Headed to New York? Watch out for sleazy restaurant Nello

A few days ago, Heather and I jumped out of a cab on Madison avenue and walked right into what looked like a cute café. Big mistake: it was Nello.

Known to locals for its outrageous hidden charges, we were foolish to head in without looking it up. But you don't even need to hit Yelp to know this place is bad news: Nello's ripping-off of diners is so notorious the New York Times has written about it.

At the end of the meal, I got a look at the check and for a moment I thought I was hallucinating. The meal for the three of us cost $400. How was that possible? Easy. The pasta dish cost $275. No joke. When I confronted the headwaiter, I was told that Nello never discloses the prices of specials.

That's not to say that all reviews are unfavorable. According to The Times, a New York Post columnist once had to apologize in print for accepting a $1,000 "gift" from Nello's proprietor.

Oblivious and dumb, we settled in as a United Nations-worth of red flags popped up one by one. Well-dressed waiters paced ostentatiously near the windows, doing no real work. It just struck me as lazy, but it's apparently a performance to help Nello cultivate a peculiar celebrity culture.

Not everything on the menu was priced. Specials are hard-sold; ask a price for one, and a server mumbles quickly through the prices of all. We didn't get suckered by the $275 truffle shavings, fortunately. What got us was the sundries.

We ordered a couple of dishes we thought were $30 or so: expensive enough! But a salad turned out to be another $49. Coffee was $12 per tiny little cup. Refill, sir? No, thank you, I'll just have water. Water was $15. The weirdest red flag: the table next to us emptied suddenly while we were eating. I didn't pay any attention to it, but when our check came later—complete with a 20% gratuity already applied—it listed all sorts of things on it we had not ordered. It turned out to be the table of no return's gargantuan bill, accidentally given to a foreigner eating a $30 Papardelle pasta.

How about that.

Nello's food is shit, a fact danced around by The Times' Sam Sifton, who can't quite snap himself out of his awe at its "sociology", by which he means the presence of rich people.

Crisp artichokes .. tasted of shirt cardboard. They ate sawdusty chicken livers lashed with balsamic. They sipped at lentil soup familiar to anyone who owns a can opener and shared too-salty saffron risotto, correctly yellow, of no particular flavor. They gummed at cannelloni with mushrooms that from the grit on them might actually have been harvested wild, as well as at rubbery swordfish drenched in mustard sauce, then laughed about lobster ravioli so tasteless it might have been prop food for an advertisement.

The proprietor, Nello Balan, boasts that he is descended from Vlad the Impaler. But this too-clever rationalization -- I'm a celebrity-sucking vampire! -- is just another story around what he really is: a huckster who rips off stupid, inattentive tourists, like me.


    1. If “a few days ago” indicates that this event was logged in the Beschizza’a Book of Saturday, it’s oddly congruent that Nello would turn some Easy Money off these two Steel City Exiles for a lousy serving of Lark’s Tongue in Aspic. With luck, Rob’s beating The Talking Drum about this fine eatery’s fare will open some eyes…

        1. I found the NYC balsamic carmalized Cockroaches served on a bed capellini in sperm sauce a little pricey.   However, I did not complain and was promptly “shamed” into paying my bill by the waiter holding the pipe wrench….

  1. Admittedly I am a country bumpkin (my town is so small it only has 7 Starbucks within sight of each other), but are undisclosed prices a “thing” in big city eateries?

    I mean, I am used to going somewhere and seeing the Lobster price listed as “market”, but to not have the majority of the items on the menu be priced?  Is that common or are there just a few very visible asshole restauranteurs?

    1.  Yes it is a thing.  Though it’s far more common to see drinks / beverages not include prices.  This of course is not necessarily the mark of ‘upscale’ dining.  Any bar with a moderately capable scotch selection will have a full price and inventory index.  To do otherwise would be an affront to common sense and just plain confusing. 

      To a degree I think the idea is derived from eating as an experience versus a commodity.  But the origins of that lie in base entrees with fixed prices not in entrees with no prices.  In the restaurant business, as in all things, you will perform better by not stabbing your customers in the back.  That’s just the way things are.

      1. In the restaurant business, as in all things, you will perform better by not stabbing your customers in the back.

        Some of that money goes as kickbacks to cab drivers who deliver customers to the door when they ask where the locals eat.  See:  Third World + cab + hotel

    2.   I’m moderately well-traveled and have never experienced this practice, anywhere.

      1. There’s a somewhat related but rather more sinister practice that’s common in the touristy nightlife areas in some cities I’ve been to.

        A bar, somewhat reconizable by the tout out front to bring in customers and the lack of any balcony or means of seeing into the place, has prices that are two orders of magnitude higher than what you’d expect.  Once the sucker has ordered a few drinks, he discovers that the lack of decimal places in all the posted prices is not actually an error.  What he thought was a $6.00 pint and two $2.50 highball specials, actually comes out to $1100.  At this point, he finds that he is surrounded by bouncers, and the street is suddenly very far away.

        1.  Yeah, a kid I knew went to a strip club in Athen’s, ordered a coke (that’s it, no lap dances no cigars etc), ended up being told he owed something like $110 (US), when he complained, three burly bouncers reasoned with hm as to why it would be better to pay the bill.

          1.  What kind of cheap testicle goes to a strip club to nurse a soda and not spend any money? He got what he deserved.

          2. Seriously Gravyboat? A college student on a term abroad. The kid was a total dick so it doesn’t bother me as much as it would if he were a quality person, but it wasn’t like he was swimming in the cash, and I imagine the champagne was shitty, and extremely over priced. The bill was for the coke, and I think the coke would have been the same criminally inflated price, whether or not he had just ordered the solo coke, or the coke in addition to a lap dance, or a few beers, or even a hummer in the Ouzo room. Some Boing-Boingers have some very bizzare notions of ethics, and you are one of them.

      2. Go to Prague.  It’s well-known that many, many restaurants there practice a variation of this scam.  Most travel books and websites on Prague will mention this.  I knew about it ahead of time, so I was reasonably able to maintain damage control, but I still got nickel-and-dimed at almost every restaurant there.  It really cuts into the enjoyment of your meal when you have to spend every second being hyper-vigilant.

        1. Yes. I was just thinking about Prague when I read this. Granted, I didn’t experience anything on the level of $275 pasta dishes, but I remember them charging us 15 euros for a basket of bread that we didn’t ask for or eat and similar scams.

          1. My son is in Prague as I type this and  had a scam restaurant experience today.Said they took him for 30 euros but he didn’t elaborate. 

        2. On top of the price gouging and horrible people was having a transit cop get my friend on a “expired subway” ticket which it was not of course. Total bullshit. Had to pay this dick 30euro. Fuck Prague.

          1. The Czech Republic hasn’t adopted the Euro yet…you can ask for identification, and you don’t have to pay the fine on the spot. I think he got scammed by a criminal.

        3. As a counter-example, I’ve been to Prague three or four times (and love the place, and the people) and have never once experienced any kind of scam (unless they were extraordinarily cheap scams). Tourist guides tend to make you aware of the usual ones (taxi-hotel kickbacks, drink-price scams, bread charged as extra) but everywhere I’ve eaten or drunk in has been upfront and honest and absolutely great.

          The worst I had was the second time I went there, and a homeless guy hanging around the subway station reminded me which ticket I needed to get to get to where I was staying. He asked for a bit of money as thanks which I would have happily given him had I had any smallish denominations to hand and got a little pissed off when I tried to explain that I couldn’t. But he just seemed despondent. I’ve had much worse in Rome and Paris.

