When in Rome, diner pitfalls and joys to behold
In "Yoroppa Shokudo Ryoko" (Europe restaurant tour), a recent book by Tsuneyoshi Noji, there is a part that quotes a restaurant owner in Paris recounting a touching story.
A long time ago, an American couple came in and ordered the cheapest set meal on the menu. After they had finished, they paid and left a note that said that of all the meals they had eaten on their honeymoon, the one at that bistro was best.
About three decades later, a family of four came into the restaurant, ordered high-quality steaks and drained several bottles of champagne. As they paid the tab, the couple mentioned they had dined there on their honeymoon. Could it be the same couple, the owner wondered, and he showed them the note, which he had kept all those years. It brought tears to the couple's eyes. This is what the relationship between a restaurant and its customers should be.
The exact opposite was shown in the rip-off that occurred last month in Rome. A Japanese couple was charged about 94,000 yen for their lunch at a famous restaurant in the Italian capital and filed a complaint with police. Their bill included 28,000 yen for a plate of pasta and a tip of 16,000 yen--added to the bill without their consent.
With such exorbitant prices, how could anyone enjoy travel?
More drama ensued.
The restaurant, which has a history of 150 years, was ordered to suspend operations and the Italian tourism minister apologized to the couple, whom she invited back to Rome at the ministry's expense.
Apparently, the Italian government could not simply sit back and do nothing, given that the number of Japanese tourists has fallen by half from its peak in the 1990s.
Noji's book also quotes other Rome restaurant operators.
"Since Rome was a cosmopolitan city, it has accepted anyone and any culture," one said. "Customers who come to our restaurant are all like our family," remarked another.
In reality, however, today there are many businesses that routinely rip off tourists. Could it be because Rome has begun to rest on its laurels as a World Heritage site?
We like to eat out on special anniversaries not simply because we want to taste foods cooked by professionals. We also want to converse with friends and restaurateurs, enjoy the pleasant aromas wafting from the kitchen and listen to the murmur of other happy voices. The entire experience will eventually join our fondest memories.
A refund can in no way make up for the loss of such a priceless experience.
--The Asahi Shimbun, July 29(IHT/Asahi: July 30,2009)