Islamabad - Eating out in Islamabad is becoming increasingly expensive. An entrée at a mid-range restaurant easily costs between Rs. 1,200- 1,600. Appetizers and desserts don’t cost much less either. 

But since there isn’t a lot to do in the city when it comes to recreational activities, eating out seems like the most obvious choice. The habit is more social than culinary. 

However, apart from the already-high prices of meals, there is a disturbing trend being followed by Islamabad eateries: charging customers extra by adding items to their bill they didn’t even order. 

I speak from experience when I say that several known places are engaging in this unethical practice. Most of the time, they tend to get away with it because most people don’t bother going over the contents of the receipt. They just look at the final amount and pay.  In a group of people, one is highly unlikely to check the invoice for fear of looking like a cheapskate. That serves as the perfect opportunity to trick the visitors into paying for more than they’ve consumed. 

Lately, I was at Mocca Coffee with a friend; I ordered a regular-sized Frappuccino, and my friend ordered a dessert. As my friend went to the counter to pay, I heard the cashier say ‘1680’. My reaction was that of bewilderment because it seemed improbable that one dessert and beverage would amount to that much. I demanded to look at the receipt, and the cashier’s hesitation pretty much gave away his deception. Printed explicitly on the invoice were two large sized Frappuccinos and a fudge brownie. I pointed out that there was in fact only one regular-sized drink that I had ordered. Guilty as charged, the cashier immediately handed back the extra Rs 500 to my friend saying ‘mistake ho gai hai.’

I understand that servers, like most blue-collar workers, are not paid so well by the restaurant owners but that does not justify cheating. However, if a cafe bill receipt has wrong entries then such a practice makes the waiters and managment equally complicit.

Hotspot, the most frequented hangout spot for youngsters in Islamabad, would probably be the guiltiest of ripping their customers off in this manner. It is here that I first observed this kind of blatant scam. The servers don’t even bother to bring the receipt and simply tell us the sum to be paid.

One time, my friends and I asked for the bill and included in it were two cocktails we hadn’t ordered. On confronting him, the tongue-tied waiter came up with a response about a ‘mix-up of bills.’ On another occasion, I paid more for a brownie than I had a week ago as if there is no fixed price. I’m pretty sure they do this to visitors every day and make a lot of money. The fact that people don’t inquire about the breakdown of the charges helps them get away this behavior. 

Another valid concern is about the charging of general sales tax (GST), on items in a restaurant.  A business that is not registered under GST should not collect the 17% tax on restaurant meals. As a customer, we have a right to verify if the restaurant is GST-registered or not. Although this would sound like an odd thing to do while paying you can ask to take a look at the taxpayer certificate for verification.

The restaurant employee cannot deny this request, and in case of failure to produce the certificate, the customer is under no obligation to pay the GST included in the bill. Every GST-registered business should have that certificate under the business’ name.

Very few would go through this hassle, but a friend actually requested to look at the taxpayer certificate at Kim Mun Chinese restaurant last week. Upon the restaurant management’s inability to show it, he refused to pay the GST.

This malpractice seems to have become a common occurrence in all over the capital, according to many café goers. To avoid it, one should carefully look at the receipt and only then make a payment. 

 

zoya nazir