          I’d be disappointed if anyone was put off going there by any of these comments. Anywhere with a so-called “lesser” economy will have a proportionately greater number of scammers of all levels. I’d never ask some random guy in a new city where a good place to eat or drink would be because I want to find out for myself. I know if I asked anybody outside my flat for a good place to go out there’s a 95% chance they’d recommend somewhere abhorrent. And I’m pretty sure a good percentage of people in Prague wouldn’t recommend, say, Blues Sklep.

          Just sayin’.

      3. I have heard tales of similar happening in seedy Soho strip joints. From time to time the trading standards officers do an undercover investigation and shut most of them down for fraud.

        I won’t go into a restaurant that does not display its prices. If El Buli and the Fat Duck can print their prices then so can everyone else.

    3. “are undisclosed prices a “thing” in big city eateries?”

      No, this is not a normal occurrence in larger cities. I guess NY is large enough that grifters can make money off tourists alone.

      1. I don’t see it often in the places I go, from the local delis (even Carnegie Deli lists their outrageous prices) to the Gramercy Tavern.  Most reputable places in town go as far as to post the menu outside the door, prices included, so you know what you’re getting into beforehand.

        In fact, if I went into a restaurant and did not see prices, I would ask the waiter for the big boy menu that did have them.  If they refused, I’d be out the door.  I’m okay with specials not having the prices next to them, because they’re typically read aloud, but that server better know how much it is and speak clearly about it if I ask.

        TL; DR:  No, it’s not common and something I would consider a red flag worth of leaving.

      2. Exactly.  All these dicks have to do is bag a few people each day that don’t check Yelp or have more money than sense.  In a place as big as NYC it can’t be that hard and, obviously, isn’t.

          1. With 20% automatically added to the (inflated) bill?

            They’re probably the best paid waitstaff in NYC.  If they can stomach the business practices, they’d be doing just fine.

            Edit: redstarr (about 50 comments below) pointed out that a jacked-up bill claiming an additional 20% for service is no guarantee the tip actually gets to the servers.

          2. They probably don’t get the full 20%, but they’re probably paid fairly well if they’re willing to go along with the sham, otherwise at least a few would take out their frustrations, undercutting the scam with subtle warnings, etc. 

    4. It’s definitely a thing in Sydney and Melbourne. Once, craving a $10-ish steak in Fitzroy one afternoon, I scanned the priceless menu on an empty eatery’s door and asked a passing waiter what the steak special was going for.  It was about $40 or so. Not a surprise I’d want on my bill.

      You can tell which restaurants are likely to be afflicted by the presence of people in slightly-too-small jackets and minimalist prescription glasses, looking very pleased with themselves.

      1. Wow, what place was this? I know Fitzroy and Collingwood have their fair share of expensive eateries but I rarely see priceless menus in Australia, unless it revolves around seafood. $40 is bad but there is the rise of the $50 main as a normality so not as bad as Nello that’s for sure. 

        1.  I agree. I haunt Fitzroy/Collingwood/Richmond/Brunswick and I can’t remember ever seeing a menu without prices (even when Mietta’s (R.I.P) was there). Also, a special board without prices is more likely to get you a “Mate, you forgot to put the prices on your board” than get you an order.

          1.  Yup, as an Aussie I can say I’d never go to a restaurant that didn’t display prices, it’s a violation of the national ethic, you don’t screw with someone’s food

    5. I’ve lived in New York and Buenos Aires and travelled to over two dozen countries and have never found undisclosed prices to be the norm. As you say, occasionally items are listed at “market” price but a polite inquiry to the server will get you the exact amount.  If the server describes any specials, very rarely is a price included. But once again, a simple question should immediately get you the information you want. Obviously there is a bit of chicanery in play here; by initially withholding the price, the proprietors are hoping you’ll find it too socially awkward to ask after something as crass as cost. A polite query heads this silliness off at the pass. 

      Quick edit: Restaurants often do have menus with no prices at all that you can specially request for business dinners when you are taking clients out or when you are treating someone to a meal. But again, I’ve only ever seen them deployed in response to a specific request made in advance by the host.

      1. It’s been a while since I’ve been to a restaurant I wasn’t familiar with, but I do remember places where the server will say “We have a special for $18, it has……”. I thought letting you know the price of specials was common, but I don’t go to many “upscale” restaurants. (More because of current budget, I’m a self confessed foodie).

    6. Infrequent, but yes. Generally, its in the “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it” restaurants.

      It was also customary in some restaurants (though this custom has largely fallen out of fashion) to have two menus, one for the men, with the prices, and one for the women, without.

      The much more common modern plague are prices so artfully incorporated into the menu as to be utterly incomprehensible. Beyond just putting a number in a weird place, I’ve seen things like “7/11/12-3” before. Combine this with the fairly inscrutable way that certain food items are described, and ordering food is more of an act of faith if the waitstaff proves disinclined to render into poetry the oracle’s ravings.

    7. There’s a difference between not printing the prices (which is “a thing”) and not TELLING the prices when directly asked (which is “a scam”.)

    8. I’ve eaten in 5 countries and easily over 800 restaurants and I’ve never seen a place that basically has an entirely undisclosed menu.

      specials saying market price, sure, as you said but this is ridiculous. Usually specials can mean things with higher service but this is marked up more than bottle service at clubs – which, at least you know what you’re getting and do get a decent service.

      I see people mentioning Prague, so I guess it’s not unheard of. In the US however, definitely not anywhere near the norm.

  2. Even though I don’t think people should eat veal anyway, if Nello’s serves any veal dish it should probably be tested to see if it’s actually veal of if they’re substituting pork. They wouldn’t be the first restaurant to do this, and from the Times review possibly everything on the menu should be tested t0 make sure it’s real food. Those “artichokes” might be made from the shirt cardboard they taste like.

    1.  Why don’t you think people should eat veal? Calves are a by-product of the milk industry, and invariably they are slaughtered. It actually makes quite a bit of sense to purchase ethically reared (high welfare) veal if you consume dairy.

      1. I had no clue there was such a thing as “ethically reared” veal, but I’d be okay with that. Actually I shouldn’t have made the comment about veal at all, because it’s irrelevant to the point that I was trying to make: some high-falutin’ restaurants have been caught serving cheaper cuts of meat but calling it something more expensive.

        Specifically I’m thinking of Mario’s in Nashville, Tennessee, which was, before it closed, advertised to tourists as a superb, high-end restaurant. Locals knew it as the place where if you ordered veal you were more likely to get pork, the sauteed mussel appetizer was lethal, the sous chef didn’t know how to prepare half the dishes on the menu, and the bill would inevitably include bottles of wine that no one at the table ordered or even saw.

        1.  We have the same thing in Florida with grouper.  Advertised as grouper but is actually some South American cheap fish.  It’s not the restaurants pulling the scam, though.  It’s the wholesaler who markets it as grouper knowing it’s ling cod or some such thing.  One of the TV stations actually DNA tested 10 samples from the grouper sandwich to some elegant grouper dish, and all but 2 were fakes.  Caveat emptor.

          1.  I like both grouper and ling cod, but I don’t know how anyone could mistake the two. Then again, I’ve had grouper sandwiches that tasted like they were from less-than-fresh fish…

      2. Since veal requires calves to be kept from using their muscles, I’m not sure how one would produce “ethically reared” veal.

        1. A) Fresh aka “bob” aka “real” veal; slaughtered at a couple days old, before connective tissue has any chance to develop. The various commercial practices people associate with veal are attempts to keep the taste of this proper veal in a more profitable size (450-odd pounds instead of 50-60 pounds).

