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Friday 30th April 2004

Occasionally when I am in Pizza Express and ordering a Veneziana (which is quite rare, now that I am no longer a vegetarian - but the pine nuts more than make up for the lack of dead animal) I like to cause a bit of trouble.
If you are au fait with the Pizza Express menu you will know that next to the description of the Veneziana it says in brackets, something along the lines of "A discretionary charge of 25 pence from the cost of this pizza will be donated to the Venice in Peril Fund."
Now, there is a very pertinent word in that sentence, which is "discretionary", which means it is up to me whether that money goes to the Venice in Peril Fund or not. What if I want Venice to be in peril? What if I don't care if the beautiful architecture of the city falls into the sea and all its inhabitants either drown or evolve into mermen? What if I actually want it to happen, just to see if my merman theory might come true?
So I like to say to the waiter, "I'd like a Veneziana pizza, please, but I don't want to give the 25p to the Venice in Peril fund. I want that discretional charge taken off my bill. I hate Venice and I don't see why I should have to pay to help it, just because I like pine nuts."
The first time I did this the waiter was very confused and went to check with his boss and then said he couldn't do it, because there was no facility to do this on the till. I said that if that was the case, maybe they should take the word "discretionary" off the menu, possibly adding something along the lines of "so, if you want Venice to sink into the sea, to find out if its inhabitants will drown or evolve into merman, then please order a different pizza. Remember you can always add pine-nuts to any of our existing pizzas, or if you like you can order a margharita, and then just add all the additional toppings that are on a Veneziana. You will then get a pizza that is identical to a Veneziana, but you will not have to contribute any money to some people who were stupid enough to build their city on water and are now complaining that it's getting a bit wet. This will cost you considerably more than a Veneziana, but sometimes it is the principle of the thing that is more important."
They should definitely put that on the menu. In fact next time I am in I am going to suggest it.
Tonight I tried my usual funny trick again, to impress my date and make her laugh. Going to Pizza Express wasn't the date (although it is a good date), we were going on to a celebrity fancy dress party. So I was dressed up as a World War Two RAF officer, which gives my complaint an additional and strange twist.
But possibly because he thought I was in the RAF or possibly because he was such a good waiter, this time the man who took my order was not thrown by my request for a Veneziana, but no contribution to the ridiculous Venice fund. In fact, he agreed with me: it did clearly say "discretionary" after all. "I'll go and talk to the manager," he said.
He came back a few moments later with the same problem with the till, but said that he'd had it out with the manager and they'd agreed that I was within my rights and should be re-imbursed my 25 pence from a little jar they keep to balance up the till at the end of the night. And he handed me my money there and then.
I was very impressed with this at the time. The waiter had been very cool and whilst appreciating my funniness had managed to go on and be more funny and more impressive than me. There was a danger that my date would go off with him. He could take my place at the party. He could go dressed as a waiter.
But in hindsight I realised that his solution was not adequate. Because the reason I wanted my money back was not out of greed, but because I wanted to deprive Venice of the vital 25p that might keep it afloat. So even though I had got 25p back, the supposedly discretionary 25p would still be going to the hubristic Venicians. I had merely taken 25p away from Pizza Express, which is not something I want to do. I don't want Pizza Express to go out of business because of Venice. Pizza Express is much better than Venice. But then you know how much I love pizza.
I may have to write to Pizza Express and insist that they put a button on all their tills which will allow the "discretionary" 25p to be taken off the bill of the people who hate Venice and all that it (barely) stands for.

Still, I hadn't thought of that then and I admired the waiter for his championing of all that is true and right, so when the bill came I gave him a nice tip on the credit card receipt. And as an extra special appreciation of his service I left him twenty of the twenty-five pence to spend on whatever he wanted. I kept 5 pence for myself, as I think I was more than entitled to it, but decided to leave it in the pocket of my RAF uniform for the next person who hired it from the shop. If they chose to give that money to the Venice in Peril fund then that is up to them.

Next time you are in Pizza Express order a Veneziana and make the same points as me, and if they give you money back tell them that is not good enough and that you want a guarantee that your money will not be going to Venice. Insist they adapt their tills. Or at the very least cross out the word "discretionary" on all their menus and then add my suggested text. Refuse to leave the premises if necessary. It is time for this madness to stop.

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