A restaurant in Rome has found itself at the centre of a storm this week after charging a couple over €80 for a lunch that looked on paper like it should have been much more reasonable. According to a photo shared on Facebook, Caffe Vaticano in the heart of the Eternal City asked for the extortionate sum for a meal consisting of two hamburgers, three cups of coffee and, naturally, service. Unsurprisingly, the reaction has not been positive.
The image of the controversial receipt was shared by disgruntled holidaymaker Emma Cheppy, who posted it to social media with the caption, "VISITORS OF ROME BEWARE: Caffe Vaticano has been ripping off tourists for ages apparently. Just skip it and find another place to eat near the Vatican. There's tons!" Given that the hamburger cost more than six times the price of a local Big Mac, Cheppy was arguably more than justified in feeling a little cheated.
After sharing her experience online, Cheppy quickly came under scrutiny from some commentators, who questioned why she hadn’t realised how much her food was likely to cost before placing her order. However, as others have pointed out on review aggregator Trip Advisor, Caffe Vaticano do not actually display their prices on their menu, making the entire operation seem even more devious with hindsight.
However, after Cheppy’s receipt was seen around the internet, it seems as though the restaurant’s strategy may be about to backfire. In the days since, Caffe Vaticano’s Trip Advisor has been flooded with similarly negative experiences, with dozens of tourists writing in to voice their outrage. One of the top reviews from Australia states, “The food was average and the prices are double if not triple what you pay elsewhere is Rome (sic).” Another emphatically proclaimed, “Terrible customer service and rude people. No price on the menu, they decide what they want to charge looking to the person. Expensive and small portion of food. Never ever will go back there and definitely I don’t recomento to anyone (sic).”
Due to sympathy with Cheppy’s story, Trip Advisor was quickly overrun with poor reviews for Caffe Vaticano, with many posted by people who hadn’t even visited the restaurant. This forced the site to take action. In a message posted earlier this week, the company wrote, "Due to a recent event that has attracted media attention and has caused an influx of review submissions that do not describe a first-hand experience, we have temporarily suspended publishing new reviews for this listing. If you've had a firsthand experience at this property, please check back soon - we're looking forward to receiving your review!" There has been no word yet on when the embargo will be lifted.
Caffe Vaticano is not the first Italian restaurant to be accused of charging extortionate prices to tourists. Last January, a group of Japanese tourists in Venice were charged almost £1,000 for a meal of three steaks and fried fish at a restaurant with a 1.5 out of 5 Trip Advisor rating. While aggregators can’t tell you everything about a restaurant experience, stories like these prove that, in some cases, they are certainly worth checking.