Happens every day at restaurants everywhere:
Big night, big party, harried server, patrons eager to make a curtain or their next stop.
The waiter drops off the check, and ohhh. It's the credit-card receipt. The pre-tip total is printed right there on the line. Just add your tip and write in the grand total. Sign the slip and rush off into the night.
Was the bill really that much? You flag down the waiter and insist on an itemized bill. He or she futzes with the point-of-sale system and produces it.
Right there, under the subtotal, you see that the house had already added a 20-percent gratuity because it's a larger party. The "grand total" has already been calculated - not the "pre-tip" total printed only on the credit-card receipt.
Confronted with this discrepancy, the waiter apologizes profusely for the terrible misunderstanding.
After hearing a third similar story over the last couple of weeks - at different restaurants - I can say there is a simple way to avoid a double-tip scam: Obtain an itemized receipt and review it. Even if you're dining in a small party, it's a good idea to look over the receipt to be sure you're charged accurately - no phantom dishes and no premium drinks when you had ordered cheaper well drinks.
Below is a friend's experience over the weekend at a BYOB restaurant whose owner I could not reach for comment. I suspect that management would profess shock - shock! - that a waiter would try to game the point-of-sale system this way.
To save time at the end of the meal, my friend had handed the waiter her card. He returned it with two copies of the credit-card receipt, whose total was $216.07 printed on the "pre-tip" line. Lines were also printed for a tip, the grand total, and her signature.
When my friend asked for an itemized receipt, she said, the waiter spent an inordinate amount of time at the terminal trying to generate one, "like he went out of his way to hide it." The itemized receipt showed a $167.50 subtotal, $13.40 in sales tax, and a $35.17 tip (or 21 percent) for the $216.07 total.
She signed for $216.07.
The kicker is that she routinely tips more than 20 percent for good service.
A second tip on tipping: If you decide to tip in cash, write a big 0 with a line through it on the tip line, and then carefully hand-write the total on the line below. This prevents a shady employee from adding a credit-card tip and modifying the grand total.
Updated: tip was in fact 21%, not 20%