Scams At Bars And Restaurants in Spain

Even if you’ve lived in Spain for years and your Spanish is more than passable, you should always be on the lookout for scams and “mistakes” on the bills at bars and restaurants.

Charges for cutlery, ice cubes or using the bathroom have appeared on bills as unexpected extra costs. But sometimes it’s just as simple as including an extra beer or two on your bill, after all in a big group who’s keeping count?

Spanish Consumer organisation, Facua, highlighted a case of a 1.75€ charge included by a restaurant for “laundry service” (for the tablecloth). Facua’s spokesperson called this an “… an absurd and illegal practice, like charging for cleaning the table.”

Here are some other things you should look out for.

IVA Not Included In Prices

The law clearly states that IVA must be included in the price of each item; restaurants and bars are not allowed to put “IVA not included” on the menu.

Customers cannot be expected to have to do the maths (even though, at 10%, it would be easy!) to have an idea of how much the bill will be before it arrives.

Supplements For Eating At A Table / Outside

These are allowed, providing that at the same establishment you can eat at the bar. However, once again it’s not sufficient to put on the menu “a X% supplement will be added”.

If prices are increased, menus or price lists must show for each item two prices: one at the bar and another applicable at a table / outside.

Substituting Meat And Fish

For many people it’s hard to tell different fish apart and also some cuts of meat. Restaurants know this and will have one type on the menu, but serve you a cheaper version.

A study carried out by the EU showed that the DNA of 83% of sole, 73% of hake and 53% of red tuna dishes served in 300 restaurants in Spain to be different (cheaper) types of fish.

And it’s not just meat and fish. Those “homemade” ham croquettes that seem suspiciously the same size, it turns out that it does say “homemade” on the bag the cook took out of the freezer!

Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Or Maybe Not)

That bottle of extra virgin olive oil on your table probably was exactly that, at some time in the past. Since then it’s been refilled over and over again with cheaper oil.

Since March 2014, a royal decree bans the use of refillable bottles. Bottles must come with a special opening system and be designed to prevent refilling, but some establishments find a way to get around this.

You Suddenly Can’t Pay By Card

When you pay by card it goes through the restaurant’s bank account (and is transparent for tax). But when you pay by cash, well, who knows?!

So the trick is for the waiter to say that you can’t pay by card, when he gives you the bill, because the machine broke down yesterday. If this is the case you should be informed before ordering and there should be a sign in the window next to the logos of the cards they normally accept.

If you don’t have cash, theoretically you can ask to make a bank transfer (which we doubt they’d agree to). After all, who wants to have to leave their 90-year-old grandma alone while they go out to find a cash machine?

Additional Charges That Appear From Nowhere

Nothing that is necessary for the provision of the service can be charged for. This means no cutlery charge, laundry charge or similar. Not even if it’s on the price list.

If the waiter expects you to keep using the same cutlery for different courses and you want it changed, ask.

If the restaurant insists on additional charges, ask for an Official Complaint Form.

Charging For Tap Water and Ice

This is a grey area. In some regions in Spain local laws do not allow restaurants and bars to charge for tap water, whereas in other regions it’s perfectly legal.

Some restaurants will say that they don’t have water jugs, so you’ll need to ask for glasses of tap water to get it free.

When tap water is not free, it must be included in the menu. And it’s the same with ice, if there’s a price it must be shown. This sometimes happens with “café con hielo” (coffee with ice) that has a different price to a normal coffee. However paying for ice for your G&T seems to be going a bit far!

We reckon that any restaurant that charges for ice can’t be expecting its customers to return any time soon.

Mistakes On The Bill

Many customers don’t bother to check the bill line by line. Or they just look at the final price to see if it’s more or less in line with what they expected.

So they won’t see an extra drink or two, or a couple of euros extra on the price of each pizza. Some are honest mistakes, but more often than not they aren’t.

Always take a few moments to check the bill carefully.


Charging For Bread And Tapas

There’s nothing wrong with this, but once again it must be clearly shown on the menu.

Bread normally comes with a price per person sitting at the table. If you don’t want any, let the waiter know..


It’s up to customers to keep an eye out for these practices. As long as restaurants can get away with them, they’ll continue to exist.