Is it normal in Australia (or anywhere) for a restaurant to ask for your credit card before a meal in case you walk out without paying?
November 5, 2011 11:02 AM   Subscribe

Is it normal in Australia (or anywhere) for a restaurant to ask for your credit card before a meal in case you walk out without paying?

Not me, but I've just read this column from Adelaide about the experiences of the journalist and having asked around here, it's happened to no one else. Has this been anyone else's experience? I'm very curious.
posted by feelinglistless to Food & Drink (22 answers total)
Not unheard-of at bars in my experience, though they generally phrase it more like 'so you can start a tab' and less like 'in case you walk out without paying.'
posted by box at 11:07 AM on November 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

As far as restaurants go, Marquis is a bit swanky; the sort of place you expect a top menu and attentive staff.

But after waiting an age for table service, my dad finally got up and ordered with a waiter at the bar.

We had just settled back at the table when a young waitress approached. "If you don't want to pay now then I need to take your credit card," she told Dad. "It's in case you leave without paying," she added.

NZ here...Never ever in NZ...never in the States. Nowhere...

I understand the concept of starting a tab..but this is kinda nuts. You can tell that even the original waiter was not cool with this, and thats why a second waitstaff had to come in to get the CC.

Totally uncool.
posted by hal_c_on at 11:07 AM on November 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Australian here. Eat out allot - haven't been to Marquis but have been to similarly priced/hyped restaurants. Have NEVER had this happen, and if it did I'd likely tell them to shove it. Having said that, I seem to remember that maybe when I went to Tetsuya's (anoher top tier Sydney restaurant) they took my credit card number to confirm the booking (which was made months in advance). I might be mistaken - it was about 3.5 years ago. Perhaps that was kind of the same thing but far more tactfully done...
posted by nothing too obvious at 11:29 AM on November 5, 2011

Green Mill does this when you sit outside. Location = Minneapolis, MN, USA
posted by zombieApoc at 11:35 AM on November 5, 2011

I am in the US, but have dined in US and UK. I have in the past and wouldn't mind again giving a credit card reservation to make a booking, especially on a very desirable table on a weekend night.

But if a server asked for my credit card before I had even ordered food, I would leave instantly. Starting a tab at the bar (where a guest could easily get drunk and leave without paying) is one thing.

Starting a tab for food is ludicrous and makes the establishment seem quite silly. It's gauche, in my opinion. It says, "We think very, very highly of ourselves and our food, but we think very, very little of our patrons." A place like that does not deserve a cent of my money.
posted by pineapple at 11:37 AM on November 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

Never ever. In (as of now) at least six countries, including Australia.
posted by Logophiliac at 12:12 PM on November 5, 2011

Wow. I've worked in customer service for 25 years. I'd instantly fire anyone who behaved as the staff at Marquis in New Zealand did. Unbelievable.
posted by dobbs at 12:22 PM on November 5, 2011

Wait, it's not in NZ but Adelaide? I've been there and elsewhere in Aus (Melbourne, Perth, Sydney) and I've never encountered this behavior. Must be exclusive to Marquis.
posted by dobbs at 12:26 PM on November 5, 2011

US here and have traveled a little bit, though not to Australia. I eat out a lot, and I have had something like this happen exactly once. I was picking up the lunch-and-beers tab for a large group of somewhat sketchy-looking youngish dudes who had just ordered lots of beer and we were sitting at an outdoor table, so I had some sympathy for the server (it's got to suck mightily when somebody pulls a dine-and-dash on a fat ticket), but in general I think if it ever happened again I'd leave rather than go ahead with ordering food. It's definitely not SOP anywhere I have ever been.
posted by brennen at 12:27 PM on November 5, 2011

Australian here, in SA and regular visitor to Adelaide. No, never happened to me, here or elsewhere in Australia. That it happened in Adelaide is, to me, quite odd actually. Service here is way nicer than I've experienced in other states I've lived. Wait-folk and restaurants are usually falling over themselves to give you a great experience and Adelaide is so slow and sleepy and safe it's hard to imagine enough people skipping their bill that the restaurant would need this policy.
posted by t0astie at 1:40 PM on November 5, 2011

