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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I'm writing this for the couple who questioned the bar bill from their wedding. The caterer claimed they had served seven drinks per person.

I attended an elaborate wedding. I am diabetic, can't drink alcohol and have a bad foot, so dancing was out. I spent the entire evening at the table while everyone else danced. Each time guests returned to our table, a server would take new drink orders. After a few sips, the couples would head back to the dance floor. The server would then clear the drinks from the table. Abby, some of the guests had taken only one sip.

I told the server the people would be coming back to the table. She replied that she was instructed by the bartender to remove all drinks when people were not at the table. I'm sure that's the reason the bar bill was so high for the physician's wedding. -- OBSERVER FROM NORTH CAROLINA

DEAR OBSERVER: You could be right. Thank you for an eyebrow-raiser of a letter. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: Years ago when I organized functions featuring a hosted bar at high-end hotels, I noticed that as the events drew to a close, the barmen would crack the seals on several bottles of the good stuff. We would then be charged for the open bottles. Presumably, the barmen and their friends would have an extremely pleasant evening -- and be credited with ringing up additional revenue for the hotel. Seven drinks per guest wouldn't be out of the ballpark.

Once I discovered this game, I made a point of monitoring the barmen more closely. I instructed them not to break any seals during the last half-hour of the function and to collect opened bottles before the barmen left. After each event, we used the remaining liquor to throw a thank-you party for the secretarial and administrative staff who had helped to organize the function but hadn't been able to attend, a gesture that was much appreciated.

I can understand the sticker shock. The host probably paid for numerous full but "opened" bottles. -- KENNETH B., CLAREMONT, CALIF.

DEAR KENNETH B.: What you are describing is fraud and the exception to the rule in the hospitality industry. But thank you for the warning. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: As "social director" for the firm I work for, I have encountered many instances of caterers inflating a liquor bill, or guests from other parties crashing our open bar.

While it's highly unusual, I don't blame the couple at all for double-checking on their guests' consumption. Seven alcoholic drinks per person is certainly questionable. Could the man and his wife have consumed seven drinks each and driven home? I think not! And I can't imagine other guests making up the difference -- unless they all had to be carried home.

I applaud the couple's refusal to assume the bill was correct. I'm sure they struggled with the decision to contact their guests, but considering they were talking about a bar bill of approximately $3,500 for 100 people, how can anyone blame them for not wanting to pay for a caterer's or bartender's mistake? -- NO LONGER RIPPED OFF IN ATLANTA

DEAR NO LONGER RIPPED OFF: While I agree with you, it was clear from the signature ("Appalled") that the writer was very put off by the host's request. Personally, I always double-check my bills, because they sometimes contain errors. And darn it, I have yet to see one that's in my favor.

Dear Abby is written by Pauline Phillips and daughter Jeanne Phillips.

Good advice for everyone -- teens to seniors -- is in "The Anger in All of Us and How to Deal With It." To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby, Anger Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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