I had a job interview on Monday in Sultanpur which went quite smoothly – the kind where you get to express yourself freely, engage in good conversation and feel heard. A girl with heightened endorphin, I thought of spending some quality time with myself after and decided to get down at CP instead of heading back straight to home. My day was going really great up until this point.
Usually reluctant to walk, I decided to walk a little and find a decent place to sit leisurely and eat in peace. Walked past Beer Café – dark ambience, loud music. Nay; Haldirams – too crowded and buzzy. Odeon Social – not an ideal place to eat and read in silence. After circling a full round and crossing two of its outlets, Café Coffee Day (CCD) was the one that passed as a laidback place to have some relaxing time.
Significantly empty, people with smiling faces and sharing food bites. I thought to myself that I would have a good time here. Headed towards the counter, I took a quick glance at the menu and decided to order a bowl of ‘Saucy Veg Noodles’ and a ‘Cold Toffee Coffee’. Calculating the prices, I estimated the bill to be around ₹300 (Given that the noodles cost ₹96 and the coffee around ₹130). But the final bill given to me turned out to be ₹500 instead. How?
Waiter: Would you like to have some cheese on the top of noodles or maybe some extra veggies?
Me: No, it’s fine as it is.
Waiter: Sorry ma’am, Toffee Coffee is not available, should I make it plain cold coffee?
Me: Sure, just a plain cold coffee!
Waiter: Ma’am, would you like some ice cream on the top?
Me: Okay (I obviously knew it was an add-on)
Waiter: Some choco syrup too?
Me: No, thank you.
Waiter: How strong would you like your coffee?
Me: Just medium.
Waiter: ₹500, ma’am.
Me: But the noodles are just ₹96! The coffee alone is costing me 400 bucks?
Waiter: Yes ma’am.
Me: OK, forget the scoop of ice cream.
Waiter: OK ma’am, ₹400.
Still puzzled, I handed over my credit card and taking the receipt, I got back to my seat to wait for the food. While wanting to have a look at the bill, I found that it was only the credit card payment slip. The anger had already risen from my stomach to make its way further to my head. I rushed back to the counter again and asked for the bill which has to be handed to the customer by default.
When I glanced at the bill, it looked like a casual manually typed receipt with no break-up of the prices. The beverage I paid was Nirvana Coffee with an add-on espresso (again no specified price for the add-on). Realizing what the waiter did there and infuriated further, I again rushed to the counter and this time a bit angrily asked the calm and cool waiter to get that eliminated ASAP. Behaving all breezy without a hint of any expression on his face and not caring to utter a single word, that guy put a ₹50 note on the counter.
Me: How is it exactly 50 bucks?
Waiter: Check it on the bill, ma’am.
Me (irritated now): How am I supposed to? Where is the break-up of the prices?
He didn’t seem to budge, I came back to my seat full-blown angry.
Here is the bill:
“What’s so new about it?” you may ask. Or “It’s CCD, what else were you expecting?” Or “Come on, you are not the first person to have experienced this, this is how it is!”
Till this point, in spite of starting to lose my composure, I was sure that nothing out of my anticipation had happened and I was handling it the perfect way. But when after a long wait, a bowl of Maggie (literally) in the name of ‘Saucy Veg Noodles’ arrived and I witnessed about four other people getting irritated for not receiving the bill right away, I lost it completely. As I had guessed it, I discovered that that waiter had chosen the most expensive cold coffee on the menu and had still charged me an additional ₹40.
The food was served, the bill was paid. And I resolved to maintain my calm.
Gorging on my noodles, I just pledged to not visit such places EVER again in my life. I was happily ready to loosen up my pocket for a great ambience, food and hospitality, but here I felt blatantly cheated and mocked in spite of being fully attentive. What triggered me to write this piece is the fact that these people have an ultimate win-win situation even if you decide to actively confront them. They are well aware of what to do in response when 1 out of 20 customers comes up to call it out. They are actually trained to do this. Further, I felt sincerely sad for those who, intimidated by these animatedly courteous staff members and a fear of being unnecessarily noticed, hesitate to say a word in spite of feeling dubious about the bill structure.
In recent years, I have learned to keep my eyes and ears open while ordering and paying the bill at restaurants and dhabas lest I am charged an extra amount for the air breathed while eating. But after this experience, I felt a need to just have this conversation so that we are once again reminded of the fact that it’s always a choice to either get cheated by these pretentious chain outlets or spend your money in a great experience where your coffee gives you comfort. This choice needs extra effort, but it remains a choice. While these swindlers stand behind the counters waiting for their next prey, you can very well pass them with an easy grace to the ones who offer quality service and a stress-free experience for your money.