The rudest restaurateur in Rome

My latest Italy guidebook was published last week. I covered Florence and half of Rome for Frommer’s EasyGuide to Rome, Florence & Venice 2014. Seeing the book reminded me of a night, last May, when I went to hunt down a restaurant I had wanted to eat in for a while. I fully intended to list it in the guide, if the quality was up to its rep. But the evening didn’t turn out quite how I expected.

It wasn’t a great start: I had booked for 9, and was running behind. I called ahead to let them know I’d be 10 minutes late.

“No problem,” a cheerful, slightly frazzled voice replied.

When I arrived at 9.10, I was met with a request to wait “cinque minuti,” 5 minutes. The waiter pointed at a chair and I sat.

And I carried on sitting. Nobody offered me a drink, or an appetiser, or even the menu so I could plan ahead. The place was charming; it looked like it had been plucked from central casting’s “Italian trattoria” section, and was half-empty. I couldn’t fathom why I couldn’t just eat where I was sitting. But, no, these tables were reserved. After 15 minutes, someone led me downstairs to another table and handed me a menu. No apology. No explanation.

It would get worse.

Not the food, though. That was great, well cooked and served with a smile. The only sign of what was to follow was a snippet of conversation I overheard between a waiter and some Americans at a nearby table. “Was the tip included?” one of them asked, in English. “No,” came the reply. The menu, I had noticed, clearly indicated a €2 “pane e servizio” charge added to the bill. This is the point where I normally jump in, but it was late and I was hungry. I passed, I’m afraid. So perhaps what happened next was karma.

The trouble began when I came to pay. I offered my credit card to the duty manager.

“No credit card,” she said.

“But the Americans at the next table… they paid with a credit card,” I said.

“Minimum €30.”

I asked where it was written—on the menu, on the door—that cards were only accepted with a minimum €30 spend. “It doesn’t have to be written.”

So, I paid cash and continued to chat, a little frostily but fairly amicably. Then I mentioned I’d paid at several places that week with my Visa card; €10 here, €16 there, without a problem. It comes with the territory when you travel alone on a guidebook job. Not every meal—heck, not many meals—top €30.

She grumbled about credit card charges, and I sympathised. I noticed those “reserved” tables from earlier, still unoccupied.

“You really should write something in the window,” I suggested. “Let diners know that there is a minimum spend of €30 to use plastic.”

The answer: “Di solito non conviene che la gente spende solo €18.” Translation: usually it’s not suitable that diners only spend €18.

I was a bit taken aback. It’s the natural state of an urban dweller to be brusque, and Romans are no different. I quite like their style, in fact. But that was plain unpleasant. My €18 had bought a bottle of water, a bowl of pasta, a glass of Tuscan red wine, pane e servizio. Not exactly cheap, especially as I was a little away from the tourist heart of the city.

My Italian just about held up: “Meglio che non vengo la prossima volta,” I offered. Better I don’t come next time, then?

“Yes,” she said.

And that was that. That’ll be me and the several million monthly visitors at Frommers.com, too, I guess. I didn’t say that last bit. I didn’t tell her I was on assignment. I almost never do. People who read my guidebooks won’t get the journalist treatment, after all. They’ll get treated like that.

I won’t name the place. I can prove I was there—I have the receipt—but I can’t prove the night panned out in the way I tell it. As it happens, the signature dish was very good. I would have happily recommended the place in my new Italy guidebook. But I didn’t, and I never will. And I’ll be sending them a link to this post to let them know why.

5 Comments

  1. Anonymous February 1, 2014 at 8:55 am #

    This is the problem with reviewers… They think they are gods… You didn’t get sucked up to so you take your revenge by depriving guide readers the chance of some great food. This is why no one should trust commercial guides because they are loyal firstly to themselves and someone like you gets all uptight and quite likely discourteous telling them how to run their restaurant. It’s rude and you probably weren’t but you have the option to punish them…well done, maybe it’ll harm their business, good work there… And you even admit the look and food was great and now well never know. Cover charge 2 euro is not service charge. Here’s a clue, it s not about you…and your ego shouldn’t get in the way of a review….. And yes, I expect their version of your manners is different.

  2. Donald Strachan February 1, 2014 at 10:31 am #

    I’m not going to trawl over the ways in which your comment is misguided. You’re entitled to an opinion. It’s a wrong opinion, but I get the feeling you ain’t going to change it.

    Thanks anyway for stopping by and reading.

  3. Anonymous February 1, 2014 at 2:10 pm #

    So you’re showing me the same contempt that you showed the restaurant…. I’ll file this under “I’m right, you’re wrong but my argument’s so feeble that I’m not man enough to out it for scrutiny…..”. By the way, I’m a secret blog reviewer and I’m not going to rate or review you now because I’m really important and you didn’t treat me with enough respect and made typos even though the layout of your blog was nice and the content nice (surely paramount). I’m important. I rule. You don’t mess with me… Seriously Donald, were you bullied as a child? Low self-confidence…?

    Ooh, I feel so powerful…..

  4. Anonymous February 1, 2014 at 2:14 pm #

    Oh, and 18 euros for pasta, water, wine etc. sounds like excellent value. Have you ever actually run a restaurant or studied the maths? Before tax, that’s about US$11. Sounds lime great value seeing as wine alone is typically €8+

  5. Anonymous February 1, 2014 at 2:25 pm #

    Oh, and (sorry, I’ll try to shut up after this) you really think she was the RUDEST ? You need to get out more!

Leave a Reply