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Apr 10, 2009 04:19 AM

Naples: Were we ripped off at Da Dora?

After what had been a very good meal at Da Dora, we had an unpleasant experience with the check that really soured the whole affair. My wife had ordered Dora's Linguini, which is a large linguini plate piled with seafood on top. Topping the plate was a spiny lobster. The menu priced the dish @ 22 Eu, but when we got the check we were charged 27. We noticed the difference and asked the waiter (whose English was good). He said we were charged more because there was a lobster added to the plate. I was willing to accept the explanation, but my wife checked the menu, and the description of the plater said that a Norway lobster was included. So she went back to the waiter and asked again. Yes, the waiter admitted, there is supposed to be lobster in the plate, but this was local lobster not a Norway lobster, and he said they were more. (After the fact my wife questioned why a local lobster would cost more than one from 1,500 miles away, but we didn't raise that at the time). She argued a little, but the waiter insisted, and we paid. We didn't really want to start an argument where we did not speak the local language.

After thinking about the check more, as one is prone to do after a bad experience, other things started to bother us. We were charge 6 Eu for a litre bottle of San Peligrino. That's an awfully high markup for a simple bottle of water. Any then my wife began to wonder if they charged us the proper price for the fish we ordered. They didn't show us the fish before they cooked it, which is common in Compania. We were charged by the weight. Could there have been a thumb on the scale? We knew before we came in that Dora was not cheap. Are these "surcharges" the price you pay for quality?

My wife is convinced we were taken because we were foreigners in a restaurant that is frequented by foreigners, and they would have never charged Italians the prices we complained about. Dora has such a terrific reputation (everyone raves about it, and the food was excellent) that I can't believe they'd play such tricks for 10 eu (on a bill that was well over 100). We have been to restaurants in Rome where things we didn't order were on the check and there were arithmetic "errors" in the house's favor. I know the second and third tier of restaurants in some of the Italian tourist cities play these games. But Dora?

Seems to me if they were going to charge us more than the published menu price, we should have been told ahead of time. Or am I applying US contract logic to a different culture? Was what we experienced on the level?

And what is the etiquette of challenging a bill in a foreign language? If we spoke the language we would have asked for the manager. Should we have done that here?

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  1. Admittedly it's been a while since I researched Naples, but I have never heard of Da Dora. It's in neither Michelin or Gambero Rosso, 2008 editions, the latest I have (unless I missed it on a quick leaf-through). Obviously not all good restaurants are in these guides, but they're certainly where I look first, plus Slow Food.

    Norway lobster is one of the several names of the langoustine, another being Dublin Bay prawn. In Italian it is scampo. It is a delicacy, but a LOT smaller than the lobster you got, and in fact is not a lobster at all. However, you weren't expecting any lobster, much less one that raised the price of the dish above the menu price. So yes, the restaurant behaved badly. In these cases, it is very hard to know what to do. In Naples it is practically a sport to try to get a little extra out of the outsider -- and they definitely do it with non-Neapolitan Italians too -- and so on the one hand, you can call their bluff like it's all a big joke or you can say anything less than €10 I will let pass for the sake of my digestion and tranquility. Certainly a preponderance of foreigners in a restaurant can lower the standards, which is sad but a fact of life (NOT a universal one, I'm happy to say).

    The etiquette of challenging a bill is to smile and call the waiter's attention to a "little mistake" you "think" was made. Nothing gets their dander up more than a foreigner standing on his rights as a consumer. I am merely reporting my observations, not saying I approve. The important thing is to behave in such a way that everybody saves face.

    1 Reply
    1. re: mbfant

      da dora is mentioned in every guide book and it was in the 2007 copy of Gambero Rosso. It received a score of 70 (44 Cucina), 1 Fork, but it received a 'svantaggioso' rating (not great value for the money).

      that said, i'm interested in trying it out since it's been well received here.

    2. I am interested in your report because I had Da Dora on my list. I had always thought it was one of THE Naples premier seafood places, but the fact that MBFant has never heard of it makes me wonder! I thinkI read about it first on Arthur Schwartz' site, the Food Maven:

      Your report, of course, gives me pause. Was the clientele dominated by foreigners?

      This is their site:

      Maureen: Where would you recommend for top-notch seafood in a non-fancy atmosphere?

      4 Replies
      1. re: erica

        Dora is in every English guidebook--Frommers, Fodors, Time Out, Lonely Planet, etc. etc. It was the featured restaurant in the most recent NY Times 36 Hrs in Naples. The place is small and we were there on a Saturday night. I'd say the clientele was more than half Italian, especially as the evening got later. There were a couple of large parties of family members.

        The food was very very good, but as I said above, the situation with the check left a very bad taste in our mouths. It one thing to go in knowing it will be expensive, its another to feel you got cheated, even if its only 10 Eu.