          B) Pink aka “free-raised” veal; ones you raise with the heifers and slaughter at around 24 weeks generally. Little longer and it’s red veal.

          ‘Course, if you don’t grow up on a dairy farm, it’s pretty unlikely you’ll get to try either of these, since you can’t charge enough to make a profit raising them either of these ways compared to the stuff ’em in a hutch crowd. But both are much tastier than anything you’ve ever tasted that’s referred to as “veal”, I assure you.

          1.  I have worked on a dairy farm and had newborn veal. It has no taste whatsoever, and the lack of texture is disturbing. The main reason for slaughtering newborn bull-calves is that the value of the milk they would drink is greater than the increase in value of the resulting extra meat.

      3. I think there’s hardly any real “ethically reared” veal.

        Veal-raising practices are positively disgusting, and I say this as a very happy carnivore who just had delicious lamb yesterday.

        Indeed, the person who clued me into the awfulness of  veal was a ruddy sheep and cow farmer in Scotland — not usually the sort of person who would be squeamish at the realities of how meat gets to our tables.

        And the problem with thinking that there might be “ethically raised” veal is that it’s not like happy organic chickens, which taste much better than battery-farmed. If you have a delicious tender piece of veal it’s by definition not ethically raised, because the things you have to do to the calf to make it delicious and milk-white and tender are the opposite of humane. If it were happy and organic, it would just taste like beef.

        1.  So, does “veal” describe only the unethical weirdly pale meat produced by a cruel process, or does it also mean the meat of any young calf, no matter how happy and organic?  Because I buy the latter at my farmer’s market from farmers I know and trust, and they say they are stuck calling it the awkward name of “humane veal” because people don’t know what “vitello” means and if they call it “calf” people don’t buy it.

          You’re right, it does taste more like beef, but milder and tenderer.  But if I tell people I ate veal, they react like I said “puppy” before I can qualify it.

          1. “I ordered us some foie gras,” said Ford.

            “What?” said Arthur, whose attention was entirely focused on the television.

            “I said I ordered us some foie gras.”

            “Oh,” said Arthur, vaguely. “Um, I always feel a bit bad about foie gras. Bit cruel to the geese, isn’t it?’

            “Fuck ’em,” said Ford, slumping on the bed. “You can’t care about every damn thing.”

        2. Your statement is only partly true. Yes, white veal as it’s generally produced in the US involved the calves being placed in boxes to keep them from moving. However, in New Zealand, for example, veal calves are slaughtered much younger, so there is no reason to confine them. Of course, the yields of meat per animal are much lower that way, which is why the US veal industry does what it does. But there’s no inherent quality to veal that would prevent it from being ethically produced.

    2. Strauss raises their veal calves as ethically and humanely as any animal being raised to become food can be. No crates or tethering. They roam the pastures with their parents, eat grass and milk, etc.

      Their veal and lamb is sold in many (but not all) Whole Foods and is available by mail order. (I’m not associated with them, just glad they exist.)

  3. Heard a friend of a friend story like this that happened in Japan.  Guy went into a bar, ordered a beer, didn’t know it was a locally notorious Yakuza hangout. They told him, after he drank it, that his beer was several hundred dollars.  He was intimidated and paid up.  

  4. Geez I think Nello’s even tried to hijack my computer. I googled it after reading your article and went to their page and all of a sudden the webpage says I may have a virus and tried to download a file.

    1. Brace yourself for the bill.  If Nello’s is even half as bad as it sounds, you will be sent a bill via COD snail mail for your new virus.

  5. I feel like there is a decent chance that a case for fraud could be made. I would seriously consider (a) telling the waiter to call the police, because I am *not* paying that bill, or (b) paying, then contesting with the credit card company. Particularly if the posted prices are very different from the unposted prices, and practices are outside the range of what is customary ($15 for tap water, for instance), you might be able to make enough of a beef to be worth it.

    1. a) telling the waiter to call the police, because I am *not* paying that bill

      Exactly what I was going to suggest.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they were shy of calling the police given what a scam this is. Shady creeps like to remain shady..

         Would have mentioned that I was looking up the state’s attorney office on my phone as well.

      1. People call the police on private businesses like that ALL THE TIME. It is hilarious and stupid. People would do it to the bookstore I worked at when they were unhappy about the returns or buyback policies. It does not work. It does not work because arguments about bills are a civil, and not a criminal, matter. The responding officers would tell these unhappy customers that simple fact and that would be the end. It is a stupid waste of everybody’s time.

        1. Interesting comparing book returns to insanely inflated hidden prices.  As he said, it sounds like the waiter was trying to be deliberately confusing with the price.  Buyer beware if they don’t post prices, but you should get a clear answer if you ask for the price of something.

           Spending many years in retail myself, I also don’t believe that you had the police called on you for book store’s return policy.

          In case you missed it we said tell *the restaurant* to call the police if they liked.

          a) telling the waiter to call the police, because I am *not* paying that bill

          1. It happened often enough that the local precinct gave us a flyer to put up about it. But hey, you’re free not to believe me and think the police are there to help you win your arguments with private businesses.

          2. I worked at a bookstore for nearly a decade.  I had the cops called on me twice for not taking a book back (They explained to the irate and irrational folks politely that there is nothing the police can do in the situation because it is a civil dispute and not a criminal matter), threatened dozens of times by irate customers who said they would call the cops as they stormed out, and once challenged to a manly bout of fisticuffs right there in the store (I politely declined and one of my coworkers had already called the cops when the guy started getting loud).  So yea, it does happen.   

            I can tell you countless stories of people coming in to return books only to leave very disappointed when its been out of print for years, or after a check in the inventory database that says it hadn’t been sold in months or ever, textbooks with highlighting throughout, dog-eared and broken spined paperbacks, or my favorite finding out that it had been remaindered and is now only worth a tiny fraction of the original price printed on the cover.   

          3. You probably shouldn’t work in such a sleazy bookstore Kromelizard.  If people are calling the cops about your business practices ALL THE TIME, then there’s probably something wrong with them. 

            You might occasionally get a crazy scammer who tries to pressure a legit business with threats to call the cops, but it’s not a common thing at all.  Once every couple of years maybe at most businesses unless you’re in a really crappy part of town.

        2. I think the point ChicagoD was trying to make is that the restaurant should call the police because the diner is about to commit theft by not paying the bill. I don’t know how it works in the USA, but in the UK diners are entitled to pay what they think is a reasonable amount for the food and leave their contact details with the restaurant in case of a dispute over the price of the meal. What you are not allowed to do is leave without paying anything.

          1. It’s too bad BoingBoing didn’t also post a link to the NYTimes follow up column, which included very useful advice from a law professor right along these line, advice I plan to use:

            —Franklin Synder, a law professor in Fort Worth, offered a bit of legal advice for anyone in a similar predicament:
            “You might be interested in letting your readers know that a restaurant meal is a ‘sale of goods’ under Article 2 of the Uniform Commercial Code,” he wrote. “The code provides that where the buyer and seller have agreed to a contract but have not agreed on the price, the price is not what the seller subsequently demands. It’s a reasonable price for the goods at issue. Thus a customer has no obligation to pay for anything more than the reasonable price of a pasta meal at a trendy restaurant.”He continued: “In this circumstance, a customer should make a reasonable offer for the value of the meal, then walk out and wait to be sued for breach of contract. Be sure to leave the restaurant full contact information so they can’t claim that you’re trying to steal something.”—

          2. if the special really is a truffle dish, then $275 might actually be the “fair” price anyway.

