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February 7, 2012

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Restaurants caught charging more to foreign diners closed

TWO restaurants in the Zhujiajiao Ancient Town tourist site, found to be overcharging foreign visitors by giving them English menus with higher prices, were temporarily shut down by city watchdogs yesterday.

A crackdown swept through the entire town but to stop restaurants from overcharging is not easy due to difficulties in collecting evidence.

Qingpu District government officials said restaurants across the ancient town were checked one by one in the operation against illegal pricing after a Shanghai Daily investigation revealed the practice where restaurant owners used two menus and charged more from foreigners.

The officials said owners of the two restaurants, the Wine Jar and Rice Bucket and the Ancient Town Restaurant, have admitted using two different menus for Chinese and foreign visitors. An English menu with pictures has prices up to three times those charged to Chinese for the same dishes.

"The two restaurants were temporarily closed for two days and their punishments will be announced after evidence is collected," said an official surnamed Zhou.

The owners told Shanghai Daily the practice is no secret, as many other restaurants are equipped with two menus, but Zhou said during the crackdown they haven't found problem menus in other restaurants, which probably were alerted by news reports.

Government officials told Shanghai Daily that they would try to protect visitors' rights by putting English and Chinese notice boards in each restaurant with hotline numbers of supervising agencies such as the Price Bureau, the Industrial and Commercial Bureau, and the Food and Drug Administration.

But even with the hotlines, Shanghai Daily finds it still will be difficult for visitors to report overcharging issues and stop the restaurants from raising prices at will.

This is because the supervisors require customers to offer evidence such as invoices before they look into the case.

Meanwhile, some residents noted that if they discover the trick before paying the bill to receive an invoice, the supervisors still won't be able to crack down because there won't be any evidence.

"It's ridiculous. The supervisors cannot count on every customer to be a detective good at collecting evidence but should do the job themselves," said a resident, Shi, who was the first to discover the restaurants' dual-menu trick.


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