Being sued for billing dispute

Discussion in 'Professional Catering' started by boo1234, Apr 2, 2013.

  1. boo1234

    boo1234

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    Hi, new poster here looking for some advice.

    I run a small bed and breakfast that has banquet facilities that can host up to 300 at a time. We do approximately 200 weddings a year and I have never had a problem with one until 2 weekends ago. Client has a wedding reception with a guarantee for 60 adults and 5 kids. Payment for the guarantee is due 3 days prior to the event. Anyway, the event went on without a hitch, except there were closer to 80-90 people at the event than the guarantee of 65. Banquet manager counted and so did the chef, but we have no other proof than that other than recording the number of plates as 77 as we were setting up the buffet. We had set out 9 tables of 8 plus there were 3 patio tables outside that were full and set for 4 people. Anyway, we had to put out more food. The bar estimate was also higher than expected, which says to me they had some heavy drinkers or there were more people than expected. No complaints till earlier this week when accounting charged the client's credit card as is the policy stated in the contract. She claims we are lying about her final count and is now suing us for the amount that we charged her credit card. The difference in price is about $700. I'm not too concerned about the lawsuit, but how do we go about protecting ourselves in the future from such disputes without being too intrusive? I'd hate to have someone at the door with a clicker. Should we think about installing some sort of closed circuit camera or have someone go around taking pictures on their cell phone at the height of the party? It just seems like right now it's a he said she said thing.

    Or should we just factor extras into the fee and raise them accordingly to avoid any ugly confrontations? Usually we do not even do a count, but in this case, the actual number was 30% higher than the guarantee, which is a significant amount and quite apparent from just scanning the room.

    Thanks!
     
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2013
  2. iceman

    iceman

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    WOW.   200 wedding a year ... in a small B&B.  Fantastic. 

    I wouldn't so much worry about one(1) glitch.         But hey ... that's just me. 
     
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2013
  3. boo1234

    boo1234

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    actually I meant 100 or two per week... got mixed up in the editing apparently .. I'd kill for 200 but my staff might kill me instead lol

    I know I shouldn't really worry about this one and will probably just reverse the charge to make it go away, but still I want to protect myself from anything similar in the future.
     
  4. chefbuba

    chefbuba

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    Stand your ground, why should you have to eat $700 in charges because the client went over their count. I have seen it many times, they just don't want to pay. The mindset is that the caterer won't notice a few more people, especially on a buffet.

    Our policy was to always be prepared for 10% over the final count, no more, we also let the client know that the amount of plates set out for buffets corresponded to their final count, if we hit that number and still had a number of people to feed, the client was always immediately notified of the overage, same goes for dish up meals, someone in the kitchen was always responsible for an accurate starting count of plates before beginning dish up.
     
  5. boo1234

    boo1234

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    We always count plates when we put them out, allowing for about 10 more than the final guarantee, however, this woman is claiming that we did not have to bring out more plates to accommodate her guests, when this is not true. She is trying to rip us off.

    I really don't know why she did not go to her credit card company to file a dispute rather than immediately proceeding to a lawsuit. Is she just trying to strong arm me since she knows she is wrong and thinks that I would rather drop her overage than go to court?
     
  6. vic cardenas

    vic cardenas

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    Good advice from chefbuba there ^. We do something similar at the golf course. We let the client know that their final count is very important and we need it at least 24 hours ahead of time but ideally the more notice, the better, and that we'll set out enough plates to cover their number. We are diligent to count the plates accurately and if at the end of the initial line at the buffet there are people asking for plates, we put them out and find the organizer immediately to let them know of the difference in count. 

    I think having a good line of communication like this is key to not making anybody unhappy. 

    From your posts, it sounds to me like there wasn't any communication at the event about the numbers and the client was suddenly, and unexpectantly charged extra for the event. 

    I also agree with this statement... Stand your ground. But I think next time you can avoid this by communicating better.
     
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2013
  7. chefwriter

    chefwriter

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    First, Stand your ground. I have a feeling you are not the first one she's tried to screw over. 

    Second, the others have given you some good experienced advice. Plate counts, table set ups, etc and good communication at all times is essential.

    I would only add that a few cameras would not go amiss. They are not so expensive now and a few strategically place in unobtrusive locations can add a real security for your operation for many reasons. 

