Are These the World’s Worst Restaurant Customers?

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"These olives have pits! I demand all my olives be pitted!" Photo: Ronnie Kaufman/Larry Hirshowitz/Corbis

A vegan New Jersey couple say they feel cheated after they supplied their own whole-wheat pasta for their restaurant meal, NJ.com reports, and the restaurant refused to give them a discount. Jack and Toby Litsky went meatless for health reasons last year, and while they quickly dropped some pounds and their cholesterol levels in the process, the site notes, they also got sick of explaining the details of their new diet when eating out the Litskys avoid oil, for example, which is vegan, which is confusing. So, taking a page from the food allergy playbook, the married couple printed their restrictions on cards for cooks to use while preparing their food, which reportedly worked well for everyone, until Jack and Toby printed out a restaurants.com coupon, readied their rotini one recent Saturday night, headed for Monticello at Red Bank for a meal with some friends. They say they were shocked and outraged to learn that management had billed them $24 for each portion, instead of the $12 the couple had been charged in the past.

Litsky argued he was entitled to a discount because, you know, he brings the pasta: "We dont ask for a discount but they usually give one," he tells the site, adding the restaurant had always given a discount in the past. On the night in question, however, Litsky says he was not only not given a break, but the portions were smaller leading to a suspicion that the kitchen was holding on to some of his precious Shop-Rite brand 100 percent whole wheat rotini. Plus, his olives had pits.

When Monticello's owner was summoned, Litsky explained $24 for his pasta was unfair, especially because the restaurant had charged "a lot less than that on several occasions." The owner called the police, who instructed the table to pay the entire bill. After initiating a claim with American Express, Litsky says he's reached a compromise with the restaurant, whose owner confirms an accord has been reached. "I see hes reasonable," she says, "and I dont want a customer to be upset."

Despite the resolution, the story is really much less cut and dried. Take a look at the completely unclear and somewhat unspecific text of the Litsky's "instructions" for the kitchen:

We are vegans (no meat, fish or dairy), We also stay away from oil.
Extra Extra Red Tomato Sauce
Extra Extra Extra mushroom
Extra Extra Extra onions
Extra Extra Extra red bell pepper (not roasted pepper)
Black and green olives
Capers
PLEASE, NO OIL You can sautee the ingredients in white wine or in the red sauce. Thank you so much!

First, nothing about the word extra, especially when repeated three times in a row for a grand total of eleven instances, would seem to suggest a discount should be in order. Even if onions and red bell peppers are low-cost items, as we are told, a group of customers occupying a restaurant table on any given Saturday night means, at least in theory, that another group of customers won't be sitting there. It's the reason Alder has a "plating charge" of $8 per person for birthday cake slices if you elect, for example, to bring in your own Fudgie the Whale in lieu of its desserts. It's not that Wylie Dufresne really thinks you and your friends would be much better off by ordering the Banoffee tart (and you would); it's just that the 56-seat restaurant has significantly less of a chance of making a profit when customers don't buy the food that's been made there.

It's not actually reasonable to expect a discount just because you received one in the past for a special order without a fixed menu price, right? If so, does this mean the customer is sometimes wrong?

Bamboozled: Special order leads to special bill, vegan said [NJ.com]