Wake Up Call

Vegan Couple Brings Own Pasta to Restaurant, Gets Charged Double for Order, and Refuses to Pay

According to an article on a New Jersey news site, a vegan couple dining out at a local Italian restaurant says the restaurant's owner charged them twice as much as they should have been charged for two pasta dinners. The owner justified the price by the fact that the couple had brought their own whole wheat pasta and asked specifically for red marinara tomato sauce, mushrooms, onions, olives, and red peppers.

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If you've ever worked in the restaurant biz, you know how much of a pain custom orders can be -- and how quickly a build-your-own order can ring up a bill. But this couple says in the past they had been charged less at the same establishment for the same meal. So, anti-veganism on the East Coast? Or justified price bumps for high-maintenance orders?

It wasn't the first time Jack and Toby Litsky had dined at Monticello at Red Bank with friends. In fact, they say they had eaten at the restaurant twice before and had brought their own pasta to accommodate their dining needs both times.

Since the couple had gone vegan to combat their high cholesterol, they realized not every restaurant serving whole wheat pasta really meant 100 percent whole grain. So instead, they've gotten in the habit of bringing their own. They also write out instructions on a card to be delivered to the chef along with the pasta, which they say hasn't been a problem with local restaurants, including Monticello, until now.

This time, they say the restaurant's chef-owner, Caterin Giambalzo, charged them $24 per entree, double the $12 they say they paid in the past. Litsky must have been especially shocked to see the new price since he told the paper that most restaurants actually charge them less since they bring their own ingredients. At Monticello, he said, most pasta dishes with chicken or fish cost between $22 and $24, making the price of their meal seem all the more arbitrary. Litsky says he asked if the bill was incorrect, but the owner insisted on the price and told him if he didn't pay, she'd call the cops.

The cops were called and they told Litsky that getting arrested for "theft of services" wasn't worth the $12 under contest. They also told him that, yes indeed, a manager or owner can choose to charge whatever they want for a meal. He paid but is now challenging the $24 (the difference in cost for the two dishes) with his credit card company.

The owner and couple may have worked out a deal through a partial refund, but the question still remains about whether customers should be charged extra for accommodations made in relation to dietary restrictions. On the consumer side, it sure would suck to be charged more in order to enjoy a meal out with friends because of how you choose (or in some cases, have to choose) to eat. But anyone who's been in a kitchen during a Saturday-night dinner service knows that it's a finely oiled machine that easily can be thrown off course by special requests.

In this case, the owner seemed willing to cooperate, but at what point do special request become too much? Weigh in through the comment section below.

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Lauren Saria
Contact: Lauren Saria