How to avoid being ripped off in restaurants
I’m sorry we have being absent on the site for a while. In fact, we are still working, more than ever, on our guide. We have already paginated four chapters, and two more are being translated (from Italian to English). We really hope that by January or February we will have at least a finished demo, if not the whole book.
Anyway, getting back to the subject of the day, I would like to talk about how to protect yourself from being ripped off in Italian (not just Venetian) restaurants and cafes. We talk about this also in a chapter of our guide, but we will gladly share our best advises to all of you.
A disclaimer: we’re not trying to make terrorism here and scare you off our restaurants. Obviously in any touristic destination, all over the world, you have to be careful for tourist traps. Sometimes it’s not that easy and even if you read reviews on sites like TripAdvisor, you might find opposite opinions.
1. Finding the right place
Like everywhere else, you’re less likely to be ripped off if you stay away from the most touristic areas of the city, like Piazza San Marco or Rialto. We’re not saying that all the restaurants and cafes in those areas misbehave, we’re just saying that the odds of finding the good ones are lower.
The best (while still easy to find) places where to eat, in my opinion, are on the B-Side of Venice, which means Dorsoduro and Zattere. There are excellent osterie and trattorie here, ranging from medium-low prices to medium-high, depending on what you’re looking for.
2. Choosing the right things from the menu
This clearly depends a lot on your taste and how hungry you are, but there are some general rules you can follow.
- Avoid frozen dishes or ingredients. These are marked by asterisks on the menu. They’re not necessarily bad dishes, but the ingredients may be off-season, or they could be pre-prepared meals the restaurant just bought as they serve.
- Avoid baked fish or any other dish that you pay by the weight. In this case, you might even get good food, but the danger of getting a bill much higher than you expected is real.
- Don’t give freedom to the waiters to bring you whatever they want. In good restaurants waiters are an excellent way to find out the local best dishes. In tourist traps they can be very dangerous if you let them bring you the quantities they want. Just to be sure, better specify.
3. The right drinks
Let’s say you want some wine, the waiter may or may not brink you a special wine list, but all the wines come in bottles and are quite expensive. What do you do?
Well, not many people know that most restaurants also have “local wine” that comes in jugs. It’s called “vino della casa” (or “house wine”), it can be white or red and you can ask for the quantity you need like – 1/4 liters, – half a liter or a liter. It’s like a draft beer, but with wine.
Yes, it may not be top of the list wine, but it’s usually quite good, and to be honest it’s still better than any wine that I’ve drank outside Italy.
4. To tip or not to tip
In Italy we don’t usually tip or we tip from 1 to 5 euros. It’s very uncommon to give more than 5€ tip, and personally this is my record. Besides, many touristic restaurants in Venice already include a % for the service in the bill. In this case you don’t need to tip anything more.
5. What’s a “coperto” or cover charge
It’s not a disease, and it’s really not that bad, cause it exists in all Italian restaurants, not just in the touristic ones. It’s a sum every person has to pay, usually from 1 to 5€ and it covers bread, tap water, olive oil, etc.. Don’t be scared about it.
By law, it has to be written on the menu, usually on the last page.
6. Carefully read the bill
This may sound obvious but trust me, it’s not. Read carefully your bill and make sure that there are only the things you asked. Mistakes happen, misincomprehensions too. If you have doubts, asked to your waiter, they have to explain.
7. Do not sit down in a cafe
Unless you’re really tired, you should avoid sitting down in a cafe. In normal Italian cities (not touristic ones) you could, but in touristic cities a different price is applied to things if you have them while sitting down, rather than at the counter . All locals drink their cafe at the counter, and the reason is that the price can raise from the standard 1€ to 5€ or even more.
At bars, you can also ask for tap water, it’s free.
That’s it guys! Again, I don’t mean to scare you off. I just want to protect you from having bad experiences. I believe than a single bad experience, may or may not be for misunderstandings with the local restaurant, can ruin your day or even the whole holiday. So… better be safe than sorry!
Besides, there are LOTS of good cafes and restaurants in Venice, you’re in Italy on holiday, and a critical part of the experience is enjoying our wine and food, which you can’t do if you end up in a lousy touristic place.