    With that many weddings per year you certainly seem to be doing it right. There is no reason to let this woman, or anyone else drag you down for something you don't deserve. She is a bully and deserves to be knocked down. 
     
  8. chefbuba

    chefbuba

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    I hope you are charging for EVERY plate served, and not just putting out an extra 10 for the hell of it, you will never get an accurate count and will loose revenue.
     
  9. michaelga

    michaelga

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    Really simplely put  - if she went went with the CC company, and they had agreed, you wouldn't have a dispute.

    You would have received no money at all.

    YOU would have to sue her, for any of the money, period, and likely got far less than fair.

    As it seems (if you're not missing some information) the CC company has already refused to be engaged in the 'overage' and deems the billing 'legal'.

    Her response is to 'sue' and that is fine - just be prepared to prove what you say.

    Stand your ground, don't spend much on legal defences,and you will win.    

    Then pass the 'public' results of the decision around your local catering world.

    Just to 'ensure' no one else gets 'stung'
     
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2013
  10. durangojo

    durangojo

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    I agree with most everyone else here...stand your ground, and spread the word....Remember 'strength in numbers'....It's hard enough to make a buck in this biz...

    simply counting plates isn't always an accurate dipstick. Counting heads when everyone is seated is the only way. Guests will take a new plate for lots of reasons....salad, seconds, bread for the table, spills, they don't want certain foods touching, just to name a few. Same with silverware set ups. Guests move their seats and squeeze into tables all the time, the requiring a new set up, or with their new seconds plate will need new silverware as theirs has been cleared. 10 people can get lost in a big room, not so much in a smaller one. As you posted, you knew something was up. It's hard to fix the plane while you're flying it, but that may have been the time to mention to the client that there were more guests than expected. certainly by the end of the evening. a 10% built in buffer would have covered the extra guests, but you would not have much left  after that.  my thinking is that because there were children involved and they don't eat as much as adults, the client felt she could 'pad' the count to her advantage. in the future the client needs to know initially that they will be charged for extra guests.  A question for everyone here....what happens when less guests show up? Do you give or offer the extra food to the client that by all rights they  paid for? do they ask for it?  just curious

    good luck boo1234......keep your powder dry til you need it!

    joey
     
  11. boo1234

    boo1234

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    It is expressed in my contract that any extra people will be charged. What's being disputed is the fact that there were extra people to begin with. To answer the other question, if less guest show up, the client is still out of the money they put up for the guaranteed number of guests. It's not our fault you had no shows. We do not give the extra food away to the client due to liability issues with improper food storage and what not. All of that is explained in our contract. We will, however, create a couple of plates for the bride and groom to take with them, which is covered by a liability waiver when they sign their contract.

    I really cannot get over this woman who claims we are lying about how many adults she had at her wedding. Four or five people we let slide, but 20+ extras? No sir.
     
  12. boo1234

    boo1234

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    OH and to top it off, we had one prospective client whose deposit check bounced today. Needless to say, she is now off the date book lol
     
  13. meezenplaz

    meezenplaz

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    A lot of people just dont seem to realize that there are just as many caterer CLIENT from hell horror stories as there

    are bad CATERER  stories. And sure we can write into the contract an expected "bumper" like 10% as Buba says, to

    cover the usual shenanigans--in fact it makes us look good when we can say" you were over the count a bit.... but hey dont

    worry about it, we'll catch up on the next event etc" when in fact we've already covered it. But if we bumper 30% who's

    gonna hire us?

    In your case I would do my best to paint the picture to the court just as it is--that this woman is deliberately trying to cheat you.

    And bring your witnesses and do try to show the judge (who may not know ANY thing about catering) that "this is just how we always

    do it and we do X number per month etc. The more you  paint yourself as a seasoned  pro, the more she'll look like a cheating

    lying amateur wasting the court's time.

    I always counted plates, but as mentioned above, that's not accurate. What IS accurate is pulling the client aside before the event

    (as early as possible) and counting the seating WITH them. And our contract stated the count could be raised but not lowered,

    and that extra people would be charged for at $$ per person. After youve both seen the TRUE count, client initials the number on

    the contract and agrees to pay it. If they haggled, I'd tell them that I will be serving the first 60 people and no more. That usually

    convinced them I was serious.

