Venice tourist rip-off: Cafe's €43 charge for two coffees, two waters

A cafe customer in Venice who was stunned when presented with a €43 ($67) bill for two coffees and two bottles of water has prompted a social media outcry.

Juan Carlos Bustamente, a 62-year-old political campaigner who lives in Italy, shared a photo of his receipt from Caffe Lavena in the notoriously pricy St Mark's Square on Facebook last week, where it was shared nearly 10,000 times and attracted worldwide media attention.

The steep bill was a result of the surcharge the famed eaterie collects from customers sat outside in what is regarded as the sunniest corner of the piazza, opposite the extravagant façade of St Mark's Basilica, where they can listen to the orchestras that play there.

A spokesman for Lavena pointed out that this extra fee is stated on the menu, and that a coffee at the bar inside costs just €1.25 ($1.95).

Bustamente, originally from Chile, wrote on Facebook: "I don't know what you think, but 43 euros for two coffees and two bottles of water!" Many commenters took his side on the matter, and plenty of recent TripAdvisor reviews have echoed his disdain.

One tourist wrote two weeks ago: "We naively didn't look at the menu before ordering water and coffee for a family of five. €78 ($121)!!! Including €11 ($17) per latte and €9 ($14) for a glass of milk for a three year old. Avoid at all costs."

Another stated: "$18 for a budweiser beer, $12 for a bottle of water!!" A reviewer this week surmised: "Positives: the view, the music, the Aperol spritz. Negatives: the price which suggests the plates are made of gold and the food would be Michelin star (spoiler: it's not)."

Others, however, have defended the cafe's policy on the review site - on which Lavena has an overall rating of three-and-a-half stars out of five - one arguing: "Lavena had great musicians, and waitstaff and drinks and desserts. People who complain about the price don't get it - you are paying for the seat - you can get a cappuccino and sit all day or all night if you want."

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Laverna has long been batting off complaints regarding its high-priced outside seating.

In 2013, after a group of customers took to Facebook with their (€95) £85 bill for four espresso coffees laced with liqueurs, prompting a similar furore, the café's then-manager Massimo Milanese, said: "The prices are there for everyone to see, there really is no doubt.

"It is for customers to decide whether they want to have a coffee standing up at the bar, or to sit down in the piazza.

"The cafe was established in 1750 so we are one of the most historic in Venice. It was patronised by Richard Wagner and many other famous people. It's part of the city's history."

However, with so many complaints from tourists over exorbitant pricing at restaurants in Venice, particularly in the St Mark's Square corner, the city's major vowed to step in and investigate this year.

In January, Luigi Brugnaro responded to the case of four Japanese tourists claiming to have been charged €1,100 (£970) for a plate of fried fish, four steaks and a bottle of wine at an unnamed restaurant close to St Mark's Square.

"If this disgraceful episode is confirmed, we'll do all we can to punish those responsible. We are for justice - always," he said.

Other similar incidents are numerous, but it seems likely that Venice's high prices, no doubt driven by sheer demand in the tourist-drowned city, are here to stay.

Telegraph Travel's destination expert Anne Hanley writes of another famous St Mark's Square restaurant, Caffe Florian: "These days, many choose to sit outside in the square but be aware: table service (already steep) carries a per-person 'music surcharge' when the band is playing. Head to the bar area at the back, with velvet stools and no table surcharge, for a ringside view of the barmens' Bellini-mixing skills."

She concludes: "Venice is a minefield of overpriced, tourist-trap restaurants offering depressingly mediocre food. Happily, there are some dazzling fine dining establishments and authentic local finds, for those in the know." 

The Telegraph, London

See also: The 11 biggest rip-offs in travel named (and how to avoid them)

See also: 'I just want to practise my English' - 14 classic travel scams you need to know about

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