A Fishy Experience?
A while back, a reader sent us the following e-mail:
"My wife and I recently had a wonderful vacation in
Venice, but I must warn all who visit this wonderful place of a bad experience that we
encountered on the island of Burano.
"We decided to eat about 2:45 in the afternoon.
After trying a couple of restaurants, we were told that it would be imposssible to serve
us since they were so crowded. We strolled down the main street, where a man beckoned us
to come in.
"He sat us at an outdoor table and said, 'If you
leave it to me, I will give you my best fish.' Being the trusting soul that I am, I said
"We were first given some rice, served in a
clamshell with about a teaspoonful of chopped fish, which this man said was his specialty,
We then had a dish each of clams in the shell. The main dish consisted of fish--one fish
shared by both of us--with about four black olives. The meal did not include wine or
"The bill [equal to U.S. $110], was the most I
ever paid in Rome, Florence, Milan or Venice. The name of this clip joint is Restaurant
Galuppi, Via B. Galuppi 468-470, 30012 Burano (VE) Italy. I saw this done to many people,
since--while we were sittting--no one saw a menu. The man later offered a drink after the
bill was paid. Please avoid this place, but do please enjoy Venice! All the other
restaurants were really great, and this was just a bad apple."
More recently, another visitor wrote:
We had the same experience as the person in your article. We paid 150 euro
for more or less the same history. The cook would prepare us a fish dinner for
a reasonable price. I fell more or less from my chair when I received the
The only difference was that this restaurant was recommended by a salesman
of the Vetrerie Riunite Colleoni Murano, a Murano glaswork that we visited
with a free watertaxi from our hotel (Locanda Ovidius).
Clearly, both readers felt scammed. And even
if the hefty bills were the result of a misunderstanding (as the restaurateur
might claim), they show the importance of requesting a menu before ordering.
Another caveat: You'll occasionally see a menu that
prices fish by the "market rate" or by the weight of the fish. This isn't
necessarily dishonest, since the price and size of fish can vary with the day's catch.
(It's worth noting that North American restaurants often use a similar pricing formula for
lobster.) Still, if you're worried about cost, ask for an estimate before ordering.
What to do when the bill seems too high
1. Be sure you're in the right.
Many tourists think they're being scammed when they see
a coperto or "cover charge" of a few thousand lire on the bill. (This
is a traditional charge in Italian restaurants, and it shouldn't be confused with a
service charge or tip. It's usually listed somewhere on the menu, and it's no more
dishonest than the North American practice of listing menu prices without the sales tax.)
2. Ask for
By law, an Italian restaurant must give you a written
bill. This can be anything from a scrawled list of prices to a neatly printed receipt from
a point-of-sale terminal. Even if it's the former, you should be able to check the bill's
accuracy with the waiter's help (or, better yet, from your own memory of what you
3. If you're still suspicious, ask for the manager.
Miscommunications occur, and waiters (like diners)
sometimes make mistakes. Give the manager a chance to straighten things out. After all, he
probably doesn't want a scene any more than you do.
4. Refuse to
pay, and call 167-355920 or 800 35 59 20.
The Tourist Board of Venice (Azienda di Promozione
Turistica) has toll-free numbers that you can call when all else fails. Here's a
passage from the board's "No Problem" brochure:
"Do you think that you overpaid
for the services you were furnished? Were you not treated with the correct professionality
and courtesy by your counterparts? Did you in any way encounter inefficiencies
or wrongful behavior?
"All you need do is call the Toll-Free
Number to allow the A.P.T. to help you solve your problem in a concrete manner,
intervening with the businesses or public institutions you have a complaint with, or, in
the most serious cases, referring to the competent Authorities.
"Thanks to 'Venezia no Problem,'
you may directly make advantage of our multi-lingual assistance within our jurisdictional
territory (Venice, Cavallino, Riviera of the Brenta Canal).
"When the office is closed, you
may lodge your complaint by furnishing the information which will be requested by a
You can also file a complaint with the tourist board in writing.
Mail your letter to:
Azienda di Promozione Turistica Venezia