Europe Travel

Friday, May 21, 2010

How to avoid rip-offers in tourist restaurant

We know that if we choose to eat in St Mark’s Square in Venice, close to Leicester Square in London or Times Square in New York, or along the Champs Elysees in Paris, we will be paying over the odds for the pleasure. For some the experience of sharing a meal in these famous locations is worthy of the premium...

If you do choose to indulge in this way there are some simple things to remember to protect yourself from paying too much. Here are a few tips to keep aware when eating in a tourist hotspot, and I’m sure there are plenty of tricks that others can add.

Tourist menu rip-offs
Beware the tourist menu, posted on the board outside and usually with an attractive headline price. Often the dishes look the same as on the a la carte menu, and the tourist menu price can seem a big saving on the individual dishes. When you order the meal from the tourist menu, the portions are typically smaller; the cuts of meat are often cheaper; and you get less accompanying fries or vegetables.

As a rule, if it’s cheaper there’s usually a good reason.
If a restaurant has a buffet and you fancy a la carte instead, check with the staff that you’re not automatically paying for the buffet. We had an unpleasant end to a meal in Key West where we declined the $45 buffet having eaten earlier and opted for a lighter meal.

When we pointed out the extra $90 on our bill the waiter refused to remove it, saying that the buffet was compulsory for all diners. Only the intervention of the manager solved the problem in our favour, and the waiter lost his tip for providing us with such a memorable ending to our meal.

Purchasing drinks advice
If you want tap water and it’s safe to drink, ask for it. In almost every country there is an obligation to provide it, however much the waiter might push you towards a bottle of the same stuff. If there is a sealed bottle of water placed on the table, expect to be charged for it, sometimes even if you don’t touch it.

This has happened to us and was only removed from the bill on protest. If ordering soft drinks, ask them to go easy on the ice. A common trick is to fill the glass with ice cubes leaving room for a tiny amount of soft drink, for which you’ll pay a hefty price. Less ice = more drink for your money.

Check the bill for extras
It’s often only when you ask for the bill that you see the extras that are added on. I was given a bill for €10 for two €1 soft drinks recently, because the waiter put a plate of nuts and a bottle of water on the table that we didn’t touch and added service and cover charges. If something gets put on your table that you don’t want (bread, olives, and nuts), tell the waiter and ask him to remove it; otherwise expect to pay for it.

Always check the bill carefully; don’t be shy about questioning any items that you’re not sure about. The mysterious cover charge, water, bread, various taxes, service charges (sometimes separately added for waiters and chefs), and even a space to add more at your discretion: I’ve seen all of these included on a bill in various combinations.

That $30 meal is suddenly closer to $50. If you’re vigilant and ask the questions, ‘mistakes’ are often quickly corrected. In a Bucharest restaurant I reduced a bill by 50% by sending it back three times to remove mysterious items that shouldn’t have been there.

Be on your guard in restaurants
By the very nature of a tourist restaurant the expectation is that you will only visit once. So it’s perhaps understandable that the management will focus on getting every extra cent from their customers, rather than trying to attract repeat business through quality service and food. If you choose to eat in such a place, it pays to be on your guard.


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