UPDATED: December 27th 2013
This blog post was originally published back in April 2011, and I thought it was time for an update since the growing nefarious trend of Sevilla tapas bars charging for bread and “service” continues to grow.
It started off small a few years ago, say charging 50 cents for your typical dried-out pre-sliced vienna with a tiny package of picos. More often these days it’s become a 1 euro charge for a small basket of bread, though recently many bars have taken to charging PER PERSON for bread, which amounts to the same as a service charge. The other day I was charged 5€ for a handful of olives, three slices of bread and a packet of picos because there were five people in my group. Scandalous.
What really irks is stopping off somewhere for a quick tapa and a beer and then finding out that I’ve been charged an extra 1.50€ for a basket of bread, especially when I hadn’t ordered bread and only nibbled on a couple of picos or used a small chunk of bread to soak up a bit of sauce, and then later I see this bread being “recycled”… ewwww.
Bar owners I’ve spoken to like to think that this is somehow a personal issue of mine and say they never hear complaints from anyone else. Well, I hear plenty of complaints from all kinds of people, including other more scrupulous bar owners. It’s not just the unpleasant surprise when you get your bill, this practice actually theatens the entire tradition of tapas bars. Imagine going on a tapeo with four or five friends, visiting several bars in an evening, something that is very common here, and at every stop you get charged an extra 4-6€ for bread or “service”. At the end of the night you’ve paid up to an extra 20-25€ or more… for nothing.
I also hear the arguments that “everyone else is doing it” and “food and drink costs a lot more in other countries”, the first argument being pathetic and the second? That’s kind of the point. Spain is not other countries. You can’t compare eating out in Sevilla to eating out in New York. At least not yet. Is that really what bar owners here want?
I have no problem when the menu clearly lists items like bread and olives and the price for each (usually 1€). I can decide if I really feel like spending extra for those items and if I order them then of course I am happy to pay. But when these items are brought to the table without being asked for, usually before you’ve had time to even look at the menu, then one naturally assumes that they are compliments of the house. In fact, bars are not allowed to charge for any items brought to the table that haven’t been ordered by the client. Likewise, they are not allowed to charge any sort of “service” charge. So if this happens to you at a bar then you are not obliged to pay.
What does this “service” charge even mean? Most visitors from the UK would assume this means it’s the tip for the waiters, which here it isn’t. The wait staff see none of this. So bars who charge for “service” are actually doing their staff a disservice as they will end up getting fewer tips. One restaurant owner recently told me that the “cubierto” charge was not only for bread but also because he uses cloth napkins which cost more than paper ones. I mean, what next? Extra charges for turning on the air-conditioning in summer? For putting toilet paper in the loos? Imagine how much extra bars could make by charging to use the toilets! Really the opportunities for getting something for nothing are endless. Seriously though, what happened to trying to offer something more or something different to attract more customers, being innovative, instead of suddenly charging for things that have always been included as part of regular service? Five years ago there were no bread or service charges in tapas bars. In my opinion people are getting too greedy and lazy.
I say that tapas bars and restaurants should factor in these fixed costs as they are clearly a part of their day-to-day operating expenses and thus should be easy to figure out. Tacking on extra charges like this just feels, well, tacky. What do you think?
From Official Rules and Obligations for Bars, Restaurants and Cafeterias
“Los servicios no solicitados no se pueden cobrar. Tampoco se pueden cobrar conceptos como, por ejemplo, reservas, cubierto o mesa.”
“Neither unasked-for services nor such things as reservations, cover or table charges, can be charged for.”