Carnival Survival Kit, Chapter 2: Eating in Venice
The law of supply and demand applies to all tourist hotspots, and not only to Venice. If you want to get food while sitting close to the Grand Canal or with a view on Piazza San Marco, you should not expect to spend less than in Piazza Navona (Rome) or similar places in Paris or London.
On average, however, eating in Venice is not more expensive than elsewhere, especially if you get out of the mainstream tourism flows, and can even be cheaper than average if you opt for the local tradition of
small fresh food, that you can also enjoy while standing rather than sitting in a traditional restaurant. Don’t confuse it with “fast food” because it is not: being made on the spot with products of the day, the quality of cicheti is often remarkable. They are normally served in places called “osteria” or “bacaro” but be aware that:
Golden rule n. 1: the name given (by the owner) to the place does not mean anything. The restaurant where four Japanese students were charged with a € 1,143 bill was named “osteria” (!) but the bill had nothing to do with its reassuring name.
Golden rule n. 2: Be smart and in case of doubt double-check Trip Advisor before making your choice. While it is definitely not an indicator of what is “the best in town”, it is a safe indicator on how to avoid the worst.
If you decide to fully enjoy the meal and take a seat in a restaurant (or whatever its name: locanda, trattoria or pizzeria) be aware that in Venice they are fully entitled to apply, on top of the prices and provided that they are properly disclosed in advance:
- coperto (cover charge): it is a fixed amount per person covering the table, the napkins, the chairs and bread or grissini (breadsticks).
- servizio (service): it is a percentage adding up to the total, it can be up to 12% and in the famous restaurant (the one which triggered this survival kit) it used to rocket at a 15% rate called “maggiorazione”.
Needless to say, there is no need for tipping where you have already paid for “coperto” and “servizio”, unless the service is so unique or outstanding that tipping is the best way to express your appreciation.
Several blogs can tell you how this works in practice:
When it is time for lunch or dinner, in Venice you will find plenty of choice but do not expect to find Venetian or even Italian food in every corner: in the area close to Piazza San Marco, for instance, most restaurant are owned by foreign communities and their food is just a pale imitation. Whatever your choice is, you might wish to consider the following tips.
Golden rule n. 3: good restaurants do not need to “reel you in”. If they pay a “buttadentro” outside the restaurant it is not a sign of quality.
Golden rule n. 4: pictures of the food on the menu? Most of the time it is frozen food.
Golden rule n. 5: Ask for a printed menu, this is mandatory under Italian law. If you are being suggested a special “fish of the day” which is not on the menu, ask for the price in advance and bear in mind:
Golden rule n. 6: ask whether it is a fixed price or “by the pound”: if the fish is actually fresh, you will pay by weight, not by portion. While this might be an acceptable rule for fish served as “main course”, some restaurants seem to apply the concept even to pasta “all’astice” o “alle vongole” or “risotto di mare” (irrespective of whether the seafood is fresh). Apart from the fact that you will not be able to check the actual weight, this sounds like a joke to any Italian customer: the “primi piatti” in Italy should have a fixed price; if this is not the case, run away before having to argue or lodge a complaint about the bill.
“Cowboys” can be found in all tourism destinations, don’t be their “milk cow”. They are a minority but should not be left unpunished because (if unpunished) they can destroy the reputation of such destinations, on top of spoiling your holiday.
This survival kit is aimed at making your stay pleasant, rather than spending your time in the local Police station or arguing about the bill.
If you have serious reasons to argue about the bill or any other commercial practice, the telephone number of the Venice Police for this kind of complaints is:
Copyright and credits:
Corriere della Sera (for the article)
Alessandro Toso Fei – Etra Comunicazione (for the logo)
Marco Gasparinetti – Gruppo25Aprile (for the text)
The text can be used free of charge by whoever finds it useful, as long as the source is quoted.