Does it add up right?

Girls, the next time you dine out, check the bill before you pay

Girl gang lunches at a posh restaurant. You’ve shredded the lady at the next table wearing — ugh — animal prints. Someone’s pointed out that the guy in blaring yellow seems to have painted his jeans on. Everyone’s been eavesdropping on the couple behind, sniggering madly at their yuckie-duckie terms of endearment.

The bill arrives. One of the girls drops her snazzy gold card into the folder. The credit card slip is signed. And you leave in a final burst of giggles. Probably tripping over poor Ms. Zebra Stripes on the way.What did you forget? I’ll bet this season’s Prada handbag on the fact that not one person really checked the bill beyond glancing at the final number. Unfortunately, as sexist as this may sound, this seems to be a problem that happens more with women diners. I know I do it all the time.

Then, I learnt my lesson. Last week, I was at the routine girly lunch during which we happened to land an exceptionally dense bunch of waiters. Once we finally managed to gently persuade them to take our orders, there was a long, mysterious wait.

The food arrived from the kitchen in bits and pieces, brought in proudly and gingerly like a progression of Egyptian artefacts from an especially obscure — and exceptionally cursed — Pyramid. I was so annoyed that, I — gasp — actually checked my bill. And, in that laundry list of low-fat smoothies and calorie-laden ice cream, there were at least four items that we hadn’t ordered.

A little research revealed that a shockingly large number of restaurants do this to women diners. Remember that every restaurant is under pressure to achieve a certain profit target every month. So, if you think about it, a kitty party crowd of 20, for example, is just perfect for this kind of fraud. Assuming they’re ordering a drink, main course and dessert each, that adds up to about 60 items.

Nowadays, since everyone just splits the tab evenly regardless of who ate what, it’s rather unlikely that any one of the ladies is going to meticulously check the bill. For two reasons that are unique to women. We tend to trust our waiters and restaurants, especially if we’re regulars. And for some strange reason, many of us are vaguely embarrassed when it comes to money.

Asking around, I hear all kinds of stories. The girl who paid a restaurant bill and then discovered they had added an extra zero to the total when she got her credit card statement. (I can only hope that exceedingly wicked move was a genuine mistake on the part of the restaurant.) The girls who got their bill corrected and then found that the restaurant had the nerve to sneak in two more coffees, convinced that they wouldn’t run a second check. The alcohol bills at bars, which are very often inflated by the end of the night because clients (and this applies to both men and women) are too woozy to study the numbers.

Ironically, as I was giving two friends this lecture over lunch, I signed yet another credit card slip, and then realised that I had been grossly overcharged for my meal. When I asked why, I was told that they mistakenly charged me the dinner rate for my dish. Yeah, right. I’ve been a regular at this place for more than five years. I cringe to think of all the bills I’ve paid.

My father taught me to check and double check anything before I put my signature on it. So, I should know better than to cheerfully sign anything put in front me. When I ask friends, they tell me their fathers, husbands and boyfriends always scrutinise the bill, even if it’s at a business dinner for 40. My — admittedly unscientific — survey also revealed that a good number of women barely look at the bottom line.

Honestly, all of you should know better too. Check your bills. Need an incentive? You can use the money you save to buy more shoes.


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