IN AN exchange that sounds like a scene from Fawlty Towers, a Bendigo man says a publican removed $5 worth of his meal in order to settle a price dispute.
When Matt Ingram queried a price discrepancy on a plate of pasta at the Golden Square Hotel in Bendigo, publican Ashley McKenzie didn't refund the difference or throw in a free drink or garlic bread.
Instead, he allegedly snatched the final mouthfuls of the meal from Ingram's plate to even up the ledger, leaving his customer flummoxed - and quite hungry - and sparking a social media backlash.
But the owners of the pub have denied the incident happened and the whole thing had been "blown out of proportion".
Mr Ingram went to his local pub for dinner on Wednesday night and ordered the pasta of the day, priced at $18 on the blackboard.
As he was eating what he says was a very nice chicken fettuccine, he counted his change and realised he'd been charged $23 instead of $18.
Assuming he could invoke the well-established "customer is always right" rule, Mr Ingram says he questioned the price with the publican, Mr McKenzie, who told him the pasta cost $23. Mr Ingram pointed to the blackboard menu which clearly said the pasta was $18.
According to Mr Ingram, Mr McKenzie said "Does that look like an $18 pasta to you? What do you want me to do about it?"
Ingram replied that he would like the $5 difference.
At this point, Mr Ingram says, Mr McKenzie said that if he wanted his $5 back he would have to "take it off my plate."
Mr Ingram was stunned. The two men squabbled further, with the publican allegedly telling Mr Ingram that he was "being kind of an idiot about it". Once again, Mr Ingram says, the publican reaffirmed that in order to refund any money, his customer would have to refund some of his dinner.
"He said 'I'm going to have to take the difference off your plate',' Mr Ingram reiterated.
An exasperated Mr Ingram put his cutlery down, with around a quarter of his meal remaining and told Mr McKenzie that he could "take it".
The publican whisked the three-quarters empty plate away and then refunded Mr Ingram the disputed $5.
Ironically, Mr Ingram said later that the pasta - what he managed to enjoy of it - was delicious. In a Facebook post written after the event the bemused customer wrote, "On a positive note the meal itself was great. I just wish I got to eat it all."
A social media firestorm has erupted, with locals expressing dismay at the publican's alleged unreasonable behaviour. Many said the publican should have refunded the difference, no questions asked, and amended his blackboard.
"I'm a little worried about the statement 'I'll have to take some off your plate then'. Does that mean he was going to take it off and put it on the next person's plate that asks for the pasta?" asked one worried punter.
However some locals had positive reviews.
"I've been there once and enjoyed my Parma no problem," wrote a happy customer.
Another owner of The Golden Square, Ainza Drummond, took to Facebook to say that "This account of Matt Ingram's is not totally true or accurate. We are happy to get criticism so that we can improve our service but he has failed to mention his bad actions and the things he said to Ash."
Mr McKenzie confirmed to news.com.au that there was a dispute but did not provide details except to insist that he "didn't take $5 worth of pasta off [Mr Ingram's] plate" and that Mr Ingram's account was "totally untrue".
He says that the event has been "blown out of proportion".
However neither Ms Drummond nor Mr McKenzie would elaborate on their version of events.
The two owners have since offered Mr Ingram a full refund of his meal but he declined.
"I was happy to pay the $18 as the meal was nice," he says, once more insisting that the Golden Square Hotel serves a very tasty pasta. "My issue was with his [Mr McKenzie's] behaviour."
Mr Ingram says he wouldn't normally take a dispute of this nature to social media but was not given a phone number or name to make a complaint at the time of the pasta stoush, despite asking for them.
"The post I put up is entirely true," Mr Ingram told news.com.au. "I thought long and hard before posting it as I know the impact negative publicity can have on a business. So the decision to post it wasn't taken lightly. This all could have been resolved with a simple apology and an explanation that he was having a bad day."
And perhaps another scoop of placatory chicken fettuccine.
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