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Dear PoPville – What the Hell? Two Different Pricing Systems at Masa 14?

by Prince Of Petworth June 3, 2014 at 2:25 pm 52 Comments

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“Dear PoPville,

I was wondering if any of your readers had experienced this at Masa 14 [1825 14th Street, NW].

Went for brunch, decided against the bottomless brunch, and received the bill on the left. “Sp” follows many of the food items. When I compared the bill to the menu, all of the items with “sp” had their prices inflated. Pointed it out to the server and she–while feigning an apology brought the second, correctly-priced bill.

Trying to rip off the customer? Not freaking cool, and totally unnecessary.

I wonder how many people have enjoyed the brunch and, after a few drinks, are actually tricked into paying the inflated prices.”

What do you guys think the “sp” could be? Dinner pricing? An honest mistake or something more intentional?

Update from Masa 14:

“At Masa 14, guests have 2 different options for brunch. They may order the All You Can Eat brunch special for $35, which includes unlimited small plates and free flowing beverages, or they may order individually priced items from the A La Carte menu.

When a staff member inputs the $35 all you can eat brunch special into the order system, they then order all the accompanying small plates that are requested by the guest with the abbreviation “sp” (which stands for special) linking these items to the brunch package.

The “sp” abbreviation has several effects. When rung up with the brunch special, it brings the cost of each small plate order to zero, allowing the guest to eat and drink as much as they desire without the check increasing. It also alerts the kitchen to the fact that this is an all you can eat small plate, allowing them to make the necessary adjustments to presentation, or timing, that is required.

The “sp” items, when not rang in accompaniment with the brunch special, default to a $10 price. This is programmed to alert a server that they are making a mistake and is never intended to be a price that is charged or presented on a receipt. If they ever see a $10 price on multiple menu items they realize either a)They forgot to ring in the $35 brunch special, and as a result may be overcharging the guest or b)They are accidentally ringing all you can eat food items when they should be ringing a la carte. This allows them to alert a manager, and make the necessary corrections before additional items are rang and/or a check is presented to the guest.

The majority of guests at Masa 14 order the all you can eat brunch special, and the “sp” programming is ultimately designed to protect the guest experience and prevent this type of occurrence.

In this particular case, despite the warnings presented as a result of the system, the check was accidentally presented to the guest. When the server was notified of the mishap, the check was then rung up correctly.

At Masa 14, we cherish the brunch experience and work tirelessly to ensure that every guest leaves having their expectations exceeded. We are extremely disappointed that, in this case, we failed to live up to those expectations.”

  • Anonymous

    I think “sp” generally refers to “special” on a restaurant receipt – special order, special promotional price, could mean anything. At a place like Masa, it could also reference “shared plate” if they have different portions (individual vs. shared). Definitely seems fishy to me. I would have talked to a manager right then and there instead of just the server.

    • hmmmm

      I doubt the server was trying to rip you off because the extra money would’ve gone to the restaurant not her or him.

      • only1tobin

        Not necessarily. Larger bill = larger tip.

        • DSB

          Padding a tab is a very old trick as well. The server could ring the tab as the larger of the two and present it to the guest. If they don’t say anything, you swipe their card. THEN you go to the manager and tell them that you were questioned about the tab and to please reduce the price. The guest has already paid for the larger tab but when the server closes out the new “reduced” tab that extra money goes right to the server. Tricky.

          • You can only do that with cash I think. If a server had a bill altered (lowered) and closed it at the lower amt they couldn’t get the difference as a padded tip.

  • NEDC

    My guess, from a few years in the service industry, is that “sp” means “split”.

    Many restaurants, when you order an item and then split it between 2 or more people will add an upcharge. The argument is that the upcharge is for extra plates, silverware, service…etc. Did the menu mention a fee for splitting menu items?

    • ah

      Although splitting a $6 taco in two shouldn’t cost $10. Why not just offer two?

      My speculation is it’s “special” and they were supposed to get something with each dish for free, such as a drink, but the waiter screwed up and also charged for the drinks.

