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February 6, 2012

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Restaurant patrons pay the price for being foreign

FOREIGN tourists visiting restaurants in Zhujiajiao Ancient Town, a popular attraction in Shanghai, are being charged up to three times the price charged to Chinese for the same dishes, it has been revealed.

Many restaurants in the water town are overcharging foreigners by giving them English menus with pictures that have higher prices for the same food than on the plain menu given to Chinese visitors, a Shanghai Daily investigation has found.

The practice was uncovered by 37-year-old local resident Shi Dong, who visited the town last month to have lunch at a restaurant called The Wine Jar and Rice Bucket.

"I saw two foreigners coming in and they seemed to have trouble ordering dishes in Chinese, so I came forward to help them," said Shi, "That's when I found they had a different menu with much higher prices."

Shi said he saw the waitress eagerly suggesting the foreigners order the most expensive dishes on the menu but he demanded she give them the Chinese menu.

"The waitress looked very reluctant but after I explained the situation to the foreigners she took back the English one and gave them the Chinese one," Shi said. "I helped them order four dishes with a total price of 146 yuan (US$23). But if they ordered from the English menu, the cost may have reached 600 yuan."

A Shanghai Daily reporter and a 22-year-old American friend, Alex, a student, visited the restaurant at the weekend.

At the entrance, the prices for some recommended dishes were printed on a board with a slogan declaring: "No cheating" and a photo of a foreigner smiling and saying: "Delicious."

Alex went in first and was given an English menu. The waitress sat beside him to "help" him order the dishes.

"All she did was point at the most expensive food and suggested in Chinese that I should try them all," said Alex.

The reporter then entered and was given a Chinese menu by the same waitress. The two then got together to compare menus. A fish dish that was 68 yuan on the English menu was just 28 on the Chinese one. Some small dishes costing around 8 yuan on the Chinese menu were priced at 20 yuan on the other.

The waitress seemed shocked that the two knew each other and had discovered the differences. She immediately apologized to them.

"Yes, we have prices for foreigners and prices for Chinese. The foreigners are rich, they can afford that," a male member of staff at the restaurant said. "It's just too common in the town. Those restaurants on the Great North Street are overcharging much more than we do."

On Great North Street, many of the restaurants also have two different menus.

The prices on the English menus are at least 50 percent higher than those on the Chinese ones.

"I'm so angry," said Alex. "They seem to be trying all the ways to cheat me."

But a woman at one restaurant said: "We write the prices clearly on the menus, they read and they pay. How can you call that cheating?"

A Shanghai Tourism Bureau official surnamed Yao said he would report the case to his superior. An official with the Zhujiajiao Ancient Town Tourism Development Co said that the restaurants were all privately owned and there was not much supervision by watchdogs.


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