An Italian Cafe Outraged Customers By Charging a Fee for Being "Festive"

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Jan 5 2016, 10:00pm

Photo via Flickr user Yelp Inc.

New Year's Eve dining is something of a farce. All of a sudden, it seems every restaurant is pushing a $50+ tasting menu with an optional "Champagne Toast" add-on; more likely than not, you get roped into a massive group dinner during which the table is presented with a bunch of decidedly mediocre shared plates; and, after (nearly) everyone has stopped blowing their party horns, the table is presented with a bill the better half of a grand. Then comes splitting the check with your so-called "friends."

But you signed up for that. Now, imagine you're a reasonable Italian in Turin stopping for a routine caffeine hit on the final day of the year and you're blindsided with a pricey "festive charge" that essentially doubles the cost of your espresso. Keep in mind, this is a country where coffee is consumed at the counter of a local café as a morning ritual, a country in which coffee is so ingrained in the culture that the price of coffee was frozen for five years, and a country that is the very birthplace of the espresso drinks that are sold and mispronounced the world over.

But it happened, and Italians were outraged.

According to The Local, a Turin man went to the gelateria Menodiciotto and bought two espressos and two marochinnos, a northern Italian specialty made with a shot of espresso, milk froth, and cocoa powder that sounds ripe for cult coffee status here in the US. His bill totaled €14, €4 of which was billed as a "festive charge." At €1 per drink, that's about the cost of an espresso itself.

The man took to Facebook to decry the spurious surcharge, lamenting, "Since when does a 'festive' supplement exist in ice cream parlours?"

The support piled in, and it quickly grew serious and took to larger issues, with one commenter writing, "This is why tourism in Turin isn't taking off."

READ: This Restaurant Charged Its Customers for the Air They Were Breathing

Menodiciotto eventually responded. "The festive supplement, outlined on the menus and on a sign on the door, was the €1 increase in price for items bought on the evening of December 31st (from 8 PM onwards)."

And the café's manager, Marco Oliva, explained to La Stampa that the money was meant to supplement staff who worked on a holiday. "During the holidays, especially when we are open during evening hours, we pay our employees more money and so we thought the charge was necessary," he said.

The café did have its supporters, who said that other tourist-heavy cities are much more expensive than Turin. But data kept by the national statistics office Istat showed that Turin actually has the most expensive coffee in the entire country, with an espresso clocking in on average at €1.04 compared to the national average of €0.94.

And for tourists in major cities like Rome and Venice who feel that their gelatos and cappuccinos seem awfully pricey, past examples pointed to by The Local suggest that there could be something nefarious there, or that you should really pay attention to menu prices. In July 2014, two Americans were charged €42 for gelato at the end of dinner at a café near the tourist traffic-jam disaster that is Rome's Trevi Fountain. Compared to the roughly €3 they had been paying at other eateries, the price seemed obscene, but their waiter produced a menu showing they had in fact been given a deal, as the restaurant had waived the €2.50 a head cover.

And about a year earlier, a group of British tourists were invited back to Rome by Roman authorities to apologize for an incident in which the Brits were charged €64 for four gelatos.

But gelato is one thing—a treat. Espresso is the tarry black fuel of life. Perhaps the best thing to take from this whole fiasco is that there's no escaping the fact that it's 2016—so watch out for hidden fees. Happy New Year.