An American reader told us this week how he was given a bill for HUF 211,000 (EUR 710) after having “a few drinks and appetisers” at a restaurant in a popular tourist area of Budapest. Similar cases of local women – so called “consumption girls” – luring tourists into vastly overpriced establishments are widely reported across online travel forums.
However, despite further warnings on the websites of the US Embassy and the Hungarian tourist board, the problem shows no signs of going away. Tackling what has become a classic Budapest tourist rip off is made more difficult by a blurry legal framework.
Your drinks & the two girls’, that’s HUF 211,000, sir
Váci utca’s “étterem”
The seemingly nameless Váci utca restaurant with “live latin music” has quite an internet footprint, with numerous reports of a “consumption girl” scam. Warnings against the place next to the Hermes statue, “accessible by an outdoor elevator”, can be found anywhere from virtualtourist.com to blogs and a blacklist on the website of the US Embassy. The modus operandi – which is by no means unique to this venue – seems to be consistent.
One born every minute
The 57-year-old American reader told The Budapest Times that the incident took place on the evening of Sunday, 13 May. On his way to his apartment, he was approached in the street by “two young girls” who appeared lost and asked him for a Budapest street map. After handing one to them, the tourist agreed to join the women for drinks in the aforementioned restaurant. After “a few drinks and appetisers” he was presented with a bill for HUF 211,000.
The restaurant staff allegedly refused to present the man with an itemised bill, and would not accept payment by credit card. He was then directed to an ATM machine – conveniently positioned inside the restaurant – from where he withdrew the maximum daily limit of his credit card. Although it was less than half the figure on the bill, the restaurant eventually accepted this sum.
“If there was a menu in a visible place, then presumably it was not a crime,” Budapest Police Headquarters told this newspaper. In this particular case, there was indeed a menu visible, in the display case in the elevator, our source tells us. It had “disappeared the next day” said the victim, who went back to the restaurant to check.
This kind of rip-off is only illegal “if the restaurant staff uses force against the bill payer”, the police said. The American tourist said he did not let it get to that point. “When I realised I was involved in a scam, I paid my way out of it”, he said.
It all depends on the details of the case, the police said, and only a police investigation could “clarify the situation”. However, an investigation can only be launched if the tourist, who has since returned home, makes an official complaint.
Recent statistics from Magyar Turizmus (MT) – the official state tourist board – seem to be at odds with the anecdotal evidence posted in cyberspace. The number of complaints by visitors has “fallen significantly in the past few years,” this newspaper learnt. Magyar Turizmus receives calls concerning safety matters “once a week on average,” said Éva Márkus, MT’s director of corporate communications.
A “public safety” warning posted on the organisation’s website visit-hungary.com gives tips on how to avoid this particular situation. “In places of entertainment always ask for a menu with a price list before making an order,” we are advised. What is more, male visitors in particular “should beware of women with often excellent language skills, who have themselves invited to entertainment spots and run up bills at visitor’s expense”.
A phone line is also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Márkus says. The motto is helping tourists “in several languages through telephone”, interpreting their problem and, if need be, contacting the police. Tourist information (0-24): (+36-1) 438 8080