        3. If you refuse to pay a bill and walk out on a restaurant, they typically *will* call the police because it is considered theft. Thus it is less like a customer calling the cops about a return, and more like a customer just grabbing the book they want and walking out of the store while yelling “why don’t you call the cops then, you idiots!”

          1. True but there must be some law that says you can’t just charge any crazy ass price you want just because your customer forgot to ask.  40 for pasta?  Why not go for $1000?

            I’d return the meal to them, just give me a bucket.

        4.  But hey, you’re free not to believe me and think the police are there to help you win your arguments with private businesses.

          We don’t think that at all, we think the restaurant would likely be afraid to call the police.  If you’d read D’s comment right, you might have gotten that.

        5. I’d imagine, however, that refusing to pay your restaurant bill would be a criminal matter. Is that the case?

    2.  Do not ever call the police to resolve a bill dispute unless you would like to be laughed at by the officer. I do not know why you think this is a good idea. Do you call the police to resolve billing disputes with the phone company?

      1. I think ChicagoD meant that if Nello wanted the diners to actually pay that ridiculous bill they should call the police, not the diner should call the police to say they got scammed. 

      2. They are saying to have the waiter call the police because as a customer I wouldn’t pay it.  The restaurant can call the police and get laughed at.

        1. Leaving without paying is theft of services. That is a criminal matter. I wouldn’t recommend it, even in this case. Dispute the charge with your CC company.

          1. No, if you offer what you consider to be a fair price for the food and leave a genuine contact address  you then have a civil dispute and the restaurant is free to sue you should it choose.

            You have agreed to a contract but have not agreed to a price for that contract. The restaurant is on pretty thin ice because it has intentionally created the ambiguity. It is customary to reveal prices and doing so would eliminate the need for the court to waste their time on the case. It is rather unlikely that the judge would find against a customer who offered to pay a reasonable amount.

            A restaurant that allowed such a case to come to court would suffer much more damage to their reputation than they were likely to recover.

      3. Navin isn’t saying that the customer should call the police, but rather the customer should say to Nello’s “I’m not paying, and if you want to call the police on me, go for it.”

        1. But then can’t the restaurant staff simply say, “Fine, don’t pay, and as soon as you walk out, we will call the cops. To arrest you. And one of us will follow you until they arrive.”

    3. Many years ago I asked an NYC policeman for help because I’d been robbed.

      The cop asked me if I’d been hurt.  I wasn’t; the calm, confident man with the gun had only wanted my money, and told me I could keep my wallet, so there was no good reason to resist.

      The cop laughed at me, called me a tourist and told me not to bother him any more.

      1.  For the jillionth time he suggested letting the restaurant bother the police if they wanted to enforce that ridiculous bill. 

        1. Nah, there’s a chance you’d be taking that the police would just arrest you or beat the crap out of you. You have to admit that. 

          1. No, the worst risk you’d be taking is that the cop would tell you to pay and contest with your credit card company.

            I also would not pay even a lower amount with a credit card. You KNOW they’d go back and charge you again, or change the amount.

        2. Yes, understood, but why would the restaurant bother the police?  If my experience is any guide (and I don’t claim that it is) they’d just beat you up, take your money, and let you call the police.  And then the police would likely laugh at you, call you a tourist, and tell you to go home.

      2. Hahaha! The same thing happened to me in Dallas when a man crawled into my bedroom window, but my friend ended up fighting with him and chasing him out of the window. The cops finally showed up an hour later, asked me if I’d been raped or stabbed. Nope. Well then what are you complaining about? Probably just some crackhead. Bye!

        Couple years later the lady next door was murdered :( I moved.

        1. Well Come on ,  if they stayed around and chewed the fat and filled out that drudgery of paperwork with you they would have missed the fresh donuts ! 

        2. In San Francisco, somebody crawled in a back window and stole about $100 worth of odds and ends. They dusted for prints, talked to the neighbors, gave us info on crime victim restitution programs and counseling.

    4. If they are going to go nuts with the prices they might as well charge 1 million dollars.  “Please report to the Nello gold mines to pay off your debts.”

  6. The existence of a place like Nello, clearly geared at fleecing the stupidly moneyed residents and tourists of the Upper East Side, really warms this working-class New Yorker’s heart. I just cannot think of a more deserving neighborhood for this restaurant to exist.

      1. That probably will happen as more of my hometown is turned into a playground for the affluent, so forgive me my glee when I learn that the rich people preserves have got some tigers lurking in them.

        1. Tourists are not universally wealthy.  Many are on a shoestring budget, going to a show, museum, etc, that they can barely afford.  Don’t just shoot from the lip; think it through.

          I don’t care about the posh locals who should know better because they live there; I care about the unsuspecting traveler who assumes he’s dealing with humans instead of a$$holes. Think it thru.

          1. You should understand that this is a restaurant in a neighborhood that probably has the highest concentration of money on the planet. When the revolution comes, and you’re looking for people to put up against the wall, this is where you go. This is not a neighborhood with accommodations for shoestring budget tourists, nor places for them to shop. There is museum mile nearby, so there’s certainly reasons to be near, but this is not a place for the budget conscious, and it’s pretty damn evident from looking at it that this is a place for expensive eateries. This is a neighborhood for obnoxiously rich assholes and I’m really glad to hear that Nello’s is taking those people for all they can get.

          2. I’d rather you not “put [people] up against the wall” myself. While your choice of metaphors is fully in line with your comments, it doesn’t exactly help your argument. Just sayin’.

  7. “Nello’s food is shit, a fact danced around by The Times’ Sam Sifton, who can’t quite snap himself out of his awe at its “sociology”, by which he means the presence of rich people.”

    Really? I thought the review was hilarious. I think most restauranteurs would not prefer to have their dining room described like a nightmare from a Terry Gilliam movie: 

    “One night at dinner, there was a very tall woman in elegant clothes, with skin stretched tight over her face in unnatural ways and glasses the size of salad plates to magnify that. She was eating with a small red-faced fellow with dark hair in a center part, who was wearing an ascot and green Tyrolean coat. A cartoonist might render them as an awkward French giraffe and a mischievous Austrian chimp.

    The woman drank wine as the man devoured a plate of pasta in tomato sauce. (Decent, and, at $29, maybe a bargain.) They were a good couple. When he finished, she wiped at the corner of his mouth with a napkin.
    The man signaled to a waiter. He laughed and slapped the table with his open palm. “AAAH-gain!” he cried, happily. “Once AAAH-gain!” The waiter smiled and withdrew with the empty plate. Within 10 minutes the man was eating again.”

  8. In Google’s promotional video for their Google Glasses, there was a fairly unrealistic moment where as the protagonist was walking into the subway station, his glasses alerted him to the fact that the G line was experiencing delays.

    Someone needs to work this into the glasses or phone instead: if you’re walking into an establishment with terrible reviews, alert “Bad idea! Turn around now!” even if the user didn’t check the reviews themselves.

    1. How is that unrealistic?  GPS (or a predetermined route) detects you’re at a subway station serviced by the L-Train.   The L-Trains schedule is public information, as well as its real-time delay information. 

      Perhaps there isnt a public API for the subway’s current location statistics, but it seems entirely within the realm of info Google could get their hands on if they wanted. 

      Your cellphone can already do basicly this. How is this functionality packed into a pair of wearable Glasses any more or less “realistic” ?

      1. It’s unrealistic in the near-term because your phone isn’t smart enough — and your GPS not accurate enough — to understand your intention of actually taking the L-Train versus just walking by the station or stopping to tie his shoelace. This kind of just-in-time notification not only requires a very fast internet connection but also an element of AI to understand the user’s intentionality at all times.

