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Beware sneaky restaurant tricks

Some are annoying, others are downright unappetizing.

By Karen Datko Oct 8, 2009 5:12PM

We know the tactics restaurants employ to get all you longtime and newbie frugalists to splurge on eating out these days: two entrées plus one appetizer for 20 bucks at the casual chain or great deals like the $1 Junior Whopper.

But what sneaky changes have restaurants made to improve the bottom line?

SmartMoney offers “8 restaurant ploys to watch for” in a lovely slideshow, plus we found more at Slashfood. (We saved the grossest for last.)

  • Have to wait in the bar while a table is cleared? Watch out for "the incredible shrinking snack." Yes, that bowl of popcorn or peanuts at the bar has gotten smaller. Ask for a refill or refills.
  • Some restaurants are charging extra for bread -- and for butter, even though the cost was already calculated into the price of your meal. We can live with this if you also give us a choice to decline the bread. And don’t even think about adding a separate charge for salad dressing.  
  • No tap water for you. Thought water was the frugal beverage choice? Not if the ony type available is the bottled kind. More restaurants aren’t serving tap water to diners. They want you to buy a very profitable alternative, like a cocktail or pop. By the way, the markup on ice tea is 4,400%, and don’t expect a slice of lemon, SmartMoney says.
  • That baked potato with your steak may cost extra. Side dishes that were once included in the price of dinner are a la carte.
  • Beware of sneaky substitutions. Cod in place of scallops. Or how about cabbage instead of edible seaweed, Slashfood says. Or cheap booze in place of the expensive stuff.
  • Also watch for recycled chips. If you don’t finish the chips in the basket, they’re not always thrown away, Slashfood reports. We're not shocked. We once worked in a restaurant that recycled uneaten contents of relish trays after diners had picked through them. Disgusting, no? Think where people’s hands might have been.

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