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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 'OK.'

"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 dessert.

"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 bill.

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 an explanation.

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 ordered).

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 pre-recorded message."

You can also file a complaint with the tourist board in writing. Mail your letter to:

Azienda di Promozione Turistica Venezia
Castello, 4421
I-30122 Venezia
Italy

 

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