Oh, waiter! There's a scam in my soup!
The scam is you didn't order the soup. Some shady waiters will pad bills with:
- Unordered items—Easy to do when you can't read the language well, so it's hard to tell what's what on the scribbled bill.
- Dishes that arrive unannounced and unasked-for—Many restaurants will deliver little appetizers or dishes before the meal you actually ordered arrives. In most cases, these are simply lovely freebies. In a few rotten-apple restaurants, though, these surprise dishes later show up on the bill. You ate 'em, you have to pay for 'em. The fact that you were given no choice in the matter is what makes it a scam. A polite "Oh, we didn't order that..." whenever suspicious amuse-bouches arrive will cue the waiter of a respectable establishment to explain, "Ah, but this is courtesy of the chef. No charge."
- Fictional surcharges—Though note that in some countries (say, Italy) a cover charge is perfectly legal, albeit annoying; check your guidebook for the local norm.
- Simple shortchanging—Scrutinize the bill carefully, but surreptitiously and politely—no need to offend the thousands of honest waiters by being obvious about your suspicions.
- Doubled taxes—Let's see, that'd be 15% for the government, and 15% for the waiter's pocket. However, if a restaurant menu says service is included, that is legit—this is the tip, and it will be added automatically to the bill (see next).
- NOTE: Service is not a scam. In many countries, a tip—usually referred to by the local word for "service"—is already included in the final bill. If so, this fact—and the percentage amount—is usually printed somewhere on the menu (look for some fine print–style, italicized text near the bottom or on the back). If you are unsure, you can also just ask: "Is service included?" If the answer is yes, that covers your tip—though it's customary to leave behind an extra small denomination coin/bill per person (the rough local equivalent of a buck) if service was extra-good. (If the answer is no, service is not included, and in most countries you should tip 10%–15% or so; again, consult your guidebook for local rules.)
- NOTE: Bread and cover is not a scam—In a few places—notably Italy—the "pane e coperto" (or just "coperto") is, ssadly, toyally legit. It is just an annoying fact of life when eating in Italian restaurants. Everyone at the table gets charged a few euro just for the privilege of sitting down to a basket of bread.