A British tourist has dubbed a Venice restaurant “horrible and disgusting” after being charged €526 (£463) for lunch.
The tourist from Birmingham – who The Independent is not naming at his request – ate with his parents at Trattoria Casanova in the central San Marco district, ordering a spread of food and sharing it between them. But they had a nasty surprise when the bill came.
The family started the meal with a plate of oysters – 20 of them, charged at €5.50 each – then shared a plate of squid ink spaghetti (€14.50), with sides of chips (€5.50) and grilled vegetables (€7.50).
They were then brought a “pescato misto” (mixed grilled fish) – an astonishing platter of 3.5kg of fresh fish, including lobster, scampi and seabass at a cost of €297.
The tourist told The Independent that they did not order the oysters, and questioned it at the time but their concerns were brushed off.
He admits ordering the grilled fish, but said: "I ordered it by pointing at a picture, which showed only one portion without any name or price on it. The picture was on the first page of the menu.
"I have to admit it is my fault that I did not check the price, but I did not expect one and a half lobsters together with other fish that would cost us €300."
He says that when he questioned the bill, he was told this was what they had ordered. None of the family speak Italian.
Incensed, he has now written a letter of complaint to Venice mayor Luigi Brugnaro. “I’m not expecting a refund,” reads his letter. “But I would like to draw your attention to a kind of behaviour that risks ruining Venice’s reputation.
"They took advantage of the fact that we didn't speak Italian."
He told The Independent that he considered going to the police at the time but they had a flight to catch, and he was concerned for his 70-year-old father's health. "He has high blood pressure and a heart problem, I couldn't risk making the situation worse."
Trattoria Casanova is one of countless restaurants clamouring for business on the main tourist route between Piazza San Marco and Santa Maria Formosa. The British family aren’t the only diners to be angry with the prices – of 534 TripAdvisor ratings, 289 are “terrible”, 78 are “poor” and just 51 are “excellent”, with clients complaining about a lack of clear pricing, dishes that suddenly become much more expensive, and poor service. One writes that a piece of fish was charged at €168. “They ruined a beautiful day in Venice,” wrote an Italian reviewer last week.
In Italian restaurants, fresh fish and meat is often charged by weight, not by dish price – which often leads to confusion with menus.
The restaurant has defended itself against the family's accusations. “They ate 3.5kg of fish between three of them, in a San Marco restaurant with 14 waiters that has been renovated, has plasma TVs, clear pricing and such high standards of cleanliness that the NAS (health inspectors) came round the other day and complimented us,” the owners, who have two other restaurants in Venice, told the Corriere del Veneto.
“And they want to talk about the fact that a plate of spaghetti costs €14.50, a bottle of cabernet €26.50 and the cover charge is just €1.50 a head?”
They called the bad reviews a “mystery” and said about the British family, “Obviously, if you say you’re hungry, the waiter will suggest the more expensive dishes.”
This isn’t the first accusation of bait-and-switch by restaurants in Venice. Last week. a Japanese couple were charged €120 for a plate of spaghetti with lobster, when they had expected it to be €8. The owners of the restaurant in the Strada Nova told reporters that the plate costs €8 per 100g.
Indeed, the tourists’ picture of the receipt and menu together shows that “price for 100gr” is written in small print beside the €8. It is unclear, however, whether they were given 1.5kg of lobster to eat. Their bill was reduced by 40 per cent after some locals stepped in to help.
The Birmingham tourist told The Independent that he will never go back to Venice. "I don't even want to think about Venice again," he said.
The mayor’s office has yet to comment on the affair.
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