“You’re welcome but you have to spend,” Mayor Luigi Brugnaro told tourists after a series of incidents in which foreigners claimed they were ripped off at restaurants in the centre of Venice.
He called a British family who said they were recently charged more than €500 for lunch near St Mark’s Square “cheapskates” for disputing the bill.
“What they paid was fair,” Brugnaro told Sky TG24 when asked about the story, which came to light when one of the tourists wrote to the mayor’s office to complain.
“In fact I applaud the restauranteur who issued the bill, it shows once again that in Venice things are done legally.
“If you come to Venice, you should know that you’re Venice, you have to spend some money. In fact, leave a tip for all the people who are there working for you.”
British tourist Luke Tang accused the Trattoria Casanova of taking advantage of the fact that neither he nor his parents speak Italian to bring them several expensive seafood dishes they hadn’t ordered, racking up a bill of €526.
He paid in full but wrote to Brugnaro to highlight “a kind of behaviour that risks ruining Venice’s reputation”.
His letter of complaint was “returned to sender”, according to the mayor.
“Someone eats and drinks, then says they don’t understand the language,” Brugnaro said. “But if you come to Italy you should learn Italian, a bit of Venetian wouldn’t hurt either.”
Venice is not alone in charging premium prices, Brugnaro insisted. In a tweet on Sunday, he posted a photo of an €11 bill for four coffees from a café in Austria, asking: “Who should I write to about this bill standing at the bar in Vienna airport!?”
..e per questo scontrino in piedi al bar dell’aeroporto di Vienna a chi dovrei scrivere!? Ai giornali o al povero sindaco di quella Città !? Ai “sempre contro nostrani”, a quelli della serie “so tutto mi” che gioiscono se Venezia viene attaccata, a loro invece rispondo ciao? ? pic.twitter.com/Dzr264x2UQ
— Luigi Brugnaro (@LuigiBrugnaro) November 12, 2017
While the mayor remains defiant, a citizens’ group lamented his attitude to Venice’s millions of visitors. The city’s leaders are “selling Venice by the pound,” said a statement from the April 25 Group, a collective that claims to represent ordinary Venetians.
“By mocking a British citizen for not speaking Italian or Venetian, as if this could be an acceptable alibi for ripping off our visitors, this mayor may give the impression that this is common practice in Venice – which is not the case – and cannot speak in our name,” the group said.
— Gruppo25Aprile (@25aprileVenezia) November 12, 2017
Tang’s was the second incident to come to light in the space of a week.
Earlier this month, a Japanese couple complained that they were charged €120 for a plate of lobster pasta at another trattoria in central Venice, accusing the restaurant of taking advantage of the fact that the price was calculated by weight to overcharge them. With the help of another customer, they eventually got the bill reduced by 40 percent.
Brugnaro came to power on a promise to rein in Venice’s vast tourism industry, which residents have long complained makes the city unliveable.
Earlier this year he introduced a swathe of measures designed to reduce the crowds that flood its most popular sites, ranging from limiting tourist accommodation to installing automatic people-counters in high-traffic areas.
Last week Italy's national government approved plans to ban cruise ships from the centre of Venice.