        Certainly other parts of it are reasonable. I use Google Maps to recommend public transportation routes all the time, and I expect it can (soon) deal with the real-time information. And I likewise expect Siri would steer me away from badly-reviewed restaurants.

        1.  The wearer was actually starting to walk down the subway stairs when he got the message (or was standing in front of the sign), so from the position of the sign and the user’s momentum, a reasonably powerful computer could determine intent, and check for the intended destination’s status.

          1.  There’s already an app that recognizes buildings you’re looking at  already iirc. so indeed no stretch to guess-timate that the wearer is/was heading for a tube.

          2. More importantly, he’s apparently wearing google glasses at all times. Google probably knows what he’s going to do well before he does.

        2. The GPS does not need to be that accurate. Nor does it need to have a very fast connection for the just-in-time element. 
          The reason is that the system *already knows where he is going.* He isn`t using navigation for it at that point, but the destination is already known by the device. (Demonstrated by the option of a walking route given.) It would be easy for it to plot out a path in the background, get all the necessary information (closed streets, subway/train delays, etc) and then pop them up in the correct areas.

    1.  Depends on what the legalities of distributing fliers in NYC are. I would suspect it would at most require a permit, at best you’re exercising your first amendment rights. The content of the flier is a different question, however.

  9. i remember a story about a similar restaurant in Paris, with an enormous bouncer hiding behind a curtain, ready to sort out any disageements about the bill

    1. I have never heard of anything even approaching this in Paris. Would you have the name of the restaurant by any chance?

    2. In France restaurants have a legal obligation to display the prices, including taxes, outside and inside the restaurant. Of course there are many places, mainly for tourists, where you get served bad and outrageously expansive products, and the waiters may not be welcoming you, but disagreements about the bill quite never happen.

      1. Reminds me of the time I was in Paris on vacation from Belgium (where I lived) and met up for lunch with a friendly acquaintance from NZ.  As she could not speak a word of French, I was the one who ordered our food and drink.  But then when it was just the two of us, of course I switched over to English.  The waiter overheard us.  When I asked for the bill it was magically several times higher than what the listing in front indicated.  When I complained, the waiter pointed to a separate tarif on the back wall inside the dark, empty restaurant (only used for dinner).  No amount of arguing in quite fluent and colorful French was able to bring our bill down to the listed prices.

        Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

        1.  Yes, when my family went to visit Hungary, my father (who was born there) did all the talking, and our bills were far cheaper, taxis, everything.

    1. Perhaps they get around this by only not posting the off-menu specials, I’ve ordered “specials” that sounded good based on description alone, and I don’t think I asked for the price assuming they’d be comparative to the rest of the restaurant’s offerings.

    2.  Yes i think thats a fine rule of thumb..
      Its a reflex, since i’m too tight to even consider eating where I’m not sure what the price is. I could get tricked by the $15 tapwater though.

  10. There are cities where it is common practice, and I believe in some of them an actual legal ordinance, for each restaurant to post the menu including prices where diners can see them before being seated.  I love it, especially when I’m traveling.  It’s sometimes hard to guess what price point a restaurant is going to be, what they’re going to offer, etc. off the name and look alone.  

    And I bet the restaurants (most of them are honest) tend to like it,too.  It prevents sticker shock.  You don’t get  diners showing up, ordering drinks, wasting servers’ time and table space, and finding out there was nothing they wanted/could afford, and leaving, or complaining or leaving bad reviews when they do order and get the bill and end up spending more than they wanted to.  Diners who feel tricked into paying for food that isn’t what they expected to pay or having to pick from options that aren’t what they really wanted aren’t good for business in the long term.  They aren’t going to love it and be happy and come back and review it positively. 

    Every town that gets a lot of tourism should have the menu and price posting requirement.  I’m surprised New York doesn’t have it with as many visitors from far away and as wide a range of dining price points as they have. 

  11. I won’t even consider an unbeknownst (by me) restaurant where there isn’t a menu posted outside–or at least forked over before being seated.  It’s not really about the prices, but more to see if there’s something that I feel like eating.  But if I notice that they’re serving a $487 club sandwich….

    1.  It’s especially a big deal if you have special dietary needs/preferences.  Like when I go someplace with my brother-in-law who’s a vegetarian.  I don’t want to be seated and discover that there’s nothing at all on the menu for him or that he’ll have to just order a green salad while the rest of us have something exciting.  And I don’t eat seafood, so when I want to indulge my husband’s love for seafood (especially if we’re in an ocean side place), I want to be able to see before we take a table whether there’s a tasty non-seafood option for me to eat.  Usually there is, most places have a chicken or steak entree that I can enjoy.  But I’ve accidentally stumbled across a couple that didn’t.

    1. Yeah, the Wall st parasites need a place like this where they can vainly try to make a dent in their vast mountains of ill-gotten gains, and to rub normal people’s noses in their decadence.

      1. I think you’ve summarized their clientele and wall street types perfectly.

        They stand about 5 feet tall, wear a shirt and pants with suspenders, and are entirely full of a grassy hay-like material.

        Everyone have their torches ready?

    1. The article said an adequate gratuity was already added to the bill.  So you wouldn’t need to add an additional tip. 

      But in a circumstance where it wasn’t, if they’re scamming the customers like that, you can almost bet on it that they’re scamming the servers,too.  I’d tip if I felt like the waiter was acting in good faith and just doing his job as he’d been trained to (not clearly intentionally in on the scam), maybe not the standard 15-25% on the whole inflated bill, but a decent amount like I’d expect to tip at a normal priced restaurant, like 15-20 bucks or so.   But I’d be sure to do it in cash, and hand it directly to my server, no leaving it on the table, no putting it on the card.  The tips are almost certainly getting skimmed off by management, or “pooled” so that your server isn’t going to get their fair share.  

      1. You make a good point: just because the bill includes “20% for service” doesn’t mean it’s actually going to the server.

      2. I don’t think it is possible the Waiters don’t know what is going on at that place.  He’s in on the scam and doesn’t deserve a tip at all. 

        Why would I give a gratuity for a naked and egregious rip off?!?  This isn’t “The pasta didn’t taste like home, no tip” territory, this is you getting scammed and then paying extra on top. 

        1. Precisely, the correct tip in such circumstances is $0.25.

          Paying a derisory amount demonstrates to the server that it was not an oversight or an accident.

          The server has an obligation to inform you about the price, particularly in this type of case where they have good reason to believe that you would not choose that if you knew the cost.

  12. It doesn’t even begin to compare to Nello’s, but there used to be a Pizza Hut near where I work that routinely charged customers prices that were higher than what was on the menu. When people complained the manager would always come out and say, “Oh, that’s an old menu so the prices listed there aren’t correct.”

    It’s not surprising that the Pizza Hut in question closed. The two things that are surprising are:

    1) The number of people  who accepted the manager’s explanation without complaint, and

    2) The fact that a restaurant that’s part of a national chain was doing this, and did it for some time, even after I know it had been reported by at least three different people.

    1.  I wouldn’t be surprised if people complained to the Pizza Hut corporate offices and got them shut down.  Big chains usually try to avoid bad experiences like this because it affects all of the restaurants in the chain.  If the owner is being an asshole, they can just revoke his license and make him take down all of the branding. 

