20% of a $65 check is $13. You are seeing and extra $12.08 because they usually tack on the 20% before tax.
I would definitely follow up with Wharf Rat because if they forgot to charge you it should com out of the bartenders pocket. I'm a bartender, that has happened to me. You can not legally add additional charges to someone's bill without their knowledge. I know it's only $12, but it's still principal.

What happened when the emailer called the Wharf Rat?

There's something suspect about that second charge of $12.08 that should be challenged or have the card company stop payment on it. A questionable business partice at best.

It sounds like bars and credit cards have problematic relationships when running a tab.

Maybe "Rob" should pipe up when his bill is "just a drink or two light". "Rob" loves getting free stuff. I bet if "Rob" owned the bar, he wouldn't like his employees skimming the bill.

After all, "Rob" left a cash tip, which acknowledges his participation in the wink-wink scam.

"Rob", don't expect special treatment. Pay your way or stay home.

Its the CC processor. I guarantee that extra charge disappears when the transaction posts.

Post a comment

All comments must be approved by the blog author. Please do not resubmit comments if they do not immediately appear. You are not required to use your full name when posting, but you should use a real e-mail address. Comments may be republished in print, but we will not publish your e-mail address. Our full Terms of Service are available here.

Please enter the letter "l" in the field below:
About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

Most Recent Comments
Recent tweets
Sign up for FREE nightlife alerts*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for nightlife text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
  • Weekend Watch newsletter
Plan your weekend with's best events, restaurant and movie reviews, TV picks and more delivered to you every Thursday for free.
See a sample | Sign up

Photo galleries
Stay connected