James and Mariann Luciani had just finished dinner when they and a relative stopped for an ice cream at Bar il Caffè, just a stone’s throw from the Trevi Fountain.
Having paid around €3 or €4 for an ice cream so far on their Italian holiday, they were shocked when the bill came to €42.
The Lucianis contested the charge, only to be shown a menu – having not checked before ordering – in which the price for an ice cream was set at €13 apiece. The waiter told them that they had, in fact, been given a discount as they were relieved of the €2.50 per person cover charge.
“We’d just paid €59 for our entire dinner, including a litre of wine, and then were charged €42 for gelato!” James told The Local.
“We’ve been careful in watching out for pickpockets in Rome, but I never thought I would get scammed here,” he said.
The couple paid the bill but, unsure whether such a high charge was legal, they returned to the bar on Thursday morning with the police.
Mediating between the waiter and the Lucianis, a police officer checked the menu and found that the price was written down. As the menu was available, the bar was not breaking Italian law.
“I should have checked the menu,” James told The Local, adding that he and his wife had previously been guests of Italian relatives and so had not encountered such problems.
When approached by The Local, the waiter said that he only worked at the bar and did not decide the menu prices.
When the manager arrived at Bar il Caffè later on Thursday, he told The Local that he was an "honest" person and the problem was the customers' fault.
"It's their fault…I advise foreigners to read the menu," he said, declining to give his name and pointing to menus on a number of outdoor tables.
"Italy isn't like other countries. Here there's always a different price at the bar and sat at a table," the manager added, pointing to a sign above the ice cream stand which in English states the cheaper "take-away" prices.
"An ice cream in this cup is big," the manager said, holding up a glass bowl which carries the €13 price tag. "You could have it for lunch!"
But the Lucianis are not the first visitors to complain that the place is a tourist trap. The bar’s TripAdvisor page gets a resounding “terrible” rating from 25 of its 28 reviews.
A British tourist who visited earlier this month described the bar as a “complete rip off” to “avoid at all costs” after she was charged €29 for two drinks.
The practice of overcharging tourists in Rome gained international headlines last summer, when a group of British tourists were charged €64 for four ice creams. The authorities were so embarrassed by the uproar that they were invited back to the city to experience the best of Italian hospitality.
But high prices are not only found in the Italian capital. Last August an Italian billionaire, Flavio Briatore, took to social media to denounce a bar in Sardinia which charged a tourist €20 for a fruit juice.
Have you had a similar experience in Italy? Send your stories to: [email protected]