  13. Recently a friend of mine went to NYC for a holiday. I wanted to ask him to bring an e-book reader for me. The price difference for a non-Kindle device is really big for us – Europeans.
    I didn’t  want to bother him too much with looking for a shop. So I asked where he was staying – a hotel near Times Square. Then I fired up Google maps and switched on street view, looking for the nearest shop with electronics. And, sure enough – there it was. Practically next door. I searched the net for the shop name, to find some contact info, so I could phone there and ask if they had my desired model.
    Google came up with lots of shocking reviews from swindled tourists that bought something in that particular shop.
    I repeated the steps with all stores within an easy walking distance from the hotel. At the end, I gave up and decided that my old reader is still good enough ;-).
    I am not saying that all shops in the entire NYC are this bad, but B&H Photo Video and other shops that had nice reviews were quite far from the hotel.

    So this is not only about restaurants. There are many … establishments … preying on tourists.

    1. The rule in NYC is that you never ever buy electronics from the small stores near popular tourist areas such as Times Square. (The other rule is that you  never buy camera equipment from anything with a Brooklyn address).

      Logically, a small store should have a hard time competing with big chains like Best Buy (which are plentiful in New York). The way they do it is by over-pricing and upselling, and selling to people who don’t know any better.

      Another trick they use is to add ‘sales tax’ of 20%: in line with what many foreign tourists expect, but more than double the actual tax.

    2.  Times Square is especially bad about electronics and prices.  There have been stores up there having “Going out of business, all sales final” sales for decades.

      Online camera stores located in Brooklyn have an even worse reputation, charging super low prices for cameras and then high prices for “extra” items like lens caps and camera straps.

      Based on sheer numbers, the majority of New York stores are bad.  But the good ones are really, really great.  B+H was probably worth a cab ride.

    3.  I bought a pair of noise canceling headphones in such a shop; I hadn’t checked the prices since seeing (still probably) outrageous prices for Bose over the ear models, so I thought what I was paying was reasonable.  They charged about 3X what the same buds were going for online.  I didn’t have a smartphone at the time, and it didn’t occur to me that such places could exist.  Live and learn, and I’m glad it was a relatively low end item; I’d just lost a decent pair of sony buds in Brooklyn and somehow decided that NC buds would be nice for some upcoming travel.

    4. Was your friend not planning to leave the Times Square area (it’s kinda a shithole)? It doesn’t even take a taxi ride as @boingboing-b02d27666964db9258b673accd36c27a:disqus suggests to go to B&H (which is a fun place to check out), as it’s right down the street from Penn Station which is easy to get to on the subway. And there are several other major electronics retailers in most of the well-traveled parts of the city. I understand that your friend was there for his own reasons, of course :)

      1. As I said I didn’t want to be a burden. A trip to B&H would have cost him at least 90 minutes (trip both ways plus shopping) of his already-too-short vacation. He had quite busy schedule – pre-arranged tickets to Broadway musical, lots of museums and sights to visit with wife and teenage kids.
        They did go shopping for electronics, but they are Apple fans and they won’t fleece you in Apple store in Manhattan [that is, they won’t fleece you more than in other Apple stores in USA]

        When I was in NYC, many, many years ago as a student, my hosts instructed me not to buy anything valuable in Manhattan. They took me to an “ordinary” store where locals shop ;-).

  14. I’m pretty sure not informing about prices for meals beforehand would be a illegal practice in most countries in good old “socialist” Europe. Here you must hand out a complete list of prices.

  15. The Yelp listing seems misleading at best.  The three quotes selected:

    “how good can a creme Brulee be”
    “The truffle carpaccio was simply divine”
    “During the lunch serving, it’s very businessmen and ladies…”

    seem cheery-picked, given the warnings contained in nearly every review.  (Even the “how good can a creme Brulee be” is from a diner complaining, as the pull-quote elides, that said creme Brulee cost $29.)

    The wild preponderance of reviews are one-star, yet the banner rates Nello two-and-a-half stars.  This is a correct average, but the fact that there are more one-star reviews than five-star and four-star combined is not something that the top of the site will tell you.

    Does Yelp have a vested interest in making establishments look better than their patrons say they are?

    1. Yes, Yelp is well-known for boosting star ratings if the establishment is a paid advertiser. They’ll hide lower star ratings for a price, and hide high ratings to force businesses to give them money. 

      I know several people who had nothing but 5 star ratings (hair dresser, gyrotonics instructor, and a boot camp trainer) – Yelp hid ALL of their ratings “in the interest of fairness, because they might be fake reviews.” They offered to “help sort it out” if my friends would just become paid advertisers. Yelp is useful for a ballpark idea of how good a business is but it should never be the be-all, end-all for deciding where to spend your money.

      1. Thus when you go to sort the reviews by date, you realized that the default sorting is “Yelp sort”. The second I saw that my bullshit meter spiked and I immediately distrusted Yelp. Not that I was naive before, but now the entire site was suspect in my mind. Since then I use yelp occasionally but always read the negative reviews and give them more weight.

  16. Nello has a few five star reviews on Yelp. I looked at the other reviews written by the people who gave it five stars and think they are paid shills.

  17. BTW, in case anyone stumbles on this from Google or what-have-you:

    We’ve got a handful of pizza restaurants in the Phoenix area called “Nello’s”.  They are not the same thing as this, and are really very good and reasonably-priced!

  18. What if you couldn’t pay the bill? Cut up your credit cards and debit cards, then plead poverty… lol.

    Really, what can they do if they didn’t tell you how much it would cost, and you don’t have enough money? Stay there forever, racking up an ever-increasing bill? Take your shoes?

    Having worked in restaurants and having been the victim of a couple dine-and-dashes I don’t USUALLY approve of that kind of theft, but here it seems 110% justified, even if the silly waiter gets stuck with a $400 breadstick & water tab.

    1. Wash dishes like in the movies?  Of course you’d have to do that for quite some time at minimum wage to pay the bill at this rathole.

      1.  Minimum wage? Nay, I say.  Didn’t I tell you my labor prices?  $100 dollars per dish washed.  Cups are $50, and water glasses are $15 ($45 if you demand they not be broken). 
        Shall I start on this next stack while you get your checkbook, Mr. Nello?

        1. ah, genius. Turn the tables, so to speak. Mwhaha.

          Unemployed NYCers can head there, run up an unpayable tab, and make millions washing dishes. WHAT AN ECONOMY!

          Edit: Perhaps another option would be to deduct a few hundred dollars in the ‘tip line’ on the receipt, if you pay via CC. “What, the food was fine, but the service was really, really terrible!”

          1. They are going to ring up the original price on your CC.  Sure that’s technically illegal, but if you give them your number they’re going to use it.  I mean it’s already basically a scam, why would you expect them to stop just because you gave them a credit card number? 

            Given the number of chargebacks a place like that must ring up, I’m surprised they still have a merchant account. 

  19. They’ve found the magical donut hole between what the market will bear and the cost of litigating an implied contract dispute over unconscionable terms combined with a criminal theft charge.
    If you don’t pay, you’re committing theft. If you pay anything, you’re admitting that the restaurant has a right to charge for its food and the question at that point becomes whether such terms are unconscionable.
    Dollars to donuts they’ve retained an attorney experienced in trial law, on a large but flat fee.

    1.  I suspect that the central question of law may be whether, by failing to disclose prices up front, the establishment has implied that they are open to negotiation on prices. If so, the consumer would have the power to say “Here’s twenty bucks for my plate of pasta you now want an unreasonable $80 for, take it or leave it, that’s my offer.”
      What if there are no posted prices?

      disclaimer I am not a lawyer not your lawyer and this is not legal advice, just speculation.

    2. Surely you’re not committing theft unless you dine and dash. You can simply tell them that you are refusing to pay, forcing a negotiation, or just leave them with contact information so that they can sue. Which is probably what I should have done.