        Erica, we also ate in two of the Slow Food Naples locations, Europeo and Hostelia Toledo. Both were less fancy and less expensive and the food was very good at both (In fact, Hostelia Toledo was my wife's favorite place on our trip.) The nice thing about HT is that it is one of the few places in Naples open on a Sunday evening. HT is cheaper than Europeo. The owner of Europeo was marvelously friendly and outgoing (as were most of the Neapolitans we met--we loved the people). And the place gets going late! We arrived at about 8:45 and it was empty. By 10:30 it was full and at 11:30, when we left, there were people lined up outside waiting to get in. Fish in both places was fresh and well prepared. We highly recommend both.

        1. re: matabb

          Thanks, Mattabb! We did eat at Hostaria Toledo last spring and I agree--very good value, good food, nice people. Foreign tourists (like us) early and then the locals started filling the place--just as you mentioned. This was on a Saturday night and they had to turn away many people who had not reserved...

          I think I wrote a small report after my trip--I know I wrote about where we ate in the Amalfi/Cetara area on the same trip..

          Our other meal was at Umberto which was near our hotel in Chiaia. Also good.

          1. re: matabb

            at least you had a good meal - we have felt lucky in recent years not to have had the game of higher prices played with us - it certainly happens in some of the NY italian neighborhoods (not just italian come to that). I think the suggestion of treating it playfully rather than as an affront is a good idea but I know I would have felt bad if it had happened to me, too..

            1. re: matabb

              In the fall we spent two nights in Naples and somehow ended up at Europeo both nights. The first night because it was relatively close to our hotel and it sounded good. The second night because the owner was so friendly and nice that he promised us a delicious meal if we came back again. So we did. And he did. We really loved that place - it's not super high end, but has a nice vibe. And yes, you're not kidding about getting started late. We got there around 8:30 probably and it was deserted. By the time we left it was full and getting fuller.

          2. Yes, obviously you were cheated. If you paid cash, no recourse. Ir you used a credit card, call your credit card company and file a complaint. They will probably (especially if it is American Express) credit it to you and beyond that it is their problem. For a small amount, it is not worth it for them to pursue it, so you will not get the satisfaction of knowing the restaurant has been penalized, but at least you will not be overcharged.

            1. Da Dora is very famous and, for Naples, very expensive. it is also in Chiaia which automatically means the prices are jacked. You dont have to pay a lot for an amazing fish meal in Naples. The cuisine of that city is essentially a peasant tradition so gulf fish stew, pasta with mussles and beans, squid cooked with tomato, etc are the city specialties. Da Dora does something a bit fancier (langoustine, raw fish and crustaceans, and the like) than traditional fare. If you really must have an expensive fish meal, try Da Ciccioto, Al Faretto, or La Segrestia instead.

              For more affordable fish, visit Ciro a Mergellina or Da Pasqualino, both in Mergellina. Or head to Cantina della Tofa, Antica Osteria Pisano, or Bellini in the centro storico. Find more info on places you MUST eat when in Naples here:


              2 Replies
              1. re: katieparla

                A million thanks for linking your website with those fantastic pics and all of that great info!

                When you lived in Naples, did you by any chance visit Vico Equense? (I am planning a visit to Ischia after which I plan to spend a few days in the general area....I've heard it is a great food town..)

                1. re: erica

                  I havent been to Vico in a while so i hesitate to recommend anything though I do know there are some very good restaurants in the area. when you go to ischia, check out da ciccio (the restaurant not the gelateria) in ischia ponte. their antipasto misto di mare and calamaro ripieno are fabulous.

              2. We had a phenomenally delicious lunch yesterday at Dora. We stopped there in the middle of a four-hour hike through the city for lunch. Since the original post had appeared before we left for our trip, my husband and I paid more attention to the price of the items we ordered than is typical. Our bill came to the precise amount it should have based on the menu prices. In fact, we encountered a situation in which I would not have been surprised to see a different price than the menu price. Nope. The same. Here's the run down.

                Tony, the English speaking waiter famous for his knowledge of state capitals, is a warm and courtly gentleman. (Let's just say my husband and I did not acquit ourselves well during Tony's geography quiz throughout the meal.) We asked Tony to help us decide between the fritto misto and the saute misto. He explained that the fritto misto includes three items: fried calamaretti, whiting, and boiled octopus. The saute misto includes a saute of clams and mussels. Tony was worried that we wouldn't like boiled octopus, and he volunteered to replace the octopus with sauteed clams and mussels. We accepted his offer, assuming that there would be an adjustment of the price, but happier with this solution regardless. As I said, the price was the same.

                The whiting came in two forms: flaked and cake. The flake was a warm preparation in a lemony, olive oil broth. Delish! The cake consisted of the same flaked fish formed into a patty and deep fried. Tasty, but not as special.

                The calamari was quite simply the best fried food we had the entire trip. The batter was a gossamer veil and there wasn't a bit of oiliness, the mark of someone who knows how to fry at the correct temperature. The calamari itself was tender and delicious.

                The saute was a generous heap of shellfish with a tasty tomato-infused broth.

                My husband loved his linguine da Dora, a generous serving of mixed shellfish over pasta. We had this dish at several restaurants and this was the best version by far. The huge quantity and variety of the shellfish pushed this into the winner's circle.