    The leaving extra food isssue came up all the time....true you open yourself up to liability, but with me it depended on the client, and

    whether they had proper refrigeration handy (which they had to show me.) and if they were repeat customers, but I never left much--

    just go plates. And having them sign a wavier is a good idea, but it's better just not to trust clients you dont know--a flu bug hits just

    then and EVERY one wants to blame the caterer.

    But it's amazing how many clients seemed to think that ALL the food you brought is THEIRS. All paid for and they can do what they want

    with it. I have had to on many occasions explain it: " Um...no. You contracted us to feed 100 people. We did that. Our obligation is fulfilled.

    You are not entitled to any overage we may have brought to ensure enough for your event. Feeding groups of people isnt an exact science...

    blah blah."

    I've had some good ones--one guy actually went into one of the server's hot box, sliding out  hotel pans, yelling "This is all mine! I paid for it!"

    and dashed off, 20 dollar pan, full of food,  still in his clutches. /img/vbsmilies/smilies/surprised.gif  (then he has the nerve to beg us to come back next year.)

    And they especially expect it when the count is less, e.g., only 40 showed instead of 60. They seem to forget you bought for, made for,

    hired help for, rented for, and transported for, 60. THEY just seee the difference and expect a refund. I say: (as calmly as I can muster)

    " You are responsible for the accuracy of the count you are contracting us for. We are responsible for servicing that count. If your count

    ends up less, we are STILL responsible for servicing the contracted count. And you are still responsible for paying for it."
     
  14. tigerwoman

    tigerwoman

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    "We had set out 9 tables of 8 plus there were 3 patio tables outside that were full and set for 4 people." 

    that equals 72 + 12 seats = 84 seats for 65 guests?

    I am curious as to why you set out more than 65 seats?   wouldn't that alone force the client to come to you asking for more chairs for their guests.

    When we set up - we don't allow for extra chairs - just the number they give us.  Some tables may have 8, some 11, some 12 guests each but add them all together and that's the head count they've guaranteed.   And we make it clear that we dont order any more chairs. -   And since we handle the rentals they have to give an accurate number.  Now you own the chairs and tables but still don't understand the reason to set up extras...

    Also would have to agree with most posters who suggest you approach host or hosts representative when you know you are going way over.  Mr. or Ms. Smith, just wanted to confirm with you that there are more guests than originally expected,  we are getting low on the allotted amount of food, plates and cutlery, do you want us to rustle up more food for your extra guests.   OK  please initial here...  If handled smoothly it's not as ackward as you might think

    How many extra guests did you bill them for.

    Another thought on buffet - some guests take a new plate when they come up for seconds - are you sure that didn't happen?

    From the host's perspective it  might seems strange that you didn't say anything to  them on the night - even when all was over, so who knows?  

    This isn't as clearcut as you might think and hard to say how a court may rule but at the end of the day $700 isn't going to make or break you but the negative energy could be a drain. 

    My take, eat it and figure out what to do to avoid this happening in the future.  Sometimes being right is not the winning position.
     
  15. boo1234

    boo1234

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    We had set out one extra table inside because we had an event immediately after the next morning and wanted to avoid having to move in a table later. It was a nice day so we opened the patio doors, which have 4 tables outside at all times for people to use if they want to go out.

    We did not just base the number of people off of the plate count. My chef and banquet manager counted 3 times throughout the night at various points and averaged their results. We actually only billed them for 12 extra people, when in reality it was closer to 20-25 extra. The other portion of the bill is the bar cost was over their estimate. Yes in retrospect we should have approached the client immediately, but after doing hundreds of weddings, we've never encountered this problem before. I always fry to remain as out of sight as possible during the events so I don't seem too intrusive at people's parties, but maybe after this, I'll have to change my ways of doing things.

    I am really not all too concerned with the $700 bill. It just irks me that the lady would even dare to try to cheat me out of the money. I should have seen it coming. She was trying to nickle and dime us during the contract negotiation phase, asking stuff like how much could she save by cutting the amount of carrots on the crudite platter by half etc. What concerns me more about this whole mess is that she is probably going to write a negative review online either way. I'd just assume get my $700 AND the bad press rather than just the bad press alone.
     