      As the prices are undisclosed, that might make lawsuits difficult for them to pursue: prices must be agreed upon in advance for them to charge more than what a court would determine as “reasonable”, which in this case would be to the consumer’s advantage.

      So perhaps Nello relies upon the social norms of payment, frankly, to get paid at all.

      I bet dine-and-dash is commonplace there.

      1.  It must be a weird place to work at. As wild as the interplay between customers and restaurant is, I can’t help but ponder what it must be like to work there as a dishwasher or server. Just to see the dramabombs that go down, or to get some perspective on the owner’s attitude, or heck – what kind of tips you get (or not).

  20. So…Rob.. did you AT LEAST get the other table’s bill removed from yours??? “Excuse me, waiter, I will accept the injury, but not the INSULT” (or would that be vice-versa?)

    I wonder if it would have been acceptable to pee into the glass and claim that as you returned the water, they should remove the $15 charge.

        1. I guess what Clark means is that many seedy clubs employ African touts.

          Tokyo is a pretty safe place if you employ some common sense. Now if you follow an aggressive scout into a sketchy back alley place in Roppongi, yes, you may get scammed, drugged and/or robbed.

  21. Yes they violated about a dozen laws with this type of pricing. They aren’t laws that are always enforced, but I’ve seen every District Attorney using them on shady businesses. The fact that you ACTUALLY paid does make you a sucker. They are attempting to defraud by concealment, and there’s a host of other laws they are violating.

    Really with all the protesters in NYC and welcoming commit for tourist not ONE single person in NYC can stand outfront with a sign that says “I paid $1,500 for a salad and pasta”

    1. I think spray-painting “RIP-OFF” iin day-glo colors on the sidewalk out front would be warranted.

    1. What I found interesting was that a person can walk out of a restaurant without paying and avoid the theft charges by leaving their contact info – they will have to sue instead.

      1. I’m wondering why the slightly-less-virtuous among us mightn’t just walk without paying one red cent.  Seems to me you see the bill before they see your credit card.  No doubt they have security cameras, but absent any other identifying information, are the cops really going to bust their asses trying to identify and locate the miscreants who dined-and-dashed at a place like this?  Surely they have easier and slightly more urgent pursuits to engage their attention.  Toss a twenty or two on the table if you feel you must, but otherwise, fuck ’em.

  22. I’ve eaten at a restaurant in a swanky hotel in LA where the prices weren’t listed. It was a champagne brunch on a Sunday and the food was divine. We knew what it was going to be like when the bill hit (if you have to ask about price, you can’t afford it) so we were prepared (our bill ended up being $200, excluding gratuity).

    My take on it is, if you’re at a restaurant and there aren’t any prices listed then you’d better be ready to take the financial hit that’s coming at the end of the meal. If you’re not prepared for a big bill, you’re better off finding another eatery. 

    1. There’s a big difference between being prepared for a hefty but reasonable at that kind of place price and being charged far far more than what would be expected.   Sure, you should be prepared to pay the “going rate” at a high end place.  But I can’t imagine 275 dollar pasta and 15 dollar water is the “going rate”  at comparable places. 

      I don’t check the price of an ordinary iced tea when I go out, because I know from previous experience that tea is going to be a couple of bucks.  I’d be shocked to be charged 20 bucks for that tea.  It wouldn’t be my fault for not expecting that places prices to be way outside of the norm.  If the price is not anywhere near what most people would guess it would be, the restaurant should bear the responsibility of posting what the price is. 

  23. Yelp’s data on Nello is hilarious… 90% of them are horrified, disgusted, angry people who give it 1 star (one review “would give negative stars if they could”).  With 10% are rapturous 5-star reviews of satisfied customers, complimenting both the stellar food and service.

    What I gather is: You’re not supposed to go there for the food. You’re supposed to have a good time dropping a $1k-2k while watching others who drop $1k-2k. People who pay attention to or complain about the food (or the prices or the service) show that they don’t know what they’re supposed to be doing.

  24. LOL actually if you read the Yelp reviews, here is a really helpful one:
    “If you do not like Nello, then chances are very high that you do not belong. It’s like being a die hard Yankees fan and being upset when you go to a Boston Red Sox victory parade. Apples and oranges. It’s a private club and – believe me – one whose membership is not dictated by money but by charisma, with money playing a supporting role. the food – if they like you – is exquisite.”

    So unless your entire group consists of cute girls AND they explicitly lead you in from like half a block away, then don’t bother.

    1.  Apparently your group can also be Yankees fans too.  But die-hards only.  Who like apples.  Apples with charisma.  And money.

      Makes total sense.

    2. Oh, that’s hilarious.  So if you hated the food, the service, and the price it’s only because you’re a charmless rube who obviously didn’t belong there.

      Surely there’s a better way to keep out the unwashed multitudes without simultaneously pissing them off, grossing them out, and emptying their pockets like a common mugger.  If nothing else, the gasps of protest (even the discreet ones) would seem to have a deleterious effect on the atmosphere for those handsome, moneyed, and charismatic enough to be welcomed there.

    3. Well, that’s one kind of possible clientele. But it seems to me the big market, the willing/informed potential customer base, for Nello are sociopaths who enjoy seeing other people being victimized!

  25. As a native NY’er who happens to love their city, this really bums me out. A few people asked if leaving prices off the menu is a “thing” in NYC. Definitely not. Through my job, I’ve eaten at some of the most expensive eateries in NYC, and 99% of them list the prices on the menu. Nello has a reputation as a straight up scam mill. There are also a few places in Little Italy that run the same scam.

    A more common scam to look out for in NYC restaurants is the server padding the bill with all kinds of things you didn’t order, especially extra drinks. I’ve had this one happen quite a few times.  Another one is the server adding an automatic gratuity, and then also having you leave a separate tip as well, essentially tipping them twice for the same meal.

    Luckily there are so many fantastic restaurants in NYC, most of them fairly cheap to be honest, that you’re usually never more then a few blocks from a place where you can get a great meal.

  26. I would have simply refused to pay and left.  This is NOT a common rip-off scenario in NYC restaurants.  

    The only obvious restaurant scam I have ever seen here was in an expensive Indian restaurant in the Flatiron district where they brought a purchased bottle of water to the table with the seal on the cap already broken.

    A couple of times I have seen restaurants charge for refills on coffee unexpectedly.  (I would expect that only if it were served in a small pot and a new pot was brought to the table.)   That is annoying  but doesn’t qualify as a scam.

    Once I had a holiday meal in a restaurant that was about 15% more than the price posted with the menu online but when I got home I realized that the special menu was from the previous year.

    Any surcharges such as for splitting a plate, large parties, or for gratuity must be disclosed on the menu in writing in NYC.

    I would be more worried about cab drivers with fast meters, pickpockets, or people who try to borrow money from you because you work with their mother or because they left their wallet in the office and don’t want to miss their train. 

  27. Rob…I hope to God you didn’t leave a tip.  You could have left half a glass of water on the table and been like, “Here’s 7 bucks kid.”

  28. “Nello Summertime” in Southampton, NY makes Jesse James looks positively philanthropic!!! 

    The owner’s reputation is not to be believed!

  29. I would never eat in a place like that even by accident… but the only thing I’d add is that once you realized what was up, I’d ask for a menu, the one without prices, presumably, and take a picture of it, before walking out and leaving my contact info… because you’d want to be able to prove that the priceless menu was real.   They no doubt have menus with prices and would use them if they really wanted to fight you.   And yes, a derisive tip is essential.

  30. Wait, You got charged for Water ? Can they do that? I thought water had to be provided upon request for free, Or is that something local to my part of Arizona?

