Scam for Lunch?
by Paul Miazga
I hate being taken for a fool, or certainly being charged ridiculous sums for things. Kyiv still has its share of wallet scams, taxi drivers who will work with local girls to pilfer unsuspecting men of extra cash on a simple cab ride home and even bad cops who take advantage of foreigners, especially illegal immigrants. But what gets me is restaurants that charge for simple little extras and try to explain it away as if nothing were amiss.
Take last week, while I was visiting John Bull Pub, an English-style eatery near my work on Saksahanskoho. I came in, ordered the business lunch and was asked if I wanted bread and a drink. I agreed to both, answered a few more questions about what I’d like with the meal and then sat down to relax as the food arrived.
In addition to my drink and the food, I ordered a side of mayonnaise to go with the fries that came with the meal, and with a piece of pork schnitzel I also asked for a side of mustard since the meal didn’t come with any. All plates, including those with smidgeons of food left on them, disappeared with the seagulling waitresses circling nearby. When the bill came, I began to fume: business lunch – Hr 59 (it’s up there in terms of price, but no problem); bread – Hr 7 (no free bread with an expensive meal? Not enough to get upset about); drink – Hr 8 (a drink not included in the price of a business lunch?); sides of mayonnaise and mustard – Hr 10 each. When I saw the total of Hr 93, especially the waitress expecting me to pay more than a fifth of the total price of the meal for condiments, I nearly choked.
Quite a number of city restaurants love to overcharge for things like condiments or an extra cup of hot water (T.G.I. Friday’s and Double Coffee come to mind). But at John Bull Pub, rather than just pay and leave, I asked my waitress if this was a joke – charging me Hr 20 for two side orders of condiments? She said no. I told her that I’ve eaten in lots of expensive restaurants in Kyiv before but never had to pay so much for simple condiments. She said that was their policy. I told her point blank I thought that was a ridiculous excuse for overcharging someone, and though I asked to speak to the manager (who wasn’t in), the barman decided to intervene. He reprinted the bill, erasing the charge for one of the condiments and leaving me a whole lot happier. I even left a small tip, if you can imagine.
This happens everywhere in Kyiv, though not to quite this extent: foreigners are often expected to pay for sub-standard food knowing full well it’s the waitress who pays for any mistakes; wait staff using computerized point-of-sale systems try to tell patrons that bills can’t be separated or reprinted (this is completely false as I used to work as a waiter in my university days and know these systems inside and out); restaurant managers from major restaurant groups telling you that the birthday gift certificate for 30% off your meal on your birthday is not valid for their restaurant despite the restaurant being specifically named.
More and more these days, I find myself eating only in restaurants that I know are run by foreigners, whether by Chinese, Koreans, French, Italians, Georgians, Scots, the Irish or Indians. Diners, use your common sense in any Kyiv restaurant. If you’ve been somewhere and gotten good food and service, tell 10 friends. And, as the old adage goes, if you go somewhere and get rotten food and/or service, tell 100. So as for some of those foreign-looking places run by nefarious locals, remember: caveat emptor. Buyer beware!
“What’s a squirt of Kiev mayonnaise worth to you? Probably more than you’d think.” (www.justhungry.com)