I don't really understand people who run restaurants or cafes (or any shop/attrraction) in tourist locations and who provide an expensive and/or shitty service in order to rip people off. I know that it must be tempting to make loads of money from people relaxing and keen to spend cash, but surely you'd do well enough (and probably better) if you made sure your service was a good one. If I find a fairly priced restaurant with tasty food on holiday then I am likely to return there and also recommend it to other people. If I am ripped off or the food is shit or the service grumpy then I am even more likely to warn people to avoid it.
Sure if you've got a good location you might get away with being rubbish in a market that has thousands of new customers a week. But why not try and do it well? It seems odd to me and like very bad business.
Tonight I was placed in a few very odd situations and a bit of a moral maze after selecting a beach front restaurant in Maiori. We were greeted warmly and given a good table right by the beach. The place looked cheap and cheerful, but we were only looking for a basic main course and a bottle of wine and not looking to spend lots, so that suited us. Our waiter turned out to be incredibly surly though. Not in an amusing way, just in a, "Why have you been employed by anyone and what has pissed you off?" sort of way. He didn't hide his contempt for us or his boredom at his job, which seemed counter-productive. I've done jobs like this and I know that it's not much fun and can be a pain in the arse, but as you're heavily reliant on tips then it's in your interests to hide your disdain. My wife ordered ravioli and he sneered sarcastically and with barely concealed delight, "Oh sorry, there is no more ravioli." This seemed odd. This is a restaurant, largely serving pasta, which presumably they make on the premises so surely they could make some more. And if they're out of ravioli then they're pretty much out of all pasta. But I ordered spaghetti, which was still on the menu. The waiter suggested lasagne or carbonara, suppressing laughter as he did so, as if making a judgement on our hack choices of food at an Italian restaurant. "Why not just have the most obvious possible thing?" he seemed to be chortling. We ignored it. We were having a nice time and my wife didn't mind ordering something else.
But when the waiter delivered the food he was still laughing, which is never a great sign in a restaurant as you wonder what unexpected additions might have come with your meal (come being the operative word). And though my spaghetti and clams was perfectly acceptable, my wife's tagliatelli was a bit cold and uninspiring. We weren't in the mood to complain. We were really no trouble at all.
But at the end of the meal we saw another waiter arrive at a neighbouring table, where two people who had ordered as we were receiving our food were sitting and he charmingly and politely presented the dishes, describing what they were. And one of them was ravioli. So, of course, they did have ravioli. Why had the waiter said they hadn't? Was that what he was finding so amusing? The amazing trick he'd played on us. I was minded to ask them what the hell was going on, but decided instead (in a move that is very unlike me) that I would simply leave no tip for the rude and lying waiter. It seemed to be what he was gunning for.
The bill arrived and I put down a 50 euro bill in the wallet to pay for it, but waited for my change. I was still internally debating whether I was going to ask why we had been lied to. The bill wallet came back and bizarrely the 50 euro note was still inside it. This was something that has never happened to me before and was a bit confusing. Had they just made a mistake and brought back my money before it had been rung through the till or was this in some way an apology? Or was this part of the joke? Had the waited been laughing because he knew he wasn't going to charge us for our food. Like a modern day Robin Hood. But stealing from crappy restaurants to give to affluent holiday-makers.
I presume it was an error, but I was so annoyed by the weird service that I was keen not to point out what had happened. My wife, though cross about the ravioli lie, was insistent that we had to come clean and I reluctantly agreed. But as I took the bill wallet and the 50 euros up to the till and received a cursory thanks from the waiter something inside me snapped and I decided that fuck it, we'd been treated badly and the food had been 50% rubbish and whilst my intention had been not to tip, I was going to take the opportunity not to pay at all. It was their mistake and I could plead ignorance as I had done all the things that I was supposed to do. And I was also not completely sure that our money hadn't been returned out of embarrassment. But in that moment I made the decision to leave. We had stolen some bad pasta and a bottle of wine.But I know for sure that I would never have dreamed of keeping the money if the service had been good or even adequate. I always tip, even when people have been rubbish. But this was a different level and it felt sort of good to walk away from this as a semi-victor
It was, as I said, a moral maze. I think I did the wrong thing, but I am still kind of glad that I did. The way we were treated was not really excusable and the manager of the place needs to think about the food he's serving up and the staff he is employing. If only because they are stupid enough to give people their money back at the end of the evening.