Anatomy of a Rip-Off

In future installments of the Rip-off Report, I hope to alert readers to particular rip-offs I encounter on my dining adventures. But before that, I thought it might be interesting to deconstruct the concept of getting ripped off. It’s not simply a matter of paying way too much for a meal. When dining out, especially in a big city, that’s pretty much par for the course. To me, getting ripped-off is a full-service screwing. Everything about it leaves you feeling rotten, like you’re a victim and a sucker.

When you’re dining on a budget, getting ripped off really hurts. There’s probably no way to completely eliminate the possibility that it happens to you. Dining out is, after all, an adventure. But let’s take a look at some classic hallmarks of the restaurant rip-off.

Be Leery Of The Hype

If you have the sneaking suspicion something must be overrated, it probably is. I’m not saying every over-hyped restaurant is bound to disappoint. I’m usually a big fan of whatever David Chang’s doing, for example. And when I’m in LA, constant raves do nothing to diminish the magnificence of Café Tropical’s guava cheese pie. That shit is downright awesome. But if you sense a slavish, quasi-religious quality to the hype, beware. I’ve always been leery of this particular Italian establishment’s reputation, not because I think it sucks, but because I don’t think anything tastes as good as its worshippers would have you believe. Fine, the pasta’s decent, but to hear people talk, you’d think those meatballs are curing cancer. 

So when the proprietors opened a new spot to rave reviews, I should have gone with my gut. All my instincts were screaming, “this is going to be average at best, and it’s going to cost way too much.” But on a slow Saturday, with nothing planned and a growling stomach, I caved.

Don’t make this mistake. 

Research, Research, Research

In theory, a quick glance at a restaurant’s website should provide all the info you need in terms of simple information—hours, menus, location, etc. In reality, I’m an idiot for not digging deeper. Especially as I planned to dine at 4pm, a somewhat tricky, in-between hour.

In the Menus section of the site, the restaurant clearly claimed to serve its Lunch menu until 5pm, every day. Great. However, buried near the bottom of the Info page, the site states that an “Afternoon Menu” is served on Saturdays and Sundays, from 4pm until 5pm.

I, of course, only checked the Menu page. Yes, it’s unbelievably annoying that the information provided by the restaurant contradicts itself. Still, I should have telephoned ahead. Get the facts before you go. It’s well worth the extra effort.

Take Heed Of A Haughty, Overly Confused Wait Staff

I’ve seen war criminals receive warmer receptions at the Hague than the one my girlfriend and I received upon arriving at this eatery. Daring to utter the words, “A table for two, please,” we were summarily treated as if we’d just turned over the casket at a funeral. I could go on about the wait staffs’ ridiculous outfits, but instead I’ll just say this: if you’re treated badly from the second you walk through the door, this sets a certain tone for the rest of the meal. Even if the food itself is wonderful, it’s tough to shake the bad vibes. Unless you’re starved and it’s the only game in town, just leave. It’s not worth it.

Let me also add self-indulgently that the two people who “greeted” and sat us were thoroughly befuddled by the Afternoon Menu issue. We stood around for five minutes while they argued over which was indeed the proper menu for 4:10pm. Which brings us to…

Rules That Only Apply To You

I’m somewhat willing to let the whole Afternoon Menu thing slide, as it was I who only gave the website a precursory review. But I don’t want to see the people at the next table handed Dinner Menus at 4:25, about two seconds after we forced to limit ourselves to the crappy abridged version. If a restaurant is intent on legislating the dining experience, it should at least do so according to an egalitarian system that applies to all. Otherwise, it’s impossible for the diner to believe anything other than, “these people are totally fucking with me.”

At this point, we are now in the full throes of getting ripped-off. If you let it get this far, there’s not much you can do without making a scene. You’re trapped. It’s a terrible feeling. Oh, but at least here comes our food…

Overpriced Food You Could Have Made At Home

Let’s face it. The service can suck, the prices can be exorbitant, the atmosphere can be atrocious…but if the food’s truly phenomenal, your dining experience probably won’t be a total wash. You might not come back, but at least you won’t hate yourself. However, when an already bad scenario culminates with a dish you could have made at home in three minutes, you’re officially going down with the ship.

Hey, I can’t even cook. But can I plop a soggy sausage into a pot of lukewarm water and pair it with a cold, apparently off-the-rack pretzel roll? Yes, yes I could. Would I charge you nine bucks for it? No, no I wouldn’t. Of course not.

Eating Again Ten Minutes Later

If, ten minutes after dropping about $65 on lunch, you find yourself grabbing a slice of pizza down the street, rest assured you just got royally, supremely ripped off. Sorry, I don’t have a tip or an insights to go with this one. I just wanted to say, man, this sucks. Right?

And so…

Do your research, think for yourself, and take bad signs for what they are. When it comes to getting ripped off, your only defense is you. Well, you and me, anyway. Restaurant Rip Offs are out there waiting, and I hope to avoid them. Let’s stand up for the budget diner. Let’s root out Restaurant Rip Offs wherever they may be. I say: enough.

What experiences have you had at restaurants that made you feel ripped off? Let us know in the comments.