  16. meezenplaz

    meezenplaz

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    All true, and we've all been ripped to some extent, ate it,  and went on to learn from the experience,

    i.e. better contract, closer watch on event etc. But in this case, 700 clams is just a little TOO steep

    a learning curve IMO. I would fight this one or at least try, or she'll just ripp off the next one, or worse,

    send some of her "friends" your way.  

    Haven't seen ya round in a while TigerWoman, nice to know you're still lurkin about now and again! /img/vbsmilies/smilies/biggrin.gif

    --Meez
     
  17. foodpump

    foodpump

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    In the future.......

    Do your head count, do your plate count, then tell the host about your figures, and get them to do thier count, then get them to write it down on the contract and initial/sign it.  More often than not they'll try to low-ball the figure too, but at leas you have thier signature on the contract.

    Don't know much about US law, but to sue over $700. seems pretty ridiculous, small claims courts usually charge $250 to start off with. 
     
  18. boo1234

    boo1234

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    Small claims court fee in this area is about $75,

    We have a wedding on Saturday for 90, so I'll start to implement some of these ideas for that event like better communication with the client should we suspect there is a significant overage.

    Thanks everyone!
     
  19. foodpump

    foodpump

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    You bring back memories that I wanted to forget, and they (catering memories) rank up there with holding my Mom's hand as she lay dying in the hospital.

    But your attitude is spot on, and you gotta do what you gotta do.

    My first thought was of the "cheesecake lady", one of our first events a looooong time ago where a woman booked a party for 100 or so.  Nickel and dimeing the whole way, after the 3rd quote we gave up on her, but she said she'd sign it if we could bring down the price by a buck per head.  I did some figuring, then  told her we could replace the cheesecake with an open face apple tart for the buck, and she grumbled and whined, but signed the contract.  The event went pretty smooth until dessert, and when the servers where passing out plated apple tart, she (the (deleted) loudly proclaimed to who ever would listen, "But that's not cheesecake!".  We had table cards with the menu printed on it, and some guests caught on, but most didn't. See, she couldn't get her price and the (deleted) cheesecake, so she had to do something.  This was loong before facebook or blogs, but it was the best damage she could do without embarassing herself.

    And then there was the Mob (mother of bride) from he77.  Again, nickel and dimeing us the whole way.  Originally we quoted her with a 9 item cocktail at 1 pm, followed by a buffet at 7 at a yacht club hall.  She declined the cocktail, of course, and went for the cheapest buffet possible.  All clearly stated on the contract.  Come the event day, I got a phone call from the security guard of the hall at 12:30 telling me the Mob was going to call the cops if we didn't show up and serve her guests the cocktail.  She wouldn't pick up her phone, but kept getting the guard to pester us every 20 minutes.  We show up at 4:30, as per contract, and she had a lynching mob greeting us.

    So she pushes forward this woman introducing her as her sis in law, a part time caterer and full time lawyer.  First question I ask her is if she read the contract.  Sis in law takes a step backwards.  I take out my copy and ask her to read.  She flips through it, hands it to the Mob, and disappears, the husband of the Mob does the same.  Mob is furious, but not much she can do, except get even.  Gets the DJ to announce that the caterer screwed up, and then sulks behind the bar  for the rest of the evening.  Again, this was the days before facebook and blogs, but you can be sure she did her best to get even.

    Thing is, even though in both events happened years ago, I wouldn't do anything different, couldn't do anything different, actually. 

    Bittersweet memories....
     
  20. ed buchanan

    ed buchanan

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    In New York the way we worked it was . If the minimum guarantee of the contract was lets say 80.  When you brought back your final floor plan and  place cards and it totaled 94. You signed the contract again stating  the new guarantee to be 94.  W e told you we would set for 94 and be prepared to feed 94

    .(no  extra places set whatsoever)

     THEN THE DAY OF upon arrival for the actual function  3 extra settings had to be added you then had them  initial the change and that's  what they paid..\

    This all applied to on premise volume banquet facilities.  Also we did not bill private functions only corporate.. Private were due and payable day of function.. Another note

    additional deposit was due 7 days prior function so we had 75% of money in already. Final bill was collected prior to cutting of wedding cake.  We were a volume on premise in   Queens  County doing  in excess of 11 million dollars per year fro 1967 through the nineties.

    PS we worked hard for our money and collected it all. one way or another.
     
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2013