                My risotto with shellfish was excellent, but not as stellar as the linguine.

                The only awkwardness associated with the bill came about because we were first presented with a scrap of graph paper with a list of numbers but no identifying lable. We quickly saw that all but one of the numbers corresponded to the menu prices. The extra number was a 7, but my husband realized that was 10% of the total bill and that restaurant had added a service charge. This was confirmed when I was given a formal restaurant receipt that specified service charge 7. We didn't say anything since we figured out the servizio so quickly. You could make the case that since the restaurant has formal receipts, they should never have presented the bill in the form of nothing more than the list of numbers on graph paper. I can't argue with that recommendation; however, everything about our experience was so positive that I'm more than happy to overlook this minor glitch.

                We loved the experience at Da Dora. The food was the best seafood we'd had in either the Amalfi Coast or in Naples, and the staff in the restaurant included wonderful characters who added so much personality to the lunch.

                11 Replies
                1. re: Indy 67

                  Many thanks for this excellent report. I am planning to head straight for Da Dora next time I find myself in Naples. Look forward to more, from your trip!

                  What was the final lunch total?

                  1. re: erica

                    The dishes I listed plus water came to a total of 77 Euros including the 7 E service charge (and copperto).

                    We could have run up a higher bill by choosing fish or shellfish sold by the weight. After once running up a tab for lunch in Turkey of fish and shellfish sold by the weight that could have bought us a small tribal rug, we tend to be gunshy about ordering this way.

                    We were very, very happy with our choices and with the whole experience.

                    1. re: Indy 67

                      After spending 10 days on the Amalfi coast last summer, we were never able to figure out the difference, if any, between copperto and service charge. Would you be so kind as to explain this in English? If there is a copperto, do you tip?

                      1. re: tuttebene

                        Coperto (one p) is a cover charge unrelated to service. It is an archaism, a holdover from the days when people would bring their own food to wine shops and the landlord would provide bread and place settings along with the wine. It is often not applied these days, these costs being incorporated into the price of the food.

                        Service charge (servizio) is a percentage added to the total of your bill. Needless to say, none of this is straightforward as, say, in Switzerland or Germany. Sometimes the service is not added separately but is incorporated into the food prices. You are usually expected to round up the service where it appears, and it is common to leave a little cash on the table, from some coins in a pizzeria up to about €20 for a fancy restaurant.

                        1. re: mbfant

                          Maureen, now that the subject of tipping has arisen, could you give us some guidelines?
                          Many people feel that one "should not tip" in Italy. I always thought we should round up and have been leaving something on the order of 10-percent for good service. Does this sound about right? Many thanks!!

                          1. re: erica

                            I don't know where the idea of should not tip came from, but it's true you should not tip a lot. Rounding up is always right. A percentage is rarely right because you figure the percentage is always in there somewhere. Waiters are paid a salary, and their income does not depend on the generosity of the clients, as in the US. New POS gizmos and paperwork make it hard or impossible to add tips to the credit-card charge, and in any case, it is considered nicer to leave cash. For two of us we leave change in a pizzeria, and €5, €10, or €20 in a restaurant depending on degree of fanciness. Also, if I go to lunch with friends and we hang around forever talking, I tend to leave 10 rather than 5. Likewise, if I am dining with people who have in one way or another created extra work. If a menu states that no service is added to your bill, you can add ten percent, but these cases give the impression they are hoping to fool you into leaving a New York-size tip. Across the board in Italy, providers of services would rather have a smaller tip than have to make change, so the bottom line is really you leave an amount that comes out even and that is convenient for everybody.

                            1. re: mbfant

                              Except for the occasional cash-only restaurant, I always pay with a credit card. So in that case, what is the custom, as there is no need to round up? At what price level do you go from 10 to 20 euros? Is 20 euros the absolute maximum, appropriate for both a 200 euro dinner and a 400 euro one?

                              1. re: rrems

                                If you pay by card, just leave a little cash on the table. Really, people should relax about this. I come from NY, where tipping is a major part of everybody's day and people fear for their lives, or at least their reputations, if they do it wrong. The Italian way is much looser. And you will just have to play it by ear. i think that for two people the difference between a 200 euro meal and a 400 is small from this point of view. You would make the jump from 10 to 20 let us say in the kind of place where you can't keep track of all the people who are waiting on you hand and foot. I'm sure there are circumstances when you'd put a fifty down, but I've never encountered them -- probably when your wine says Gaja on the label and you've chosen it after lengthy discussion with the sommelier and when there are more than two of you. I never have any luck trying to spy on the other diners, but that is really what I would advise.

                                1. re: mbfant

                                  Thanks for the clarification. On past trips to Italy, I have generally left 10 to 12 percent, so maybe I was overdoing it a bit.

                              2. re: mbfant

                                Many thanks. I have an ongoing debate with my usual travel partner about this. The figures you gave are more or less what we have been doing..

                                I also wonder about the question Rrems poses, although our meals rarely exceed 120 euro for two!

                            2. re: mbfant

                              Thank you for such an in depth explanantion!