The hidden restaurant charge

By | Category: Travel rumblings

Irate

© Dan Sperrin

You wander around looking at restaurant menus, pricing the different plat de jours and decide on one. But when the bill comes you find it is more than you calculated. Why?
The ubiquitous cover charge that many restaurants charge on top. This can add an extra €2-3 per person.
It is irritating when it comes on the bill and you pore over it thinking what did I eat or drink that cost that. Then the waiter points out what it is. What’s your reaction?
I’ve seen some people decide there and then that the cover charge is a form of disguised tip and have decided to add nothing to the bill. Sometimes good service is forgotten at the annoyance of seeing this addition to the bill.
In At Mark’s Square in Venice last week, one nameless restaurant was charging a cover charge of €5.80 plus, if you sat down, a further €5.80 to listen to the music! The fact that you could hear the music half way across the square in the evening stillness shows how tourists can be milked. For the seven of us that would have amounted to an additional €81.20 before we had even ordered.
It is all the more irritating when you were not made aware of this when you first studied the menu. It is often in small print at the bottom of the menu. In some places you are only aware of it in a city because some places carry signs in the window saying “No cover charge.”
And what does it really – excuse the pun – cover? The laundering of the tablecloth and the washing of the dishes? The cost of the “free” bread or olives that is placed on the table to while away the time as you wait for the food to come?
No, it is nothing more than the restaurant equivalent of the hidden charges that raises so much ire amongst airline passengers. There, mounting passenger anger has made the European Commission pass legislation demanding that airlines be up front about charges. Has not the time come when restaurants should do the same and include their cover charges in the menu prices or ban them completely? And if the meal of the day is €10 euros or whatever, that is what you pay and not €12 or €13.

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