Never Trust a Dark Restaurant

It’s been years since I learned an important restaurant lesson—one I will not need to learn again. Let’s call this a lesson to last a lifetime.

I should have known better. Of all people, I should not have trusted a menu without prices on it. But for some reason, it just didn’t cross my mind that I needed to.


Friends had called asking if we’d like to join them for dinner. It was spontaneous so they looked to me, their fearless cheapskate, to come up with just the right choice in restaurants.

We were game to try something different, so armed with my trusty two-for-one Entertainment book, I led the way through the first 60 or so pages of this exhaustive resource. We eliminated the outrageously expensive and finally agreed on a Moroccan restaurant.

The menu was printed right there in the book and indicated, “Dinners: $15 per person.” Knowing that we’d get four dinners for the price of two, we figured this was a pretty good deal and a good way to try something new, even if it turned out to be, well, gross.

The “Valet Parking Only” sign should have been the first clue. Honestly, it ticked me off, which was not a good way to start off the evening. But I calmed down and we figured a couple of bucks to park wouldn’t kill us. 

It took a while for our eyes to adjust to the dark. I recall muttering something about “Do we really want to do this?” as we were led to our table, which was the size and height of a coffee table. The seating resembled very low “sofas,” not designed for sitting as much as for reclining. 

Trying not to laugh too loudly, we greeted our waiter who proceeded to introduce himself and then squatted down to join us. How cordial, I thought.

He explained that we would be enjoying an eight-course authentic Moroccan meal without the aid of silverware. Gulp.

It was too dark to read the menu, but I could tell there were no prices included. Curious. But we already knew it was $15 per person, so we graciously listened as he described every single detail of our meal to come. 

Armed with large fluffy blue napkins that resembled bath towels, we dove into the most delicious meal I believe, that to this day, I’ve ever eaten.

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It was so terrific I stopped noticing that my knees were resting under my chin. And that reclining feature together with the ceremonious hand-washing between courses gave us a new appreciation for the Moroccan culture. I believe we even talked about taking a vacation to Morocco (hasn’t happened yet, but who knows?)

As we put away the eighth course consisting of nuts, fruit, and mint tea, we kept marveling at the reasonable price (don’t forget we had discount coupons) and made tentative plans to return.

The check was delivered to the table, but we were having such a great time we hardly noticed. When we did, it’s a miracle they didn’t have to call the paramedics.

Our ultra-cheap $30-or-so-total dinner for four, without tax or gratuity, suddenly jumped to nearly $175 (this was quite a few years ago; imagine what that tab would be today).

Sure they had $15 dinners (a piece of chicken, baklava, and tea). But the eight-course authentic Moroccan feast—the grandest of all, the authentic quintessential Moroccan experience—was way more than double that.

To add injury to indigestion, our great two-for-one coupons were worth just $12 each. With tax, tip, and valet we got soaked.

I can’t say that I regret the evening. We scraped together the full amount, ended up laughing over the experience and actually made plans to go back. And you can be sure I would order just the Bastilla*: $8.50 a la carte. I found a light and a menu with prices on the way out.

*Look what I just found! A recipe for authentic Chicken Bastilla. That’s it! Can’t wait to give it a try as soon as I figure out the orange blossom flower water.

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11 replies
  1. Emjay says:

    Do I ever understand your shock! We were down in Baja with friends, camping along the beach with our two very young boys. We went to dinner at a recommended restaurant with prices printed on the menu. That’s not so bad, we thought. So we ordered. And to be sociable, we all ordered pitchers of pina coladas at the waiter’s suggestion. They didn’t have a drinks menu, so we assumed it would similar to current prices in USA. Just a few drinks. When the bill came, it was three times what it we figured it should have been. We, too, scraped together the dollars to pay, vowing fervently to check prices before doing that again, especially in a country not our own.

    • MoreFreedom2 says:

      What I learned from a similar experience: never order anything if you don’t know the price ahead of time. Asking for the price when it’s not provided may look cheap, but in my opinion, it reflects more on the restaurant for not providing it. Perhaps the best way: “I noticed you haven’t provided the price for . What is it?”

      • Jan New says:

        Have you noticed that a lot of restaurants serve alcohol but don’t include prices? After paying $6 for a draft beer–a small one at that, I either ask the price or order tea. People don’t appreciate knowing upfront what their final bill will be.

    • Mary Hunt says:

      These kinds of lessons are tough to learn, but payoff big in the future provided we do learn them well! Thanks for that story, Emjay!

  2. Jule barta says:

    I have been on the other side of people using discount coupons. If you are going to use one, please read the fine print, there are often limitations and exclusions. Please make sure your server knows you have the coupon before you order so they can address any of these restrictions.
    I have dealt with far too many customers who didn’t read the coupon, or told me after the sale was complete and I was unable to apply the discount.

  3. katyll says:

    I honestly almost didn’t read this. I was expecting something much worse than a highly inflated dinner tab (think little things that crawl in restaurant kitchens.)


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