      • Anonymous

        If the “special” was for something free, then the price should be the same as the non-special!

      • AG

        I doubt it was to split, since it’s a small plates restaurant where sharing is the expectations. The “sp” might indicate that there was some change/addition/dietary consideration that had to be made for the dish. Even if they ordered the dishes as is, it could be confusing that there’s a difference when the server puts it in, like when you do self-checkout at the grocery store and there are like 3 kinds of red peppers that look almost exactly the same but cost different prices.

    • MsSunshine

      Masa is a small plates joint. Your first time there, you get the long spiel about ordering 2-3 dishes per person so you can share.

  • CAG

    I had something similar happen to our table at a birthday brunch. We were almost overcharged by over $200. Once the two-hour time limit was up, the system charged us per item we ordered even though we were still being happily served. We did the math and re-examined the bill. The manager apologized for the confusion, blamed it on the system and adjusted the bill. We were all sketched out by it though. You would think they would be careful if they knew their system messed up on a regular basis.

  • Anonymous

    I think the server was trying to rip you off. After you paid, they would have adjusted the bill back done to the ‘correct’ price and then taken the extra $20 as tip. I was a waitress for several years and my restaurant had put certain systems into place to prevent waitstaff from doing this kind of scam.

    • Anonymous

      i think this is the answer. the waitstaff was trying to rip you off. i’ve worked with people that did this before too.

  • Derek

    I like it that 6 drinks were consumed by 11:36 am.

    • dcreal

      Lol…we could hang any day.

    • Right? They did it wrong. $35/each unlimited would have given them more bang for the buck. And no eyeballing the receipt.

  • Smittty

    It is likely just a mistake. I worked in restaurants for a long time and yes, computer errors like this, especially when they have different pricing for specials during certain hours, can easily happen. Yes, good job being aware, I always look at my receipt too, but I think people are too quick assume bad intentions.

    • Anonymous

      I am a former MASA server. There is no way the server would have been trying to rip you off because any changes made to a bill have to be authorized by a card holding manager. So a server literally could not alter a bill before or after without a Manager doing it themselves.
      I can guess exactly what happened: There are several buttons for the same items in the ordering system, which are used for different occasions: i.e. if there was a private party and the dish was made larger, or modified for that particular party, the price could have changed and an “SP” added to the item in the system… I am guessing the server accidentally hit the “SP” version of the plate rather than the normal version of the plate. Even as a former employee, I couldn’t think of anything shady to say about the severs hired or the management at MASA, the entire team takes indiscretion and misconduct VERY seriously. Even with this post, the server in question was probably disciplined immediately for the mistake.

  • I bet you could get an actual answer from the manager at Masa rather than a bunch of guesses from the blog-o-sphere.

    • +1

    • andy2

      but this is so much more fun – immediately everyone goes negative and nasty.
      How about looking at it this way – you noticed an error on your bill, brought it to the attention of the waitress and she was really nice and adjusted the bill.
      No need for conspiracy theories or thinking ill of someone – just a mistake – something I’m sure everyone on this thread has done in the last 24hrs.
      #chilloutDC

      • Anonymous

        +1

    • Anonymous

      it may be a better question for the manager, but it’s also a public service to share it with the rest of us.

  • I just sent them a note, hopefully someone from the restaurant can actually come to explain.

  • IB

    We had a kind of similar experience there last summer. They had charged us a(much) higher price for their a la carte sangria than the menu listed, then attempted to make us pay the bill as is and not adjust it to the menu prices only to eventually relent. Long story short, we’ve decided never to return, since the bill took a solid hour to get worked out.

  • Anonymous

    Notice how it says 2 guests on the initial receipt and then 1 guest on the updated…maybe they were charging you for the extra “shared plate” fee as others mentioned

    • Anonymous

      It seems ridiculous for a tapas restaurant that advertises themselves on ‘small plates and sharing’ to charge for sharing plates.