Oh yes indeed this happened to us in Brisbane, Queensland I won't say where but apparently you were supposed to be happy to be there because it was Friday, and we ordered drinks and the meal. The basic problem is that having your card behind the counter allows any flake to skim your details and order a Rolls Royce in Hong Kong before you finish dessert. The restaurants don't seem to care about this, and there's no security on your card. As others have noted, it's tacky and the sign of a cheap establishment (yes come to think of it, the food tasted as if it was made in a pub). I solved the problem as best I could by paying right there for each item, and taking my card back each time, which at least caused them as much angst as their low-class policies caused me.
posted by alonsoquijano at 2:26 PM on November 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Australian here, I have never encountered this, although while studying I worked at a café with two tables on the street - policy was that customers at the outside tables must pay when they ordered, but this wasn't enforced with regulars.
posted by Cheese Monster at 2:32 PM on November 5, 2011

Um, they got a drink at the bar, right? I've seen this happen frequently when you order from the bar then go to a table. I've never heard anyone say outright that they do so to keep you from leaving without paying but that's why they do it. I don't see what the problem is here. (East Coast of the US)
posted by bijou243 at 3:00 PM on November 5, 2011

I grew up in Adelaide and I don't think that restaurant will get away with the behaviour described in the article for very long. I would have walked out.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 3:45 PM on November 5, 2011

Adelaidean here, and I've never experienced this.

At mid-range restaurants it's common to order from the front and pay before the meal - the only thing the waiters do is bring your food out, not also take your order - but even they they don't do this "confiscate your credit card thing."

But insisting on confiscating your credit card or wallet when you order from waitstaff? I'm inclined to put this down as a thing specific to that restaurant; it's not a general Adelaide thing.
posted by forza at 3:47 PM on November 5, 2011

I don't know about NZ, but I wonder if it was a combination of a poorly trained waitstaff member and liquor license regulations. Here in Canada, in some provinces at least, the bar and restaurant can be licensed separately. If you buy a drink, you have to pay for it before you leave the bar. And if you want to move a drink from the bar area to your table, a server has to do it (and I'm still not entirely sure it's actually allowed, though I've never been turned away). When I lived in Ontario, in some bars, you were only allowed in certain sections with your drink. For example, if you wanted to go upstairs or down to the basement of a big club, you couldn't bring your drink because the stairs were not licensed. (It turned out that they had set it up as 3 separate bars, thought it ran as one, and you were not allowed to bring your drink from one establishment to the other.)

Perhaps something odd like that was going on.

Not cool for the dad to throw a wallet, but it's hard to know exactly how that unfolded or what it was like - did he just sort of pitch it at her or something?
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 3:48 PM on November 5, 2011

I've had it happen once in a very busy touristy area in Queensland, the place and street where crazy busy and we were sitting outside so I could see why they did it. Though honestly the manager/staff in that article just sounded nuts to me.
posted by wwax at 4:29 PM on November 5, 2011

I am in Perth, Western Australia and no, this is not common. There is only one place I can think of that does ask you to leave a credit card or licence behind the bar, but there are signs explaining that they have had a large number of walkouts and it is a late night kind of bohemian joint and i could see that the clientèle could be the type to do a runner. The staff are not dicks about it and it does not really change my opinion of the venue.
posted by lrobertjones at 4:55 PM on November 5, 2011

Melbourne, here.

I that this kind of thing often comes down to whether you're ordering at the bar, or getting table service. Some places will let you do either, and generally, if I was ordering at the bar, I'd expect them to want me to pay then and there, or "start a tab", which would usually mean handing over a credit card.

To me, ordering at the bar means "I'm here for a couple of drinks and maybe some nibbles", whereas ordering from a table means I'm there for the proper full meal and wine, and give me the bill at the end.

The fact that the person in this article sat at a table, then ordered at the bar may have confused things.

But having said that, the story related in that article is pretty atrocious. But, as always, we're only hearing one side of the story.
posted by Diag at 5:18 PM on November 5, 2011

In the circumstance where I've ordered a drink at the bar and then gone to a table, yes, I've been asked to either open a tab (thereby leaving a card) or pay for the drink at the bar. (in Texas)
posted by fireoyster at 1:05 AM on November 6, 2011

I went to a pretty casual restaurant in Clifton Hill, Melbourne a couple of years ago. They asked for a credit card or a photo ID if you wanted to sit outside. I've never seen it anywhere else though.
posted by peppermintfreddo at 4:44 PM on November 6, 2011

An Irish waiter/bartender asked for a credit card before we ordered food for table service at Tavern At The End of The World in Boston MA. He said it was because a lot of people were coming in to watch a football game. Barely anyone showed up. I've never been able to figure out why he asked for the card. I'll never forgive that place.
posted by shushufindi at 6:55 AM on November 8, 2011

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