    Did you get to keep the glass?

    1. The server typically asks ‘sparkling or flat’ to which the correct answer is, ‘tap’.

  31. Call the police in NYC?  Are you serious?   Boycott the unsustainable city and its billionaire king!  

  32.  I enjoy checking restaurants all over the globe. I believe I’m wise to  most eatery schemes.  But  one high-end joint in Napa even caught me off guard. The suggested pairing for a $35 entree  tuned out to be a $70 glass of some forgettable red. No vino on their menu was priced nearly that high per glass, so naturally I assumed…. Spend and Learn is the sad travelers motto.  

  33. Why would someone order something if there was no price on the menu and/or there is only mumbles when you ask about it?   It just doesn’t compute in my brain. I couldn’t have been the only person with parents that oft said “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.”

    Oh well,

  34. This reminds me of the time (1991) when I was charged $8 for a cappuccino in Rome. I was in transit from Athens back to the US, after spending a month starving and going through nightly flaming riots as it was impossible to get a flight out with the start of Gulf War I. I was hauling about 80 pounds of duffel bag and looked and felt like 20 miles of bad road. $8 was a significant fraction of my net worth. I gave the fat SOB my best smile, and flung the coins down into the last half ounce of coffee as hard as I could, with my face contorting into something I sure would never want to see, and gave him the universal insult with an extra forearm pump as a tip. Fuck him, and all his kind.

    On the other hand, a decade later, going back to Athens I got jacked for $40 for a 2-mile cab ride  – but he had my luggage in the trunk. I had no cell phone, not enough Greek to explain to the cops – not that they’d have helped – so a little subtle sarcasm was all I could do. $40 wasn’t much of a concern for me then, so I just let it go. It’s all a matter of context and leverage. (That I was headed to the lovely, cheap Hotel Orion at the top of Benaki, above Exarchia  – where all the foreign models stay – may have helped my equanimity.)

    1. On the other hand, a decade later, going back to Athens I got jacked for $40 for a 2-mile cab ride

      You and about 1,000 other people a day.

  35. I used to live in NYC and recently went back for a holiday.  Nothing like this has ever happened to me there.  Problem is that when  something like this happens to a tourist it makes the whole city look bad.

  36. I realized earlier that I have actually been to this restaurant with my mother, last spring or summer. She lived here for 20 years but now lives in another city, but visits my brother, sister, cousin and Aunt and I here somewhat frequently. We met up on Madison avenue and were walking down it when we saw the restaurant. Not a lot of restaurants around that area, just lots of high end fashion stores and ridiculously pricey real estate. We were both hungry so we decided to grab lunch there (never read about it, heard a bout it, or even noticed it before). We did wait a ridiculously long time to be served after we ordered, and were originally seated next to two very plastic super Wasps. This seemed to annoy them, so they actually asked for another seat, sort of struck me that they were concerned about their privacy, but that they were very conspicuous in their efforts to  preserve it ( like a washed up actress who strolls into a hotel lobby and shouts to an oblivious and uncaring assortment of starngers ” PLEASE! PLEASE! PLEASE don’t ask me for my autograph! Please don’t take pictures of me! ” lol)  I think the menu they handed us DID actually have prices on it, so maybe we lucked out that day. The prices were ridiculously expensive, but not as ridiculous as the ones I have read about in my quick Nello yelp perusal. Food was pretty good, very small portions, but that’s typical for that style of restaurant. Mom’s will be Mom’s, so my mother insisted on paying, and she did seem a little bit shocked when she grabbed the bill, though she didn’t mention specifics. 

    Anyways, if what Rob and the yelpers say is true, these dickfaces deserve a serious beat down, and they make a great deal of money serving obscenely wealthy conspicuous consumers ( Hedge Fund Manager A: ” So, I purchased a new house in the Hamptons this weekend, what did you do?”, to which Hedge Fund Manager B relpies: ” Well, I went to Nello for dinner”) and people who don’t know any better than to eat there.

    1. like a washed up actress who strolls into a hotel lobby and shouts to an oblivious and uncaring assortment of strangers “PLEASE! PLEASE! PLEASE don’t ask me for my autograph! Please don’t take pictures of me!”

      So…you’ve been to Palm Springs?

  37. All my waiter friends tell me that the specials are price-padded because they are typically ordered by people who are either too spendy or too uncomfortable to ask the price.  It’s  really the same game as Nellos plays, just to a different degree.

    The sense I get is that the main thing that stops these sorts of scams overseas is the local tourism board wanting the town not to get a bad name (apparently the tourism board isn’t very strong in Prague).   I’m sure the tourism board would be much more receptive than the cops.  Where tourist dollars are at stake in a tourism magnet town, many things are possible that wouldn’t otherwise.

  38. Happy Family Restaurant in Flushing, NY — These guys just refused to serve me half the food I ordered (I got only one plate of veggies).  Other tables with Chinese customers got theirs.  After some dispute, I asked them to call the cops, but a man at the entrance flashed me a badge — “You don’t know who you’re dealing with”.  After that I figured it wasn’t worth my time, I squared the bill and left.

  39. Man, I can’t be the only Londoner who’s feeling more than a little narked by how much of a rip off my own fine city is.

    If you go to any celebrity-populated restaurant in an “exclusive” area, you can bet you’re going to be paying at least $275 for drab, uninspired food. It’s less “criminal conspiracy” and more “conspicuous consumption by city plebs” but the end effect is still the same. I strongly suspect that even Nello has a core clientele of newly-moneyed insufferable twats that firmly believe that because they went out and spent $2000 on lunch, the food they had must have been *amazing*, and that the amount of money they spent was (of course) directly proportional to the good time they had.

    It’s the opposite of trickle-down economics: idiots with cash and a social outlook that depends on paying above the odds for goods and services (because that’s how they define social success) distort the market to the point where, for example, London was recently declared the most expensive city in the world to eat out, and is now in the midst of a property crisis so severe that the only way to be able to afford to live within ten miles of the centre of the city is to work in finance.

    Complaining about paying $8 for a coffee in an airport, where the customers are both captive and caffeine deprived? Don’t make me laugh.

  40. The owner is Romanian, his business practices even more so.
    The experiences listed in the article are very familiar to anyone who ever stepped in a restaurant around tourist areas in Romania :)

  41. Six bucks and a few cents for lunch at the nearby Golden Corral all-you-can-eat buffet with a HUGE variety of yummy vittles and the folks within are friendly and the salad bar is heaping with healthy food and the mashed taters are made from real spuds and around Veteran’s Day the firm gives a free meal to veterans  and despite the throng of eager hungry vets lined up the influx is well-handled and the employees do a mighty-fine job and everybody has a good time.

    It is We, the People eating there and many of us are damn tired of the USA ruling elites, corporate USA etc. spitting upon us and a day of reckoning may be coming and we will be well-fed if the time ever comes.

  42. Certainly in Britain it’s entirely legal to make a reasonable deduction from the bill in a restaurant if you don’t think the food was worth what you paid. Which is why the “clip joints” in Soho which use poor lighting to make the menu prices illegible also rely on physical intimidation and sometimes outright false imprisonment to make sure the “customer” pays up.

    1. So….don’t eat in places with an autographed photo of Guy Ritchie by the cash register?

  43. Or you could head over to William Burrough’s “Chez Robert” where the diners are too intimidated to complain about dishes like Clear Camel Piss Soup with boiled earth worms and the Limburger Cheese sugar cured in diabetic urine, doused in Canned Heat Flamboyant.

  44. This conversation has provided me a list of places to never visit.  Dallas being on the top of said list (thanks blueelm!)

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