      • Anonymous

        +1

  • JL

    As a former server, I can say that some servers do manipulate the system in ways like this; however, its likely impossible for anyone to tell whether or not this was an “honest mistake” (the amount of time they’ve been with the restaurant is probably the most relevant consideration). Given the possibility it was a mistake, though, I think the server’s name should be blocked out in this post (even in a big city, not hard to identify someone based on first name, last initial, and place of employment). No one deserves this much attention for a (potential) mistake.

    • skj84

      totally agree! This is an issue that needs to be brought up with the management of Masa 14, not the public.

    • merp

      I agree with blocking out the name, but maybe I’m missing something. I don’t see it on the receipts?

      • You don’t see it now because it’s been blocked out (now).

        • Anonymous

          That would explain it :)

  • Marymay

    Not a fan of Masa– the food tasted stale and the only edible thing they kept burning (I sent my steak tapas back 4 times…). The management was rude. Banned from my brunch list- never going back.

    • Anon

      I wanted to like Masa. But when we were told that we would have to run our own food and drinks if we wanted to be on the patio, then refused food service after happy hour ended, it left a bad taste in my mouth.

  • Anonymous

    looks to me like the server noticed you had a bunch of drinks, assumed you were sloppy, and is trying to rip you off. Those prices don’t match anything on their menu on the website.

    • 3 drinks per person is a lot? For a place that does bottomless drinks?

      • Anon

        Depending on the person 3 drinks is a lot…but I guess we all forget that you are the final judge and jury here and know basically eveything.

      • Anonymous

        3 drinks is enough to impair you, yes.

        • But in a good way.

        • Anonymous

          Impairment is the entire point of brunch.

  • Anonymous

    I am a former MASA server. There is no way the server would have been trying to rip you off because any changes made to a bill have to be authorized by a card holding manager. So a server literally could not alter a bill before or after without a Manager doing it themselves.

    I can guess exactly what happened: There are several buttons for the same items in the ordering system, which are used for different occasions: i.e. if there was a private party and the dish was made larger, or modified for that particular party, the price could have changed and an “SP” added to the item in the system… I am guessing the server accidentally hit the “SP” version of the plate rather than the normal version of the plate. Even as a former employee, I couldn’t think of anything shady to say about the severs hired or the management at MASA, the entire team takes indiscretion and misconduct VERY seriously. Even with this post, the server in question was probably disciplined immediately for the mistake.

  • AB

    Haha I totally had brunch there on Saturday, might as well do the all in, it’s worth it. I barely ate the rest of the day though I did have a hangover Sunday for some reason…

  • Anonymous

    $71.50 for what you got vs. $85.80 (incl. tax) for unlimited food and drinks seems like you made the wrong call.

    • Anonymous

      That assumes they wanted more food/drink than they got, which doesn’t strike me as a good assumption. Not everybody (me, for example) actually wants unlimited food and drinks.

      • whoknows

        I’m with you What’s with this gluttonous lifestyle that bottomless anything encourages?

        • Not always gluttonous – 19th century San Francisco – full of working men living in crazy crowded conditions with no cooking facilities. The “all you can eat” saloon buffet was the way most people ate. You paid 10-25 cents for a glass of beer or spirits and could eat all you wanted. Lots of oysters!

  • Anonymous

    Whenever I see people not doing the unlimited option at Masa 14 brunch i judge them pretty harshly. I mean, for the prices and amount of plates you have to order for a decent meal you might as well just go all out…or go some place cheaper.

  • I don’t even like Masa – only been there once and have no urge to go back – but I think it is unfair – in this age of everlasting online taint – to bash it upon misunderstanding or mistake.

  • Anonymous

    Masa is overrated!

  • Reality

    Kind of annoyed with petty people running to this blog with the most asinine issues. “My bill was WRONG!!!” Seriously dude, get a life.

  • CPP

    I’m calling this sketchy as all get out, especially considering the response from Masa 14 themselves.

    If the point of linking “sp” + non-unlimited brunch option = a default $10 charge, so that supposedly [very busy!] servers will notice multiple $10 charges and know they made a mistake … wouldn’t you pick a default charge much more difficult to accidentally overlook by waitstaff and customers alike — like $100?? or even $0.99 so that “mistakes” benefit the customer??

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