This is the other side of the medal, as they say in France, of those little old style Parisian cafés.
Nothing really illegal, but sometimes they bend the rules to the point that unsaavy tourists end up paying fat bills.
More light on this:
- Most cafés have a clear menu on each table, with all items and prices clearly displayed.
But others will only bring you a printed menu upon request. In some cases they assume that you
don’t need the menu for simple orders (coffee, drinks) and that’s precisely where they
get you. Your bill will show fantasy prices based upon the look of your clothes.
- The “riskier” areas are the famous Paris hop on hop off bus tourist spots: Ile de la Cité (around Notre Dame), Saint Michel, Saint Germain, the restaurants area around Les Halles/Chatelet.
-“Would you like some X with that?” is a typical strategy to sell you more without telling you
it’s more expensive, sometimes by a lot. Adding milk to coffee can add 1-2 euros.
Adding a side salad to a steak can add 4-6 euros to the bill.
- Serving a larger size than requested is quite typical, especially when hiding behind
linguistic incomprehension (sometimes faked). For example draught beers: the standard serving
is called “Démi” and it’s about 20cl. The larger option is called “Serieux” and is around 40cl, roughly the same as a British “pint”. Well, if you just ask for “a beer” without being specific, chances are you’ll get a pint, or even sometimes one full litre. For coffee: the default size for
coffee is a small cup, but don’t be surprised if you get a large bowl. A generic “café creme” order
will get you a large bowl unless you specify “petit” or “noisette”.
- Filling a glass with ice cubes: although some Americans expect to get lots of ice and in fact
are disappointed when this does not happen, the truth is that ice is cheaper than drinks so
more ice means less juice or soda for the same price. Sometimes they will even dilute the beer with water.
- Serving unbranded sodas by the glass instead of more expensive branded bottle sodas.
A “Coke” or “Pepsi” might sell for 5 euros but what you get is a glass of generic sparkling cola
bought at 10 cents a bottle.
- Serving by glass instead of bottles or cans can also help serve “more”, as typical bottles or
cans contain 33cl but glasses can go up to 50cl.
- Claims that some items are not served “a la terrasse”, i.e. outside, unless there is a minimum
- Stay alert wherever you see waiters inviting you to enter, large welcoming signs written
in multiple languages, and the mother of all signs: national flags of many different countries.
The good news – thanks to customer review mobile apps like Qype, TellMeWhere, or even Foursquare, you can now check guests’ comments on the spot (make sure you’ve got a local mobile data service or wifi, or your roaming charges might be even more expensive than a large diluted beer).
And if you feel like you’ve been cheated, write down the name of the café and remember to post an appropriate comment when you get home.